Friday, August 3, 2007

Oslo Mark II and the making of the Third Intifada

4 August, 2007

Now the dust has settled, Palestinian President and Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas and the unelected Prime Minister of Palestine, Salaam Fayyad, along with the minority of the old Fatah guard have revealed that they have nothing to offer the Palestinian people except a return to the failed “peace process” of the 1990s.

Over the past two weeks, anyone who has any interest or knowledge of Palestinian politics would have had a distinct feeling of Déjà vu – that distinct sinking feeling that you are either experiencing something or been somewhere before. One just has to listen to the excited proclamations coming out of the mouths of Abbas, Fayyad and Olmert to feel like you have been transported back body and soul to the 1990s.

In the 1990s, Abu Mazan (Abbas) was the key Palestinian negotiator in what was to become known as the Oslo Peace Process – a process which many Palestinians believed and still believed turned the PLO leadership into a tool of the Israeli state.

In the mid 1990s, however, many Palestinians, like many Israelis held out great hope for the peace process. Ordinary Israelis were tried of Israelis wars in Lebanon and the OPT. After 26 years, the Palestinians people also wanted an end to the brutal Israeli occupation – so much so that they were willing to commit themselves to the bad deal their leaders had signed them up too – a deal which saw the Palestinians renounce the claim to 78% of their historical homeland.

Olso, however, was never really about bringing about a just peace. Arafat weakened and unable to control the first intifada saw the Olso negotiations as the only way to retain power, while Israel simply wanted an immediate end to the Palestinian intifada and an end to the international pressure being placed upon them to end the occupation. As Guardian reporter, David Hirst noted in 2001, “for the Israelis, security - theirs, not the Palestinians' - was the be-all and end-all of Oslo”. The job of Arafat, Hirst noted was “to supply it on their behalf”.

Similarly, Israeli academic, Tanya Reinhart (who died last year) noted in 2001 at the beginning of the Al Aqsa intifada that the Oslo Accord allowed Israel “to reduce the cost of the occupation, using a Palestinian patronage regime, with Arafat as the senior cop responsible for the security of Israel”.

In addition, wrote Reinhart, Olso was designed to set in train a process that:

“should lead to the collapse of Arafat and the PLO. The humiliation of Arafat, and the amplification of his surrender, will gradually lead to loss of popular support. Consequently, the PLO will collapse, or enter power conflicts. Thus, the Palestinian society will loose its secular leadership and institutions. In the power driven mind of those eager to maintain the Israeli occupation, the collapse of the secular leadership is interpreted as an achievement, because it would take a long while for the Palestinian people to get organized again, and, in any case, it is easier to justify even the worst acts of oppression, when the enemy is a fanatic Muslim organization”.

During Arafat’s life time, however, as Reinhart notes the collapse of the PA was staved off. This was because of what the Palestinians called “Sumoud” or steadfastness - a refusal to give up their land willingly, a refusal to give into the Israeli occupation and a refusal to turn on one another. In spite of Israel, Palestinian society refused to collapse and refused to fragment, instead they remained Sumoud, even as Israeli deepened its occupation and breached its Olso obligations again and again.

Over the next 7 years from 1993 until the outbreak of the Al Asqa Intifada in September 2000, the hope that the Palestinian people placed in the peace process was dashed on the rocks of the continuing Israeli occupation and Israeli intransigence.

Under the 1993 Declaration of Principles (Oslo Accord) signed by Shimon Peres on behalf of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Israel agreed that it would not take any unilateral steps to alter the situation in the occupied territories. In addition, they promised that they would not expand the all ready established illegal Israeli settlements.

However, through the 1990s, Israel continued to build and expand the settlements and by the 21st century had establish more than 75 new settlements in breach of the Oslo Accord agreement. Throughout the 1990s, in breach of Oslo, Israel continued to steal Palestinian land and to deepen the occupation, it continued to arrest Palestinians and jail them, it continued to set up checkpoints, roadblocks, to demolish houses and impose, illegally, collective punishment on more than 4 million Palestinians living in the OPT.

Under Oslo, both the US and Israel demanded that the Palestinian people conduct free and democratic elections. However, as the Palestinians soon discovered in 2006, if they fairly and democratically elect a leadership that neither Israel or the US like, then they will be starved, blockaded and beaten into submissions until a quisling government is established.

After Olso was exposed once and for all at the Camp David Summit, the Palestinian people rose up again in popular revolt as they realised that Oslo would never bring about an end to the Israeli occupation. The Al Asqa Intifada, sparked by Ariel Sharon’s deliberately provocative visit to the Temple Mount was simply the expression of the Palestinian refusal to submit to occupation even in the name of peace.

After 14 years of abject failure, it has become clear to just about everyone, except Mahmoud Abbas, that Israel was never interested in negotiating a real lasting peace with the Palestinian people. Abbas, as former CIA analyst, Kathleen Christison noted in a recent article on the Counterpunch website that “despite being repeatedly slapped in the face”, the leadership of Fatah who started the peace process (ie. Abbas) continues with “blind desire to please the U.S. in the expectation that this behaviour would bring some political benefit to the Palestinians, despite repeated evidence to the contrary”.

Under the leadership of Abbas, the process set in train by Oslo and outlined by Reinhart has begun to bear fruit. The refusal of a small coterie of the Fatah leadership to accept the fact they are no longer the dominate player in the Palestinian political landscape and that they no longer control the PLC has resulted in Israel being able to ferment in just 18 short months,what it has not been able to achieve in nearly 60 years – civil war between the Palestinians. This “power conflicts” as Reinhart called them have now made it “easier to justify even the worst acts of oppression” in the name of opposing a supposedly “fanatic Muslim organization”.

Over the past few weeks, since the dismissal of the democratically elected Hamas lead PLC by Abbas, while the world has focused on Israel and the US have attempted to bolster him and Fayyad and the range of “good will gestures” including the release of 250 prisoners and the release of some of the Palestinian tax funds that Israel stole, little attention has been paid to Israel’s ongoing brutality both in the West Bank and Gaza.

In just one week, between 5 – 12 July, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that Israel had killed 12 Palestinians, including 3 civilians; wounded 30 others, including 25 civilians, carried out 38 invasions into Palestinian communities, razed at 200 dunums of land in the Gaza, arrested 79 Palestinian civilians, imposed a total siege on the Gaza (meaning that 1. 3 million people are trapped in worsening humanitarian conditions).

Since the Sharm el Sheik Summit, Israel has also arrested more than 400 Palestinians (almost twice as many as they freed and mostly from Fatah) and have killed nearly 50 Palestinians.

The world media, however, is content to ignore these facts. Instead they focus all their attention on Bush’s announcement that he will convene of an international peace conference later this year is an attempt to bolster Abbas. However, true to form, Bush also has made it clear that all concessions in the so-called peace process would come from the Palestinians, not Israel.

As with the last peace processes, both Oslo and the Road Map, both Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have refused to set a deadline for final status discussions with Palestinians on issues such as Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements and security. According to a July 20 report by Ha’aretz journalists Aluf Benn and Shmuel Rosner, “the demands Bush presented to Israel were mild, almost imperceptible, compared to the challenge he gave the Palestinians”.

In the clearest rehash of Olso so far, in late July Olmert announced in the lead-up to the conference that Israel will seek to negotiate an “agreement of principles” with Abbas. The agreement of principles, as with the Oslo Declaration of Principles will push permanent status issues such as refugees, borders and Jerusalem to the backburner. Instead, the negotiations would revolve around the characteristics of the Palestinian state, its official institutions, its economy and the custom arrangements it would have with Israel.

Olmert’s plan, like the failed Oslo Accords and the Road Map, proposes a nominal exchange of land for peace. However, the larger Israeli “settlement” blocs in the West Bank will not be dismantled and will remain under Israeli control. Israel would also not withdraw from East Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives or the Old City and its environs. It would only withdraw from Arab neighbourhoods not considered part of the historical city.

Olmert has, however, come up with something new in relation to his Agreement of Principles – according tot he Israeli media he plans to connect the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through an under ground tunnel, supposedly in “order to offer the Palestinians territorial contiguity, prevent friction between Israelis and Palestinians, and preserve security”. However, Israel will demand compensation for digging the tunnel in Israeli territory.

While Olmert, Bush, Rice and Elliot Abrams (the key instigator of the US policy for the overthrow of the democratically elected Palestinian PLC and the National Unity government) are all going around slapping each other on the back and promoting Oslo Mark II, the Palestinian people are not fooled.

Fourteen years after Oslo Mark I, they are well aware of the reality of the “peace process” and the fact that it did not bring them peace, justice or a state. Abbas knows that it will be a hard sell and an even harder sell if Gaza remains isolated.
Despite, Abbas having the international backing his government is weak, something he knows as well as do the US and Israel. Israel security officials have stated that they recognise that despite everything and all of Abbas pronouncements there is enormous pressure from the Palestinian people regarding unity.

The Palestinian people do not want a divided nation and Hamas is very much part of the political landscape, whether Israel or the US like it or not. The Palestinian people will not accept two separate Palestinian territories, they will not accept the division amongst the factions and the demonising of one faction by another, they will not accept a divided struggle. Recent polls have reaffirmed this with one poll by a Norwegian NGO revealing that 85% of Palestinians want national reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Israel and the US think they have won and they think they have crushed the Palestinian people but they have not.

The Palestinian people will remain “sumoud” despite the inadequacy of their leadership. And if Abbas, Olmert and Bush are not careful they will once again have another intifada on their hands, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not this year or next year, but when a people have nothing more to lose, then the struggle is the only thing they have left.

1 comment:

Yishai Kohen said...

May the 3rd intifada come soon. With the Phiistines having spent all of their money on weapons already, lost, and now living on par with sub-Saharan Africa, it will be the last one.

But we will still be here.

In OUR land.