What was the first Intifada?
Anger and frustration were growing in the Occupied Territories, fueled by iron-fisted Israeli repression, daily humiliations, and the establishment of sharply increasing numbers of Israeli settlements. In December 1987, Palestinians in Gaza launched an uprising, the Intifada, that quickly spread to the West Bank as well. The Intifada was locally organized, and enjoyed mass support among the Palestinian population. Guns and knives were banned and the main political demand was for an independent Palestinian state coexisting with Israel.20
Israel responded with great brutality, with hundreds of Palestinians killed. The Labor Party Defense Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, urged Israeli soldiers to break the bones of Palestinian demonstrators. PLO leader Khalil al-Wazir, who from Tunis had advised the rejection of arms, was assassinated (with the approval of Rabin); Israel was especially eager to repress Palestinian leaders who advocated a Palestinian state that would coexist with Israel.21 By 1989, the initial discipline of the uprising had faded, as a considerable number of individual acts of violence by Palestinians took place. Hamas, an organization initially promoted by the Israelis as a counterweight to the PLO,22 also gained strength; it called for armed attacks to achieve an Islamic state in all of Palestine.What were the Oslo Accords?
Arafat had severely weakened his credibility by his flirtation with Saddam Hussein following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. (The Iraqi leader had opportunistically tried to link his withdrawal from Kuwait to an Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.) Israel saw Arafat's weakness as an opportunity. Better to deal with Arafat while he was weak, before Hamas gained too much influence. Let Arafat police the unruly Palestinians, while Israel would maintain its settlements and control over resources.
The Oslo agreement consisted of "Letters of Mutual Recognition" and a Declaration of Principles. In Arafat's letter he recognized Israel's right to exist, accepted various UN resolutions, renounced terrorism and armed struggle. Israeli Prime Minister Rabin in his letter agreed to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestine people and commence negotiations with it, but there was no Israeli recognition of the Palestinian right to a state.
The Declaration of Principles was signed on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993. In it, Israel agreed to redeploy its troops from the Gaza Strip and from the West Bank city of Jericho. These would be given self-governing status, except for the Israeli settlements in Gaza. A Palestinian Authority (PA) would be established, with a police force that would maintain internal order in areas from which Israeli forces withdrew. Left for future resolution in "permanent status" talks were all the critical and vexatious issues: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, and borders. These talks were to commence by year three of the agreement.
In September 1995 an interim agreement -- commonly called Oslo II -- was signed. This divided the Occupied Territories into three zones, Area A, Area B, and Area C. (No mention was made of a fourth area: Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.) In area A, the PA was given civil and security control but not sovereignty; in area B the PA would have civil control and the Israelis security control; and area C was wholly under Israeli control (these included the settlements, the network of connecting roads, and most of the valuable land and water resources of the West Bank). In March 2000, 17% of the West Bank was designated area A -- where the vast majority of Palestinians lived -- 24% area B, and 59% area C. In the Gaza Strip, with a population of over a million Palestinians, 6,500 Israeli settlers lived in the 20% of the territory that made up area C. Palestinians thus were given limited autonomy -- not sovereignty -- over areas of dense population in the Gaza Strip and small, non-contiguous portions of the West Bank (there were 227 separate and disconnected enclaves),23 which meant that the PA was responsible chiefly for maintaining order over poor and angry Palestinians.How did Israel respond to the Oslo Accords?
Whatever hopes Oslo may have inspired among the Palestinian population, most Israeli officials had an extremely restricted vision of where it would lead. In a speech in October 1995, Rabin declared that there would not be a return to the pre-1967 borders, Jerusalem would remain united and under exclusive Israeli sovereignty, and most of the settlements would remain under Israeli sovereignty. Rabin said he wanted the "entity" that Palestinians would get to be "less than a state."24 Under Rabin, settlements were expanded and he began a massive program of road-building, meant to link the settlements and carve up the West Bank. (These by-pass roads, built on confiscated Palestinian land and U.S.- funded, were for Israelis only.)
In 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Israeli and he was succeeded as prime minister by Shimon Peres. But Peres, noted his adviser Yossi Beilin, had an even more limited view than Rabin, wanting any future Palestinian state to be located only in Gaza.25 Yossi Sarid, head of the moderate left Israeli party Meretz, said that Peres's plan for the West Bank was "little different" from that of Ariel Sharon.26 Settlements and by-pass roads expanded further.
In May 1996, Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu who was openly opposed to the Oslo accords was elected prime minister. Netanyahu reneged on most of the already agreed on Israeli troop withdrawals from occupied territory, continued building settlements and roads, stepped up the policy of sealing off the Palestinian enclaves, and refused to begin the final status talks required by Oslo.27
In 1999, Labor's Ehud Barak won election as prime minister. Barak had been a hardliner, but he had also confessed that if he had been born a Palestinian he probably would have joined a terrorist organization28 -- so his intentions were unclear. His policies, however, in his first year in office were more of the same: settlements grew at a more rapid pace than under Netanyahu, agreed-upon troops withdrawals were not carried out, and land confiscations and economic closures continued. His proposed 2001 government budget increased the subsidies supporting settlements in the Occupied Territories.29What was the impact of the Oslo accords?
The number of Israeli settlers since Oslo (1993) grew from 110,000 to 195,000 in the West Bank and Gaza; in annexed East Jerusalem, the Jewish population rose from 22,000 to 170,000.30 Thirty new settlements were established and more than 18,000 new housing units for settlers were constructed.31 From 1994-2000, Israeli authorities confiscated 35,000 acres of Arab land for roads and settlements.32 Poverty increased, so that in mid-2000, more than one out of five Palestinians had consumption levels below $2.10 a day.33 According to CIA figures, at the end of 2000, unemployment stood at 40%.34 Israeli closure policies meant that Palestinians had less freedom of movement -- from Gaza to the West Bank, to East Jerusalem, or from one Palestinian enclave to another -- than they had before Oslo.35What was U.S. policy during this period?
The United States has been the major international backer of Israel for more than three decades. Since 1976 Israel has been the leading annual recipient of U.S. foreign aid and is the largest cumulative recipient since World War II. And this doesn't include all sorts of special financial and military benefits, such as the use of U.S. military assistance for research and development in the United States. Israel's economy is not self-sufficient, and relies on foreign assistance and borrowing. During the Oslo years, Washington gave Israel more than $3 billion per year in aid, and $4 billion in FY 2000, the highest of any year except 1979. Of this aid, grant military aid was $1.8 billion a year since Oslo, and more than $3 billion in FY 2000, two thirds higher than ever before.36
Diplomatically, the U.S. retreated from various positions it had held for years. Since 1949, the U.S. had voted with the overwhelming majority of the General Assembly in calling for the right of return of Palestinian refugees. In 1994, the Clinton administration declared that because the refugee question was something to be resolved in the permanent status talks, the U.S. would no longer support the resolution. Likewise, although the U.S. had previously agreed with the rest of the world (and common sense) in considering East Jerusalem occupied territory, it now declared that Jerusalem's status too was to be decided in the permanent status talks. On three occasions in 1995 and 1997, the Security Council considered draft resolutions critical of Israeli expropriations and settlements in East Jerusalem; Washington vetoed all three.37What happened at Camp David?
Permanent status talks between Israel and the Palestinians as called for by the Oslo agreement finally took place in July 2000 at Camp David, in the United States, with U.S. mediators. The standard view is that Barak made an exceedingly generous offer to Arafat, but Arafat rejected it, choosing violence instead.
A U.S. participant in the talks, Robert Malley, has challenged this view.38 Barak offered -- but never in writing and never in detail; in fact, says, Malley, "strictly speaking, there never was an Israeli offer" -- to give the Palestinians Israeli land equivalent to 1% of the West Bank (unspecified, but to be chosen by Israel) in return for 9% of the West Bank which housed settlements, highways, and military bases effectively dividing the West Bank into separate regions. Thus, there would have been no meaningfully independent Palestinian state, but a series of Bantustans, while all the best land and water aquifers would be in Israeli hands. Israel would also "temporarily" hold an additional 10 percent of West Bank land. (Given that Barak had not carried out the previous withdrawals to which Israel had committed, Palestinian skepticism regarding "temporary" Israeli occupation is not surprising.) It's a myth, Malley wrote,39 that "Israel's offer met most if not all of the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations" and a myth as well that the "Palestinians made no concession of their own." Some Israeli analysts made a similar assessment. For example, influential commentator Ze'ev Schiff wrote that, to Palestinians, "the prospect of being able to establish a viable state was fading right before their eyes. They were confronted with an intolerable set of options: to agree to the spreading occupation ... or to set up wretched Bantustans, or to launch an uprising."40What caused the second Intifada?
On September 28, 2000 Ariel Sharon, then a member of Parliament, accompanied by a thousand-strong security force, paid a provocative visit approved by Barak to the site of the Al Aqsa mosque. The next day Barak sent another large force of police and soldiers to the area and, when the anticipated rock throwing by some Palestinians occurred, the heavily-augmented police responded with lethal fire, killing four and wounding hundreds. Thus began the second Intifada.
The underlying cause was the tremendous anger and frustration among the population of the Occupied Territories, who saw things getting worse, not better, under Oslo, whose hopes had been shattered, and whose patience after 33 years of occupation had reached the boiling point.Who is Ariel Sharon?
Sharon was the commander of an Israeli force that massacred some seventy civilians in the Jordanian village of Qibya in 1953. He was Defense Minister in 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon, causing the deaths of 17,000 civilians. In September 1982, Lebanese forces allied to Israel slaughtered hundreds of Palestinian non- combatants in the Sabra and Shitila refugee camps, a crime for which an Israeli commission found Sharon to bear indirect responsibility. As Housing Minister in various Israeli governments, Sharon vigorously promoted the settlements in the Occupied Territories. In January 2001, he took office as Prime Minister.How did Israel respond to this second Intifada?
Israeli security forces responded to Palestinian demonstrations with lethal force even though, as a UN investigation reported, at these demonstrations the Israeli Defense Forces, "endured not a single serious casualty."41 Some Palestinians proceeded to arm themselves, and the killing escalated, with deaths on both sides, though the victims were disproportionately Palestinians. In November 2001, there was a week-long lull in the fighting. Sharon then ordered the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, which, as everyone predicted, led to a rash of terror bombings, which in turn Sharon used as justification for further assaults on the PA.42 By March 2002, Amnesty International reported that more than 1000 Palestinians had been killed. "Israeli security services have killed Palestinians, including more than 200 children, unlawfully, by shelling and bombing residential areas, random or targeted shooting, especially near checkpoints and borders, by extrajudicial executions and during demonstrations."43
Palestinian suicide bombings have targeted civilians. Amnesty International commented: "These actions are shocking. Yet they can never justify the human rights violations and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions which, over the past 18 months, have been committed daily, hourly, even every minute, by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians. Israeli forces have consistently carried out killings when no lives were in danger." Medical personnel have been attacked and ambulances, including those of the Red Cross, "have been consistently shot at."44 Wounded people have been denied medical treatment. Israel has carried out targeted assassinations (sometimes the targets were probably connected to terrorism, sometimes not,45 but all of these extrajudicial executions have been condemned by human rights groups).
The Israeli government criticized Arafat for not cracking down harder on terrorists and then responded by attacking his security forces, who might have allowed him to crack down, and restricting him to his compound in Ramallah.
Israeli opinion became sharply polarized. At the same time that hundreds of military reservists have declared their refusal to serve in the West Bank and Gaza (www.couragetorefuse.org
), polls show 46% of Israelis favor forcibly expelling all Palestinians from the Occupied Territories.46What has U.S. policy been?
U.S. military, economic, and diplomatic support has made possible the Israeli repression of the previous year and a half.
Much of the weaponry Israel has been using in its attacks on Palestinians either was made in the United States (F-16s, attack helicopters, rockets, grenade launchers, Caterpillar bulldozers, airburst shells, M-40 ground launchers) or made in Israel with U.S. Department of Defense research and development funding (the Merkava tank).
On March 26, 2001, the Security Council considered a resolution to establish an international presence in the Occupied Territories as a way to prevent human rights violations. The United States vetoed the resolution. Because Israel did not want the U.S. to get involved diplomatically, Washington did not name a special envoy to the region, General Zinni, until November 2001, more than a year after the Intifada began. Bush met four times with Sharon during the Intifada, never with Arafat. In February 2002, Vice President Cheney declared that Israel could "hang" Arafat.47What caused the current crisis?
As the Arab League was meeting to endorse a Saudi peace proposal -- recognition of Israel in return for full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders -- a Hamas suicide bomber struck. Sharon, no doubt fearing a groundswell of support for the Arab League position, responded with massive force, breaking into Arafat's compound, confining him to several rooms. Then there were major invasions of all the Palestinian cities in the West Bank. There are many Palestinian casualties, though because Israel has kept reporters out, their extent is not known.
In the early days of Sharon's offensive, Bush pointedly refused to criticize the Israeli action, reserving all his condemnation for Arafat, who, surrounded in a few rooms, was said to not be doing enough to stop terrorism. As demonstrations in the Arab world, especially in pro-U.S. Jordan and Egypt, threatened to destabilize the entire region, Bush finally called on Israel to withdraw from the cities. Sharon, recognizing that the U.S. "demand" was uncoupled from any threat of consequences, kept up his onslaught.Is there a way out?
A solution along the lines of the international consensus -- Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967, the establishment of a truly independent and viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem -- remains feasible. It needs only the backing of the United States and Israel.Don't the Arabs already have 22 states? Why do they need another one?
Not all Arabs are the same. That other Arabs may already have their right of self- determination does not take away from Palestinians' basic rights. The fact that many Palestinians live in Jordan and have considerable influence and rights there, doesn't mean that the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation or who were expelled from their homes and are now in refugee camps aren't entitled to their rights -- any more than the fact that there are a lot of Jews in the U.S., where they have considerable influence and rights, means that Israeli Jews should be packed off across the Atlantic.How can terrorists be given a state?
If people whose independence movements use terrorism are not entitled to a state, then many current-day states would be illegitimate, not the least of them being Israel, whose independence struggle involved frequent terrorism against civilians.Won't an independent Palestinian state threaten Israeli security?
Conquerors frequently justify their conquests by claiming security needs. This was the argument Israel gave for years why it couldn't return the Sinai to Egypt or pull out of Lebanon. Both of these were done, however, and Israel's security was enhanced rather than harmed. True, the Oslo Accords, which turned over disconnected swatches of territory to Palestinian administration, may not have improved Israeli security. But as Shimon Peres, one of the architects of the Oslo agreement and Sharon's current Foreign Minister acknowledged, Oslo was flawed from the start. "Today we discover that autonomy puts the Palestinians in a worse situation." The second Intifada could have been avoided, Peres said, if the Palestinians had had a state from the outset. "We cannot keep three and a half million Palestinians under siege without income, oppressed, poor, densely populated, near starvation."48 Israel is the region's only nuclear power. Beyond that, it is the strongest military power in the Middle East. Surely it cannot need to occupy neighboring territory in order to achieve security. Nothing would better guarantee the Israeli people peace and security than pulling out of the Occupied Territories.Isn't the Palestinian demand for the right of return just a ploy to destroy Israel?
Allowing people who have been expelled from their homes the right to return is hardly an extreme demand. Obviously this can't mean throwing out people who have been living in these homes for many years now, and would need to be carefully worked out. Both Palestinian officials and the Arab League have indicated that in their view the right of return should be implemented in a way that would not create a demographic problem for Israel.49 Of course, one could reasonably argue that an officially Jewish state is problematic on basic democratic grounds. (Why should a Jew born in Brooklyn have a right to "return" to Israel while a Palestinian born in Haifa does not?) In any event, however, neither the Arab League nor Arafat have raised this objection.50Don't Palestinians just view their own state as the first step in eliminating Israel entirely?
Hamas and a few other, smaller Palestinian groups object not just to the occupation but to the very existence of Israel. But the Hamas et al. position is a distinctly minority sentiment among Palestinians, who are a largely secular community that has endorsed a two-state settlement. To be sure, Hamas has been growing in strength as a result of the inability of the Palestinian Authority to deliver a better life for Palestinians. If there were a truly independent Palestinian state, one can assume that Hamas would find far fewer volunteers for its suicide squads. It must be acknowledged, though, that the longer the mutual terror continues, the harder it will be to achieve long term peace.Is a two-state solution just?
There is a broad international consensus on a two-state solution, along the lines of the Saudi peace proposal. Such a solution is by no means ideal. Palestine is a small territory to be divided into two states; it forms a natural economic unit. An Israeli state that discriminates in favor of Jews and a Palestinian state that will probably be equally discriminatory will depart substantially from a just outcome. What's needed is a single secular state that allows substantial autonomy to both national communities, something along the lines of the bi-national state proposed before 1948. This outcome, however, does not seem imminent. A two-state solution may be the temporary measure that will provide a modicum of justice and allow Jews and Palestinians to move peacefully forward to a more just future.Notes
As Zionist writer Ahad Ha'am put it, his fellow Jews "treat the Arabs with hostility and cruelty, deprive them of their rights, offend them without cause, and even boast of these deeds." Quoted in Jews For Justice in The Middle East, The Origin of the Palestine- Israeli conflict, 3rd ed., P.O. Box 14561, Berkeley, CA, 94712, available at http://www.cactus48.com/truth.html.
. Norman G. Finkelstein, "A Land Without a People: Joan Peters's 'Wilderness' Myth," in Image and Reality of the Israel Palestine Conflict, New York: Verso, 1995, pp. 21-50.
See the sources cited by Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians, updated edition, Cambridge: South End Press, 1999, p. 169n10.
Simha Flapan, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities, New York: Pantheon, 1987, pp. 66-67.
Quoted in Jerome Slater, "What Went Wrong? The Collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process," Political Science Quarterly, vol. 116, no. 2, 2001, p. 174.
Flapan, pp. 55, 73-77.
Flapan, pp. 153-86.
Flapan, pp. 187-199.
Christopher Hitchens, "Broadcasts," in Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, ed. Edward W. Said and Christopher Hitchens, New York: Verso, 1988, pp. 73-83.
Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987; Norman G. Finkelstein, "'Born of War, Not By Design," in Finkelstein, Image and Reality..., pp. 51-87.
Slater, pp. 173-74.
See Mark Tessler, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, pp. 308-11; and sources in Noam Chomsky, Towards a New Cold War, New York: Pantheon, 1982, p. 462n33.
Ian Lustick, Arabs in the Jewish State: Israel's Contorl of a National Minority, University of Texas, 1980; Human Rights Watch, Second Class: Discrimination Against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel's Schools, Sept. 2001, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2001/israel2/.
On Israeli-Arab "unrecognized" villages, where some 100,000 people are forced to live without basic government services, including electricity and water, see http://www.assoc40.org/index_main.html.
Charles D. Smith, Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 4th ed., Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001, pp. 237-38.
John Dugard, Kamal Hossain, and Richard Falk, "Question of The Violation of Human Rights in The Occupied Arab Territories, Including Palestine," Report of the human rights inquiry commission established pursuant to Commission resolution S-5/1 of 19 October 2000, E/CN.4/2001/121, 16 March 2001, para 29.
Quoted in Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, p. 100.
Smith, pp. 306, 334n10.
Henry Kissinger, White House Years, Boston: Little, Brown, 1979, p. 376.
Chomsky, Fateful Triangle, chap 3, esp. p. 67.
Smith, pp. 418-21.
Smith, pp. 422-24.
Richard Sale, "Israel gave major aid to Hamas," UPI, Feb. 24, 2001.
Geoffrey Aronson, "Recapitulating the Redeployments: The Israel-PLO 'Interim Agreements'," Information Brief No. 32, Center for Policy Analysis, 27 April 2000.
Slater, p. 177, citing speech to Knesset of 5 October 1995, printed in Report on Israeli Settlement in the Occupied Territories 5 (November 1995).
Slater, p. 178n9, quoting Ha'aretz, 7 March 1997.
Slater, p. 178n9, quoting Report of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Israeli-Palestinian Security,1995.
Slater, p. 179.
Smith, p. 490.
Slater, pp. 180-81.
Edward Said, "Palestinians under Siege," in The New Intifada: Resisting Israel's Apartheid, ed. Roane Carey, New York: Verso, 2001, p. 29; Allegra Pacheco, "Flouting Convention: The Oslo Agreements," in Carey, p. 189.
Sara Roy, "Decline and Disfigurement: The Palestinian Economy After Oslo," in Carey, p. 95; Pacheco, p. 187.
Roy, p. 95.
Roy, p. 101.
CIA World Factbook 2001.
Roy, pp. 98-100.
Clyde R. Mark, Israel: U.S. Foreign Assistance, Updated March 15, 2002, CRS Issue Brief for Congress, Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress, Order Code IB85066. Available at http:///www.fpc.gov/CRS_REPS/Crs_abs.htm.
See the list of vetoed Security Council resolutions on Palestine at http://www.un.org/Depts/dpa/qpal/index.html.
Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors," New York Review of Books, August 9, 2001. See also Deborah Sontag, "Quest for Mideast Peace: How and Why It Failed," New York Times, 26 July 2001, p. A1; and the critique of the Barak offer on the website of the "Peace Bloc," Gush Shalom, http://www.gush-shalom.org
New York Times, July 8, 2001.
Slater, 184, citing Ha'aretz, 24 November 2000.
Dugard et al., para. 22.
Suzanne Goldenberg, "Middle East: Israeli strikes dim hopes for peace mission: Sharon accused of trying to sabotage visit," Guardian, Nov. 26, 2001, p. 6.
Amnesty International, 58th UN Commission on Human Rights (2002), Background Briefing, IOR 41/004/2002, March 11, 2002.
AI statement before Commission on Human Rights, March 26, 2002, MDE 15/027/2002.
Dugard et al., paras. 56, 62, 64.
Ha'aretz, March 12, 2002. On the reservists, see http://www.couragetorefuse.org
Clyde Mark, Palestinians and Middle East Peace: Issues for the United States, Updated March 19, 2002, Congressional Research Service, The Library of Congress, Order Code IB92052.
Jason Keyser, "Peres Says Mideast Peace Process Flawed >From Outset," Associated Press, Feb. 21, 2002.
See Arafat, New York Times, Feb. 3, 2002, and Dugard et al., para. 31 for further discussion.
For discussion of the right of return, see Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return, ed. Naseer Aruri, London: Pluto, 2001.
--------------Stephen R. Shalom teaches political science at William Paterson University and is the author of Imperial Alibis (South End Press).