Saturday, September 6, 2008

Failure for Expansionism

When Annapolis was signed back in November, it was a moment to be revered by most of the international community that saw the two warring bodies of Israeli and Palestinian come together in order to work out a proposal that would finally end the conflict. One thing in common that both pessimists and optimists had was that this proposal was on thin ice and any outbreak of violence would shake up the paper-thin agreement: a Palestinian taking hold of a bulldozer, a weapon of destruction that bears nightmares to Palestinians in the West Bank, and wreaking havoc in Jerusalem; or an Israeli settler savagedly beating Palestinian farmers near Hebron and it will all fall apart. (In the case with the latter, we can make the case that the Palestinians have no upper hand and have no alternative but to continue with the said guidelines to reach the “historic” agreement.) It was meant to be a step back towards conciliation, a major turning point; here we had two leaders in Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas both complying and recognising each other as a partner in peace, a potent recipe for progress. Coupled with the intention of one George W. Bush and his desire to make a mark for tenure as the leader of the Empire and not one who descended the region into conflagration that could spark more bloodshed in Iran, this was supposed to be encouraging.

But the cynics had it right over the optimists. It all fell apart, or is currently falling apart as I type this. Nothing has changed and in fact in certain cases, the situation has worsened (think Gaza). We have both leaders having no political base whatsoever, and regarding Olmert, he is stepping down amidst a maelstrom of corruption charges. Abu Mazen is barely keeping his head above water and unable to stem the tide from further Israeli encroachment upon the West Bank, the territory that Fatah was meant to have sovereignity over but looking more and more like Israeli suzerainty in its place (which it never relinquished). The third leader in this fiasco also seeing the sun set on his time at the helm with two incumbent leaders pledging to do more when Annapolis’ first anniversary nears. So is it so surprising when we read that President Abbas doubting to “to reach full agreement” by “the end of the year”?

The elementary answer is a no. Why is that? Are we to renounce all hope with this conflict and admit to ourselves that Benny Morris was right that there is the Arab-Israeli enmity is too deep and has been ongoing for too long for a deal to be struck? Or we to forget the lessons of post-colonialist struggles such as Algeria, Rhodesia and South Africa and let Israel get a pardon as the sole European colonialist enterprise to still exist in the 21st Century? Do we have no answers to pose for the plight of Palestinians, not only in the occupied territories but also those languishing in destitution in the refugee camps and the Diaspora, numbering millions? Are Israelis meant to continue their existence living in constant “existential” threats against their life in the heart of the Middle East surrounded by hostile states not recognising their “right to exist”? Is this conflict going to perpetuate the divide between the Third World and the West and further hammer in the wedge that separates “us” from “them”?

In earnest, we have no concrete answers for any of these questions. We can go around in circles, do our research, cited as many sources so we can fill an entire book as a bibliography but that will not give any respite to the suffering so far from us. What the cynics had over the optimists was perhaps a deeper understanding of what Annapolis was really all about: nothing. The optimists wanted to believe that this could be that pathbreaker, that coddled helping hand, that nudge in the right direction that could encourage both sides to say that it is time to talk and try to save as many lives as possible; but ultimately it could not do that because Annapolis had no substance and it had no guideline. It barely even had a timeline to be followed. (It gave a shaky timeframe that a final deal will be reached by 2009. Abbas and Olmert’s successor will have less than three months to shake on a deal that has not been sealed by so many other leaders before them.) Or more poignantly, “the devil is in the details”, to quote Jeff Halper. For Annapolis was just the latest of a series that copied past summits, peace proposals, Accords and agreements: it dealt with no serious issue and it was meant to be a PRECURSOR for a final agreement. So in effect, what Annapolis embodied was a negotiation for a negotiation. It was a talk so we can mediate in future. And when you are dealing with two parties that have been at each other’s throat for sixty years and well into its forty-second year of occupation, this is a very hollow deal to begin with.

What we have here is the latest phase of occupation by diplomacy. During the 80s, Israel took a major beating on the PR front; it had negative press during its incursion in Lebanon, it had the first intifada to deal with and it had major rumblings within its own sector on how they should deal with their Palestinian citizenry. The fall of the Soviets boosted immigration but it eliminated one of Israel’s main beneficiary role as the stalwart in the Middle East against communism. Furthermore, its role in supporting the Afrikaaners did it no favours in the human rights avenue, and more human rights organisations were publishing Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians. To combat this, Israel finally accepted the PLO and Arafat which culminated with the Oslo Accords. Although Oslo is seen as the turning point for the Palestinians in their hardline stance against Israel, finally giving up their call for the liberation of historic Palestine and accepting 22 % of it for a state of their own, it was the perfect ploy for an occupier to maintain its authority over its inhabitants, ie the Palestinians.

By signing Oslo, Arafat was given control over the Palestinians but had no security, no control over the borders, no water policy, no authority over Israelis who were in the West Bank, no status on East Jerusalem, no nothing. In fact, Arafat became the main scapegoat for anything that could be blamed on him; terrorism was on the rise, it’s Arafat’s fault because he cannot police his area. The economy is dwindling, it’s Arafat’s fault because he is corrupt and took all the money. They are only partial truths that do not tell the full story of Israel’s culpability in such matters. What was transferred was the “blame” in the eyes of the world for the occupation, for the occupation never truly ended, it was just signed by Arafat and his loyal followers.

I do not mean to pit all the blame on one side or the other: that is beside my point. These “proposals” are just part and parcel of the bigger and stronger party dictating to the weaker one. Force is not something that is tolerated much by the latter, and they have shown that they can endure many hardships in the hope to see a better tomorrow. But unless pushed, the stronger are not willing to give up what they feel is rightfully their’s because someone weaker than them are expressing their desire to have equal rights. Do not be lost in the hyperbole that we are dealing with two equal sides here: Annapolis is not incumbenet on the Palestinians “keeping up their part” of the deal here. The Palestinians have no bargaining cards except for the land they inhabit: that’s the only thing the Israelis want. Security? Sure, that would be nice but “security with your land” is what the desired outcome here. And who is going to stop them? The weaker party? And that is the ultimate disparity between the two here. The Palestininans have compromised over and over in the (vain) hope to accommodate Israel so they can get some alleviation from the brutality of occupation; Israel can just sit idly by and wait it out. They have done so for about forty years. Sure, they get condemned in the UN and by the fringe left-wing elements of the West and the developing nations globally, but since when has that made a difference to them? Just because the UN expresses concern over the strangulation of the Gaza Strip doesn’t immediately mean that it will make it stop. And the approval of Costa Rica and other Latin American states won’t cease Israel from trading the Dow Jones.

The Oslo period saw the systematic abortion of the Palestinian resistance movement. It pre-empted the unified call to resist the occupation by all means in order to gain the rights akin to the ones that benefited the blacks of South Africa and other indigineous movements in decades past: one that liberates them from their oppressor and achieve one man, one vote as well as self-determination. Arafat had little choice but to take Israel’s offer and see himself rise up to the ranks of an official recognised worldwide, fraternising with world leaders and dining with the best of them. But Oslo enabled Israel to undermine Arafat internationally by developing more twice as many settlements that already pockmarked the West Bank (as well as Gaza), expanded the existing ones and constructed “Jewish-only” roads that connected the settlements which created a ergonomic bypass for Israelis to travel from Israel proper into the settlements deep into Palestinian territory without ever encountering a Palestinian village. This is what Arafat and the PLO had to show for themselves by taking on the diplomatic route to end the occupation. (The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin may have rebirthed the primordial feeling that this land is not negotiable but there were plenty of evidence that Rabin was also reluctant to let go of most of the territories.) Despite protestations internally by the Islamic sects, Fatah was all too willing to do Israel’s bidding in policing the Palestinians.

And we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes of Oslo, Camp David and the Road Map. Just looking at the statistics, things do look grimmer: Annapolis did not stem settlement fever, it has increased it. The violence has not dissipated and the case of Gaza, they have been bordering catastrophy. Palestinians have been caged in and many students have been refused to continue their studies abroad. Aid is trickling in but only at the whimsy of Israel and Egypt. The violence by settlers in the West Bank is one to be marveled, and the actions by the IDF during the protests against the wall, is despicable. The water wars will only continue apace and there is no actual soveriengity to speak of when you ask a Palestinian. The only ones who seem to be benefiting are those in Ramallah who are very far from the actual frontlines of the struggle against the occupier. And there is really no sign of any of this getting better.

But this is encased by the peace process. A weak Abbas is wrestling for the crumbs that Israel is willing to spit at them but the longer he is deflected, the more and more Hamas and their stance is legimitated. Abbas has succeeded Arafat in being the satrap, the occupier by proxy, and Annapolis is mimicking Oslo in the legitimisation of the occupation. For like Oslo, Annapolis has seen an increasement in settlements, a reduction in control of East Jerusalem and the squeezing out of Palestinian life, furthering their dismemberment and cantonisation, what many observers are calling “Bantustanisation” of the West Bank. Life is becoming more miserable and unbearable, surrounded by a monolithic wall, ubiquitious IDF presence and an extremist and dangerous settler population that only thirsts for more Palestinian land to be “redeemed” by Jews. The distrust endemic in the Palestinians towards the Israelis (and the Americans) can only grow when another settlement is validated for construction. Thanks to the futility of the PLO to make life easier for the common Palestinian, the equation that saw the uselessness of dealing with the occupier by diplomacy that changed absolutely nothing, it led to the rise of alternate movements. Hamas benefited immensely because of the deterioration of Oslo, Camp David, Taba and the Road Map because inadvertently, Israel justified their position of “no negotiations with Israel”. By insisting that Arafat was no partner, Israel unilaterally chose to make their own path by building deeper and deeper into the West Bank and because of that, Arafat was seen as nothing more than a puppet of Israel’s doing. Abbas is no different: he is reliant on Israeli aid and “concessions” that is meant to “boost” his image amongst his people. This is similar to Arafat; he was also dependent on Israel and their capriciousness. When they saw a benefit to “concede” to Arafat, ie remove an outpost that was erected overnight, then they would comply, even though that same outpost would re-emerge the next week. You can see the same context today when Israel releases prisoners as a “gesture”, even though those same prisoners were nearing the end of their detainment and are members or former members of the Fatah party (Hamas does not get a repreive.). It’s quite ironic now to read Abbas losing faith in the process that was never going off the ground.

Why was Annapolis doomed to fail? As was stated earlier, it was only meant to be a guideline for talks, a prerequisite for a final determination status. Not much detail was given to what Annapolis was really all about; it was quite glossy and spectacular to have to leaders shake hands and smile and pose at the camera and pretend that we’re all friends here and that there is hope that both sides can live with each other and be neighbours. But these pictures did not tell a thousand words; it barely hit the tip of the iceberg. With all of Condolleezza Rice’s attempts to slap Israel on the wrists for “obstacles to peace”, we all know that she is unable to do anything about it, just like all the other officials from years past have been unable to do anything about Israel’s expansion into the West Bank. Peeking at the list of violations of UN Resolutions is enough to give a good background on what Israel has been getting away with and it shows no sign of stopping or even slowing down. The lesson of Annapolis has to be that these summits, negotiations, proposals and agreements between the two are of no use at all when you are dealing with such a disparity of power and support. Do not be deluded that we have two equal sides of equal power: Israel has the total backing of the biggest power today, with 200 nukes in their arsenal and major weaponry which they deal heavily with with the rest of the world. The Palestinians barely have a police unit able to control the small portion of the West Bank which is a fraction of the size of the province of Ontario. Unless there is major pressure on the stronger party, they have no incentive at all to “concede” anything to the weaker party. We’re not talking about altruism here: Israel has attempted to remove every form of Palestinian history, their narrative and even their existance as a people. They certainly see no benefit for themselves in seeing their right for self-determination. Ariel Sharon, the architect of the Sabra and Shatilla massacres, was not going to wake up one day and say to himself “I have to give up the territories because it is not the right thing to do to oppress and subjugate the Palestinians.” He had to have seen the grim alternative of holding on to the settlements in the Gaza Strip. So too does any future Israeli leader: there must be a price to pay that is more costly than holding on to the occupied territories. (For some on the right, they have to hold on to the territories AT ALL COST.)

This is why we have seen failure upon failure upon failure. Israel has acted with impugnity for decades; it continues to hold on to territories that they are bound by law to withdraw; they continue to build settlements that is in clear violation of the Gevena Convention; they continue to construct the wall that puts the Berlin Wall to shame; they continue their belligerency by tightening the embargo on the Gaza Strip; they detain and deport a Jewish scholar trying to visit the West Bank; they harass and torture journalists and their activity in the West Bank gets more gruesome the more we see them being filmed. There are reports now that after B’tselem distributed video cameras to Palestinians to document IDF and settler cruelty, the filmers and their family are being pressured to give up their rights to do so. And these are the results of Mahmoud Abbas under Annapolis. Sadly, Abbas is set to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps in being superfluous and forgotten. Hamas has shown more temerity; although they have little to show on progress as Gaza remains isolated, they managed to get Israel to a (shaky) ceasefire, already making Israel acknowledge the power of Hamas when they refused to do so back in 2006. Hamas have every intention on seeing Abbas go down with the Annapolis ship in order to sweep into power in the West Bank also. Thanks to Israel’s belligerency, Hamas is once again being proven correct.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can see all of this come to an end if the power players are willing to apply the adequate pressure on Israel to stop with the occupation and pull back. Right now, the US is the main backer of Israel and their policies; the ascendency of Barack Obama, a person with a Muslim father, had Likudniks shuddering. Obama, who had Ali Abunimah at his corner a long time back, decided to break ties with a Palestinian who advocates for a one-state solution. That was company that Obama and his cabal saw as a liability if he was to see his aspirations as President be realised. The attention devoted to Obama and his supposed views on the Israel-Palestine conflict saw him being grilled by AIPAC and Jeffrey Goldberg because they were so concerned about losing perhaps the biggest seat of power in Israel’s corner. This “concern” led many in the right to “grab” more “hilltops”, evoking Sharon’s famous words when he saw the threat of Oslo make the dream of an Eretz Israel more precarious. And it turned out that those fears were baseless: Obama pledged his support for Israel, an undivided Jerusalem, and although a less hawkish position than McCain, he does want more sanctions on Iran. It remains to be seen whether Obama has any specific policy on the settlement construction. Additionally, members of AIPAC are quite content with the four choices currently being pushed for the Presidential race: this does not bode well for the Palestinians at all: Obama-Biden, McCain-Palin. Both campaigns are using the “change” platform to get them over the hump, but we all know that there will be no change in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Sans pressure, we can have all of these proposals, summits, etc. but it won’t make a difference. What matters are those issues that are always “off the table”: Jerusalem, the wall, right of return, settlements, water, sovereignty. Without those, we are left with an Israeli state that has total control of the Palestinians with the blanket image of the PA having some kind of say about what to do about it. We are left to repeat the same failures that we get inured with. For without any pressure from the US, the EU or even the Israelis themselves, the Israeli state will just continue their wanton ways and expand further into the heart of Palestinian territory. They don’t care about a Palestinian state. It’s up to the rest of the world (as well as the Palestinians) to show that there is no benefit to continue their occupation and their violation of international law. Not since the Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai back in 1956 have we seen any pressure applied by the US and it is no coincidence that Israel has just expanded their borders since then. Israel trades heavily with the EU and yet despite their leader’s excoriation of them, nothing seems to change. They even qualify in the European section in the World Cup. Every other Western state has normal relations with Israel. So why would Israel do anything to give up the territories they gained in the Six-Day War when no one seems to be willing to penalise them for their transgression?

Israel has successfully applied the occupation upon the PA themselves but that is not a totality or a finality. Ehud Olmert was prescient when he spoke of the dangers of the failure to apply a two-state solution; he is aware of the growing number who call for a single state to represent both Israelis and Palestinians. That is a big no-no for a Zionist state that has to have a Jewish champion citizen over the Arab Muslim. The demographics are not in Israel’s favour and it will never be; the emigration rate is growing by the year and the immigration rate has petered to a standstill. So many incentives are given to those who hope to make aliyah, and so many of them are sent into the West Bank subsidised by the Israeli state. Without getting into the specifics for or against the one state, it is definitely a solidarity movement that has many members in the Knesset miffed. The ideology of Zionism is losing flavour and is of lesser consequence to those in the Diaspora. These could be the halcyon days of the Jewish state, the last European colonialist enterprise; they have all fallen down, and as history teaches us, this one is on its way down too.

The occupation cannot exist forever even though Israel is more than capable of doing so. Without our words, our deeds, our actions, it may last for another forty years. Some academics are expressing grief that the Palestinians may not have that long to go; others are hopeful that they will because they are able to endure great hardship. Let’s not wait to see if that’s what in their future. If not, then we are stuck in the circle, seeing more of the same scenes, more of the same words, and more of the same debacles lost in the muddle of tax dollars and aid.

Note: This article appeared in The Human Times.

No comments: