Misreported and hopelessly flawed from the start, the Oslo peace process has entered its terminal phase - of violent confrontation, disproportionately massive Israeli repression, widespread Palestinian rebellion and great loss of life, the vast majority of it Palestinian. Ariel Sharon's visit to Haram al-Sharif on September 28 could not have occurred without Ehud Barak's concurrence. How else could the paunchy old war criminal have appeared there with a thousand soldiers guarding him? Barak's approval rating rose from 20% to 50% after the visit, and the stage seems set for a national unity government ready to be still more violent and repressive.
The portents of this disarray, however, were there from the 1993 start. Labour and Likud leaders alike made no secret of the fact that Oslo was designed to segregate the Palestinians in non-contiguous enclaves, surrounded by Israeli-controlled borders, with settlements and settlement roads punctuating and essentially violating the territories' integrity, expropriations and house demolitions proceeding inexorably through the Rabin, Peres, Netanyahu and Barak administrations along with the expansion and multiplication of settlements (200,000 Israeli Jews added to Jerusalem, 200,000 more in Gaza and the West Bank), military occupation continuing and every tiny step taken toward Palestinian sovereignty - including agreements to withdraw in minuscule, agreed-upon phases - stymied, delayed, cancelled at Israel's will.
This method was politically and strategically absurd, even suicidal. Occupied East Jerusalem was placed out of bounds by a bellicose Israeli campaign to decree the intractably divided city off limits to Palestinians and to claim it as Israel's "eternal, undivided capital". The 4m Palestinian refugees - now the largest and longest existing such population anywhere - were told that they could forget about any idea of return or compensation.
With his own corrupt and stupidly repressive regime supported both by Israel's Mossad and the CIA, Yasser Arafat continued to rely on US mediation, even though the US peace team was dominated by former Israeli lobby officials and a president whose ideas about the Middle East were those of a Christian fundamentalist Zionist with no exposure to or understanding of the Arab-Islamic world. Compliant, but isolated and unpopular Arab chiefs (especially Egypt's President Mubarak) were compelled humiliatingly to toe the American line, thereby further diminishing their eroded credibility at home. Israel's priorities were always put first, as was its bottomless insecurity and its preposterous demands. No attempt was made to address the fundamental injustice done when Palestinians as a people were dispossessed in 1948.
Behind the peace process were two unchanging Israeli/American presuppositions, both of them derived from a startling incomprehension of reality. First was that given enough punishment and beating over the years since 1948, Palestinians would ultimately give up, accept the compromised compromises Arafat did in fact accept, and call the whole Palestinian cause off, thereafter excusing Israel for everything it has done. Thus, for example, the "peace process" gave no considered attention to immense Palestinian losses of land and goods, none to the links between past dislocation and present statelessness, while as a nuclear power with a formidable military, Israel nevertheless continued to claim the status of victim and demand restitution for genocidal anti-semitism in Europe. Incongruously, there has still been no official acknowledgement of Israel's (by now amply documented) responsibility for the tragedy of 1948, even as the US went to war in Iraq and Kosovo on behalf of other refugees. But one can't force people to forget, especially when the daily reality was seen by all Arabs as endlessly reproducing the original injustice.
Second, after seven years of steadily worsening economic and social conditions for Palestinians everywhere, Israeli and US policymakers persisted (stupidly, I think) in trumpeting their successes, excluding the UN and other interested parties, bending the disgracefully partisan media to their wills, distorting the actuality into ephemeral victories for "peace". With the entire Arab world up in arms over Israeli helicopter gunships and heavy artillery demolishing Palestinian civilian buildings, with almost 100 fatalities and almost 2,000 wounded (including many children) and with Palestinian Israelis up in arms against their treatment as third-class, non-Jewish citizens, the misaligned and skewed status quo is falling apart. Isolated in the UN and unloved everywhere in the Arab world as Israel's unconditional champion, the US and its lame duck president have little to contribute any more.
Neither does the Arab and Israeli leadership, even though they are likely to cobble together another interim agreement. Most shocking has been the total silence of the Zionist peace camp in the US, Europe and Israel. The slaughter of Palestinian youths goes on and this band of supposed peace-lovers either backs Israeli brutality or expresses disappointment at Palestinian ingratitude. Worst of all is the US media, completely cowed by the fearsome Israeli lobby, with commentators and anchors spinning distorted reports about "crossfire" and "Palestinian violence" that eliminate the fact that Israel is in military occupation and that Palestinians are fighting it, not "laying siege to Israel", as the ghastly Mrs Albright put it. While the US celebrates the Serbian people's victory over Slobodan Milosevic, Clinton and his minions refuse to see the Palestinian insurgency as the same kind of struggle against injustice.
My guess is that some of the new Palestinian intifada is directed at Arafat, who has led his people astray with phony promises, and maintained a battery of corrupt officials holding down commercial monopolies even as they negotiate incompetently and weakly on his behalf. Some 60% of the public budget is disbursed by Arafat to bureaucracy and security, only 2% to the infrastructure. Three years ago his own accountants admitted to an annual $400m in disappeared funds. His international patrons accept this in the name of the "peace process", certainly the most hated phrase in the Palestinian lexicon today.
An alternative peace plan and leadership is slowly emerging among Israeli, West Bank, Gaza and diaspora Palestinians. No return to the Oslo framework; no compromise on the original UN resolutions (242, 338, and 194) "mandating the Madrid conference in 1991; removal of all settlements and military roads; evacuation of all the territories annexed or occupied in 1967; boycott of Israeli goods and services. A new sense may actually be dawning that only a mass movement against Israeli apartheid (similar to the South African variety) will work. Certainly it is sheer idiocy for Barak and Albright to hold Arafat responsible for what he no longer fully controls. Rather than dismissing the new framework being proposed, Israel's supporters would be wise to remember that the question of Palestine concerns an entire people, not an ageing and discredited leader. Besides, peace in Palestine/Israel can only be made between equals once the military occupation has ended. No Palestinian, not even Arafat, can really accept anything less.
|Edward Said's book, The End of the Peace Process, has been published by Granta.|