PARIS, Sept. 8 (JTA) — Ten years ago this week, Israelis and Palestinians agreed to recognize each other’s national rights and separate peacefully from one another. Today, that principle is called into question as political separation turns into walls of segregation and the elaborate civilian Israeli occupation remakes the map of Palestine and turns the temporary occupation into an entrenched state of apartheid.
Eager for peaceful settlement in the Holy Land, the world was taken by Israel’s rhetoric and ignored its deeds. The 1990s saw a fevered expansion of Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas by both Labor and Likud governments. A decade of Oslo has doubled the number of settlers and shortened the maximum distance separating any Palestinian-controlled area from an Israeli presence into a mere six miles.
Today, separation is impossible without the massive coercive transfer of either the Palestinians or Jewish settlers. Oslo has failed utterly to accomplish what it set out to do: the de-occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in return for peace. Instead, it divided the autonomous Palestinian territories into 202 separate cantons, diminishing the inhabitants’ access to employment, health and education and reducing their GDP by more than a quarter. Israel also strengthened the settlements with a complex network of bypass roads rendering the occupation irreversible.
In Gaza, Israel, which was hoped to be a “light unto the nations,” transformed this overpopulated refugee camp into one of the darkest points on earth as 3,000 Jewish settlers control about a quarter of the land and most of the water resources of this tiny strip. In cities such as Hebron, tens of thousands of Palestinians were imprisoned for the sake of 400 settlers. For these Palestinians the peace process was nothing less than war by other means.
How did such a dramatic turn of events occur? The lion’s share of the blame falls with the United States and Israel, whose actions in turn triggered violent reactions from the Palestinians. The United States failed to use its considerable influence to curb the expansionist impulses of the proponents of a Greater Israel, who slowly but steadily tore the spirit of Oslo to pieces. The assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin signaled the beginning of the end of the Oslo process. At the end of the seven years, Israeli premier Ehud Barak’s attempts to impose an unsatisfactory solution on the Palestinians with the help of President Clinton made matters worse. Barak’s conditions included no return to the 1967 borders, the inclusion of 80 percent of the settlers in Israel, imposing Israeli sovereignty over the greater area of Jerusalem, and the rejection of any meaningful discussion of the question of the 3.7 million Palestinian refugees.
Those conditions drove the final nail in the coffin and led to the outbreak of the intifada. To claim that the Palestinians rejected Barak’s “generous offer” is cynical at best. With the failure of Oslo, Israel and the United States missed their last chance to secure a Palestinian state on a meager 22 percent of Mandatory Palestine in order to preserve an Israeli state, recognized by all of its neighbors, on the remaining 78 percent.
To make matters worse, the Bush administration has put the fox in charge of the hen house by entrusting its vision of a Palestinian state, called for in the international “road map” for peace, to Ariel Sharon. Hence, if it ever sees the light, such a state will resemble nothing more than one of the tribal “homelands” the apartheid government of South Africa created in the 1980s.
The solution Sharon favors would leave the state of Palestine, like the homelands of Venda and Ciskei in South Africa, with all the trappings of a state — a flag, postage stamps, an anthem, a president — but no real sovereignty nor geographic continuity. Moreover, the Palestinian entity would exert nominal control over perhaps 50 percent of the West Bank, i.e. half a state over half of the West Bank. This could only lead to further instability and conflict.
If Israel must go the South African path, then it must also face the consequences of its policy: The long-term alternative to separation is integration, not apartheid.
Marwan Bishara is a lecturer at the American University of Paris and author of Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid (Zed Press).