Israel/Palestine: Hopes for Peace

Introduction

If someone had informed the Jews who formed 10% of Palestine's population1 at the turn of the last century that one day they would have a state spreading over 78% of the country with 80% of Jerusalem as its capital, they would have dismissed this as no more than a beautiful dream. If the other 90% of Palestine's population were told that one day they would give up three quarters of their homeland, perforated like a Swiss cheese by 200 illegal settlements protected by a nuclear armed neighbour run by an infamous general, they would have thought they were being offered a nightmare. -- Marwan Bishara2

This essay provides a factual background to the present situation in Israel/Palestine, highlighting many of the factors at play. It will present information on United Nations Resolutions, previous attempts at peace and the early days of Zionism. It will then present facts regarding the current situation, both in the Occupied Territories and the settlements, as well as about recent developments in the Road Map to peace. Finally, the essay will summarise with my own assessment of the hopes for peace.

The UN and Israel

The first United Nations resolution regarding Israel was passed in 1947, granting the partition of Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish and Palestinian state. Before the resolution could be implemented, violence flared up again. An Arab cast the first stone: firing on a bus to Jerusalem, killing six Jews3.

In the months that followed, the already well organised Zionist defence forces, the Haganah and the Palmach, as well as Etzel and the Lechi, took on the disorganised and somewhat unsuspecting Arabs, in what became known to Israelis as the War of Independence. When all was said and done in 1948, the state of Israel was proclaimed, recognised hours later by the United States of America3. The new state encompassed most of what is now recognised as Greater Israel, minus the occupied territories of the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza Strip, as well as East Jerusalem.

If we had been one army, not several armies, and if we had acted according to one strategic plan, we would have been able to 'empty' the [Palestinian] population of the upper Galilee, Jerusalem and the road to it, Ramllah, Ludda, southern Palestine in general and the Negev in particular. -- David Ben Gurion, from IDF Archives2

After the 1948 war, the West Bank fell under Jordanian curatorship, and the Gaza Strip under Egyptian. Egypt never annexed the land, but rather administered it as a protectorate, leaving their inhabitants with the limited civil rights of refugee status. Jordan, on the other hand, gave the Palestinians full citizenship, but never developed the refugee camps. The United Nations passed Security Council Resolution 194, guaranteeing these refugees a Right of Return to the land that they vacated during the conflict, which is yet to be honoured. Amidst the wars that followed, leading up to 1967, there was never any talk of reunion or partition.

In the following decades, Israel defended her borders when necessary, taking each opportunity to extend her territory. In the 1967 Six Day War, she took back the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as claiming the Golan Heights from Syria and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. It is a moot point regarding who was the aggressor in this war: Egypt's President, Gamal Abdul Nasser, blockaded the Straits of Tiran, which the Israelis, with United States' sanctioning, declared as an act of war. Two weeks later, Israel went on the attack. You be the judge.

After the war, the United Nations got back to the business of disciplining the Israelis. Resolution 242, passed in November of 1967 calls for the Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories that came as the spoils of war. As highlighted recently by Robin Cook, Israel is still in breach of this part of the resolution. These Occupied Territories form the basis of the Palestinian State proposed by the Clinton Administration at the Camp David II negotiations.

In 1978, Egypt and Israel came to agreement over the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt's president, Anwar Sadat, acknowledged the State of Israel in return for the peninsula minus the Gaza Strip, and was cast out from the Arab world for his pains. At the same time, the UN passed Resolution 446, again calling for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Occupied Territories, as well as a call for the immediate termination of Settlement actions. Zionist Israelis had begun moving into the Occupied Territories, sanctioned and even assisted by the Israeli government, with a blind eye turned by the United States. Resolution 446 called on the international community not to support the settlement drive by the Israeli government.

In 1980, the UN was increasingly worried by the settlement activity, which had shown no signs of decreasing, and passed Resolution 465, which called upon the Israeli government to dismantle existing settlements, to terminate further settlement activity, and to withdraw from the Occupied Territories.

During the 1980's and 1990's, the United Nations Security Council made several attempts at passing resolutions admonishing Israeli behaviour, which were successively vetoed by the United States. The list is here, and provides interesting reading. Other than the US veto, the resolutions received overwhelming support by the Security Council.

The United States and Israel

Israel has always formed part of the United States domestic politics. The so-called Jewish Lobby, which the Democrats are particularly accused of pandering to, earnestly seek peace in Israel that does not compromise the sanctity of the Jewish State. Calling the lobby the "Jewish Lobby" is probably unfair to Jews. An important lesson for anyone with an interest in the situation in Israel is this: Not all Israelis are Jews; Not all Jews are Zionists; and Not all Zionists are Jews4. If you are confused, go and look into that before you read on.

Attempts by the US to broker peace in Israel have always been more for the sake of the US's domestic agenda than for garnering international support. Israel is also the US's main recipient of Aid: Approximately US$3bn annually, of which about 60% is military equipment. This latter point renders the US in breach of Resolution 446, as the weapons are used to defend settlements in the Occupied Territories.

The US sponsored the Oslo Accords, brokered at Camp David and following the First Intifada, which broke out in 1987. The negotiations began in 1991 after the Madrid Conference, with the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (or Oslo Accords) signed in September 1993. Other milestones occurred in May 1994 (agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area); September 1995 (Israel and the PLO signed the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip -- aka Oslo II); January 1997 (the Hebron Agreement); October 1998, (Israel and the PLO signed the Wye River Memorandum); and September 1999 (Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum)5.

When Anwar Sadat went to Camp David, the American team included one Zionist Jewish official, American Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis. When Arafat went to Camp David, all the American team, with the exception of President Clinton, were Zionist Jews. Instead of meeting Democrats and Republicans, the Palestinians, like the Syrians before them, met Likudnik and Laborite American officials. -- Arab Commentator2

Clinton's outgoing swansong was the Camp David II negotiations. The Israelis refused to give an inch, as usual, and had full US support. Finally, Yasser Arafat realised that he would never achieve a palatable peace. The talks failed, the Second Intifada broke out, and Republicans snuck into the White House. One of Arafat's main bones of contention had been that the PLO had signed away the Right of Return guaranteed by Resolution 194. He claimed that the PLO had no right to negotiate on behalf of the refugees as a whole. The Israeli position was that the talks were on the basis of Resolution 242, and refused to be drawn on Resolution 194. Without the Right of Return, Arafat would have difficulty selling the agreement to his people.

Interesting days lie ahead, however, thanks to the War on Iraq, as the US will have some festering wounds in Arab politics that it needs to heal. We may well see George W Bush's promised efforts at peace in Israel/Palestine shift to fulfilment of his international agenda. With his hawkish actions in response to 12 years of Iraqi failure to comply with UN Resolutions, he may be less charitable with the Israelis given that they have been in breach of UN Resolutions since the very year their state was proclaimed.

Early Zionism

Since the dawn of Zionism, under Theodor Herzl, in the 1880's, Zionism has progressed with ruthless tenacity. Turn of the century Palestine was a sleepy backwater of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks were hostile to the peasant tenant farmer locals, collective punishment keeping them in line, and little agricultural advance had been made. Palestine provided, apart from the hope for a spiritual home, an opportunity for exploitation of the land. It was there in the offing, but achievement of the goal would require perseverance and dogged determination.

The early Zionists soon realised that the Arab landlords could be easily bought3. The peasant farmers, who had farmed the land for generations, did not provide much income. The Zionists, with their European funds, offered comparatively vast sums for strategically selected pieces of land.

Zionism in theory is a noble cause, of that there is no doubt. However, Zionism in action took advantage of the unempowered and vulnerable locals. The peasant farmers were displaced and left destitute, with neither land to work nor education and therefore no means of income. As the Zionists ploughed ahead, they made no attempt and gave no thought to sharing with the people who already occupied the land. Yes the sale of land was a legal transaction, but it was not an equitable transaction. Perhaps, ideally, the onus would have been on the Arab landlord to compensate the displaced peasant farmers, but to ignore the plight of the occupants was at worst parasitic and at best near-sighted.

Leading up to the First World War, Zionism continued at its slow and ideologically based pace. The settlers in Ottoman Palestine were Zionists themselves, who had rallied under Herzl. As the war moved into the Middle East, and the Turks sided with the Germans, Britain felt that the Suez Canal might be under threat. Palestine became important strategically, and the British enlisted the help of both the Zionists and the Arabs.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement had already carved up the Ottoman Empire sharing the as yet unwon spoils between the British and the French. The Zionists were indifferent to which side they fought on, but in the Balfour Declaration, they were suitably convinced that siding with the British would be in their best interests. Chaim Weizmann was a master tactician, and as head of the Zionist Commission, very dedicated to his cause. Prince Faisal had separately been promised by the British a crown in the Ottoman lands6 in return for his heading the Arab Revolt.

At the suggestion of the British, the two met in Aqaba in June of 1918. Weizmann was known to hold the opinion that "[The Arabs] appreciated only force, but could probably be won over with bribes3. Speaking of the upcoming meeting, Weizmann wrote:

I propose to tell him that if he wants to build up a strong and prosperous Arab kingdom, it is we Jews who will be able to help him, and we only. We can give him the necessary assistance in money and organising power. We shall be his neighbours and we do not represent any danger to him, as we are not and never will be a great power.3
The two met for about an hour, at times speaking French, at others, through a British interpreter.
Weizmann said that the Jews wished to develop Palestine for the benefit of all its residents, under British protection. He offered financial and political support. He said he would soon be travelling to America, where the Zionists had a gread deal of influence.3

It is often claimed that the state of Israel is in existence because of the Holocaust, but in fact, even when it became readily apparent to the Zionist Organisation that Jews were being murdered en masse by the Germans, it was not the most endangered who were granted permits to emigrate to Palestine. Immigration permits were limited by the British, mostly to try and keep the Arabs on side now that they had finally woken up to the fact that they were being done an injustice by the Mandate administrators. The limit to immigration irked both Weizmann and Ben Gurion. However when it came to issuing the permits that were released by the British, the Zionist Organisation awarded them only to those Jews who could demonstrate that they had sufficient funds to invest in Palestine. The Zionist Organisation refused to jeopardise the success of the coveted homeland through bankruptcy in an attempt to save a few thousand lives.

Independent State or Bantustan?

The first time that partition was proposed, in U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, detailed plans were drawn up to equitably divide the moveable assets of the land; for the sharing of major infrastructure and resources and for an economic union. At the time, there was a disparity between Arab and Jewish affluence and social infrastructure. Education had been one of the most important foundations of Zionism, and Jewish schools were well staffed, well equipped and well attended. There were limited Arab schools, no Arab universities, and most Arab children, girls in particular, did not attend. With this difference in immediate education provision, the economic divide would only have deepened.

KOLLEK - We said things without meaning them, and we didn't carry them out. We said over and over that we would equalize the rights of Arabs and Jews in the city -- empty talk ... Both Levi Eshkol and Menachem Begin promised them equal rights -- both violated their promises ... Never have we given them a feeling of being equal before the law. They were and remain second- and third-class citizens.

JOURNALIST - And this is said by a Mayor of Jerusalem who did so much for the city's Arabs, who built and paved roads and developed their neighborhoods?

KOLLEK - Nonsense! Fairy tales! The Mayor developed nothing and built nothing! What did I do? Nothing. Sidewalks? Nothing! Cultural institutions? Not one. Yes, we installed a sewerage system for them and improved the water supply. Do you know why? Do you think it was for their good, for their wefare? Forget it! There were some cases of cholera there, and the Jews were afraid that they would catch it, so we installed sewerage and a water system.

Teddy Kollek, former mayor of West Jerusalem, to Maariv, October 10, 1990, following the Temple Mount massacre.2

Instead of this partition, we got two refugee islands. There was no onus on the presiding government to develop the over-populated and under resourced areas. In recent years, as violence has escalated, and controls on movement of Palestinians tightened, the economic woes of the Occupied Territories has been exacerbated.

Since the signing of the Oslo Agreement, the economic situation has continued to deteriorate [in the West Bank and Gaza]. The decline in household incomes, a sharp increase in unemployment, and the general broadening of poverty pose serious challenges for economic sustainability. -- World Bank Report, 19972

It is clear that a sovereign state in Palestine, even had the port and airport of Gaza not been destroyed by the Israelis, would have crippling barriers to development and economic recovery. In 1997, 40% of Gazans and around 20% of the West Bank (up to 50% in refugee camps) were unemployed2. There are few with tertiary education who have not left to seek their fortune in other Arab (or Western) states and infrastructure is severely limited. The decline in the Occupied Territories is directly attributable to Israeli failure to comply with UN Resolutions of the past. Any two-state alternative that is implemented would need to compensate the Palestinians for these decades of strife and seek to reverse the endemic lack of skilled workers.

The economy of the Occupied Territories is based almost exclusively on Israel. Until the closures following the Second Intifada, or, to use the Oslo-coined phrase, Get[ting] Gaza out of Tel Aviv, the primary export of the Occupied Territories was cheap unskilled labour. Most of the industry in Gaza - of which there is very little - is in fact Israeli owned. The purpose of moving the industry into the Occupied Territories was purely to exploit the vast sea of cheap, unskilled labour without having to put up with Palestinians crossing into Israel.

The Palestinian economy is very small, the GDP is US$3.6 billion in comparison to Israel's almost $100 billion. Palestinian exports are also low - $750 million compared to Israel's $25 billion - and its imports, which exceed $3.4 billion, are a tenth of Israel's imports. The income from work abroad is about $900 million, and income from tax agreements with Israel reaches about $600 million. All of these components of the Palestinians' economy have been totally dependent on Israel. In fact, more than 88 percent of Palestinian exports go to Israel, while the Palestinian territories are the second destination of Israeli exports after America, reaching $2.5 billion. -- figures from World Bank report, 20002.

Any Palestinian state with an economy that is still so dependent on Israel can hardly be considered to be independent or sovereign.

Settlements

In spite of numerous UN Resolutions and the vast manpower and army might required to protect them, settlement growth continues unabated. Israeli citizens who settle in the Occupied Territories are given large grants. Huge investment has been made in roads exclusively for Israeli use that bypass Palestinian towns in the Occupied Territories.

Barak's ministry of housing began to build, among others, 12,000 new dwellings in West Bank settlements - in the areas of Kiryat Arba, the settlement adjacent to Hebron, and Ariel in the middle of the West Bank, and a further 3,000 in Ma'ale Adumim, east of Jerusalem - with a governmental subsidy of US$17,000 for each buyer. - from Report on Israeli Settlements, July-August 1999 and September-October 1999, Foundation for Middle East Peace, Washington, DC2.

These settlements are the last bastions of Zionism: they proceed with the same ruthless disregard for common sense, and give testimony to the fact that the Israeli government will never give up the Occupied Territories willingly.

As war rages in Iraq, Israel is quietly building its own new order in the occupied territories. Ariel Sharon announced this month that the "security fence", now being erected on the northern part of the Israeli-West Bank border, should also go east, cutting the Palestinians off from the Jordan valley. More immediately, the army is recommending that the barrier be extended 20km (12 miles) into the heart of the West Bank, bringing into Israel 40,000 Jews in three settlements (Ariel, Kadumim and Emmanuel) implanted near Nablus. Mr Sharon has yet to approve this, but is expected to.7 -- The Economist, March 29, 2003

The Israeli government has flagrantly disregarded UN Resolutions for decades, in the last quarter century with unflagging support from the US, who have elbowed other nations out of the peace process. In their domination of peace talks, they have always played an Israeli hand, further dispossessing the Palestinian people. In this way, the Palestinians have found themselves accepting far less than the UN Resolutions have assured them. The much vaunted yet unpublished Road Map to Peace is conditional upon the end to further development of settlements, but not on their dismantling, called for in Resolution 465. How has the international community come to let the Palestinian people down so badly?

The Road Map to Peace

The road map to which [George W Bush] referred has been in preparation for many months by the Quartet group: the UN, the European Union (EU) and Russia, the US and some of the Arab states. ... From the official US standpoint, the road map represents, to a degree, a relinquishing of the monopoly over the peace process that the US has exercised since the Nixon administration. Other countries, which the US has long stiff-armed out of the process, may now have a more significant role to play, to the dismay of Israel's Sharon government. ... One problem, however, is that the road map has never been made public or officially presented to the warring parties. -- Donald Kruse, retired American Foreign Service Officer, on April 7, 20038

The road map may never have been officially released or published, and, interestingly and possibly foolishly, has been negotiated excluding the main players in the game. Recent attempts at peace have had the odds stacked shamefully in favour of one party, so for the other, this situation represents an improvement.

The road map has clearly been unofficially released to the Israelis and the Palestinians, for the latter are far more in favour of it, and have made moves to comply with one of the conditions, evident in the recent appointment of Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority.

Sharon has responded by forming a coalition government that includes, among others, the National Religious Party, a party with its support base in the illegal settlements. It is hard to see how this government will be willing to freeze settlement activity, which is one of the conditions. He is also calling for over 100 changes to the unofficial draft.

A draft of the road map -- apparently approved by the "quartet" of would-be peacemakers (America, the EU, Russia and the UN) but kept under formal wraps by American and Israeli demand -- calls for the creation of "an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and attributes of sovereignty." Israel wants "independent" out. And it wants the word "certain" inserted before "attributes of sovereignty". It is also unhappy with the "maximum territorial contiguity" envisaged for this provisional Palestinian state, and suggests adding the proviso, "where this is possible". -- The Economist, March 22, 2003

Prospects for the Future

Suicide bombings and incursions into the Settlements by Palestinian gunmen regularly make the news. Occasionally we see headlines of retaliatory attacks by the Israelis, where helicopter gunships are sent into rush hour traffic to assassinate senior terrorists, usually resulting in a confirmed kill and one or more innocent victims who were in the same or adjacent vehicles. Somebody has been keeping score, and in a January 28, 2003 United Nations press release, the death toll stood at 2,297 Palestinians versus 691 Israelis9.

The UN press release is sobering reading for anyone with an interest in the situation: either it will tell you things you didn't know, or it will show you that the UN is officially aware of the plight of the Palestinians, yet cannot seem to do anything about it. The UN fully supports the road map of the Quartet and sees it as the only way to achieve peace.

My own opinion is that I am doubtful that the road map is capable of creating a truly independent state of Palestine, that is economically viable. Unless it can achieve this, peace will not come to the Middle East. Palestinians may welcome it to begin with, but the already renegade terrorist groups, that carry out suicide bombings despite Palestinian Authority opposition to them, are unlikely to be satisfied with this. And they shouldn't be.

In my lifetime I have witnessed a supremacist and elitist state that oppressed the masses to their own economic benefit transform itself into a viable, though still beleagured, cosmopolitan nation, where politically-motivated violence has all-but disappeared. I hope to see it happen again, before I'm much older. I believe that there will never be justice or peace in Israel/Palestine until the nation is reunited.

If the Palestinians were black, Israel would be now a pariah state subject to economic sanctions led by the United States. Its development and settlement of the West Bank would be seen as a system of Apartheid, in which the indigenous population was allowed to live in a tiny fraction of its own country, in self administered 'bantustans' with 'whites' monopolizing the supply of water and electricity. And just as the black population was allowed into South Africa's white areas in disgracefully under-resourced townships, so Israel's treatment of Israeli Arabs - flagrantly dicriminating against them in housing and education spending - would be recognized as scandalous, too... -- Editorial, The Observer, London, October 15, 20002

There is no reason why a homeland for Jews has to be exclusively for Jews. I will not submit to claims that They hate us or They want to drive us into the sea because I have heard them before. The Pan Africanist Congress pre-1994 election slogan was One Settler, One Bullet so do not tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about. South Africa had an 80-20 black-white majority, and yet white people live without the fear of race hate crimes. With the Right of Return dutifully honoured in Israel, at worst the ratio would be 50-50 Israelis-Palestinians.

It is in nobody's best interests for the Right of Return to be implemented unmanaged. Israel has a strong economy and it should be protected, to the betterment of all. Israelis would see an end to their economic excesses (Israelis are in the top ten wealthiest per capita in the world), as has happened to the South African whites, who used to share the same economic status.

The peace process in South Africa was carefully managed over several years, beginning with an interim government from a mix of the old and new regime. The South African Defence Force, akin to the IDF was united with Umkhonto we Sizwe and other resistance armies. A new constitution was drafted, followed by internationally mediated campaigning and democratic elections.

The peace efforts did not end with elections, either. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) met for years, giving both sides a forum to confess to sins committed under apartheid. An amnesty period was declared, and a cut-off date was set for amnesty applications. The basis of the TRC was that through being open and honest about the past, people could forgive but never forget.

I do not believe that Sharon and his government are sincere in their aims for peace: I believe that they will not agree to a viable Palestinian state with sufficient recompense to make up for the years of wrongdoing. I believe that the Palestinian Authority needs to stand resolute and refuse to compromise and that through unity of opposition, they can achieve a just peace.

I am hopeful that the international community will be more open and honest about recognising Israeli transgressions for what they are, and will take a harder line in disciplining them. The movement from a US-sponsored drive for peace to the Quartet is good. If the Israelis do not become more charitable, they may well find themselves in the near future feeling the levers of economic sanctions prising them towards an inclusive and prosperous multiparty nation.

I live in hope.

Of course this is my opinion, based on the facts I have discovered to date and attempted to present to you here. You are entitled to your own. I'm sure you'll share it with me.


Footnotes and sources:

  1. At the time, Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire and arbitrarily included the state of Jordan. It was at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference that the State of Jordan was proclaimed, mainly to give Prince Hussein a kingdom as promised by the British during the First World War. The Zionist organisation was extremely unhappy with this decision by the Allies. Bishara is referring to the Mandatory border of Palestine when he talks about land area.
  2. From Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid by Marwan Bishara
  3. From One Palestine, Complete by Tom Segev
  4. Many senior British officials were non-Jewish Zionists because of their racism. They were proponents of a homeland for Jews as it would remove the Jews from Britain. Not all Israelis are Zionists, either, and many of those who moved there after the Second World War never were.
  5. http://www.palestinefacts.org/pf_1991to_now_peace_process_outline.php
  6. Prince Faisal would become King Faisal I of Iraq after they French booted him out of Syria
  7. The article continues:
    The security barricade, begun last year, is a vast territorial barrier, sometimes 100 metres deep, comprising walls, patrol roads, electronic fences and earth trenches. It is popular in Israel, except with a handful of messianic settlers. The right sees it as a necessary cordon, sealing off Israel from would-be suicide bombers. The left sees it as defining the future political border of a Palestinian state, believing that it would follow, more or less, Israel's 1967 boundary with the West Bank.
    An old version of the original fence proposals can be found here: http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/History/fencemap.html
  8. http://www.cpjustice.org/stories/storyReader$1005
  9. http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2003/sc7635.doc.htm


May 2003: The Road Map has been published. GrouchyOldMan noded it under Roadmap to peace in the Middle East.

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