By Joharah Baker
Everyone is always accusing the Palestinians of missing out on opportunities for peace. The worst Palestinian-bashing came after the Camp David summit in 2000, when late President Yasser Arafat supposedly sabotaged his people’s best chance at a Palestinian state and international recognition. Seven years later, the Palestinians are still feeling the backlash of that horrendous fallacy.
These accusations go back much farther than that, even. There are still many voices berating the Palestinians and Arabs for not accepting the United Nations partition plan in 1947. If they did, these critics argue, the Palestinians would have had their state and the conflict would have stopped right there.
But never, not once, have we heard that Israel – the aggressor and the occupier – has missed out on an opportunity. It is always the fault of the Palestinians, Israel portraying itself as constantly outstretching its hand in peace only to be slapped back down by its belligerent neighbors.
This is yet one gross misrepresentation of the dynamics of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Israel has repeatedly failed to grasp opportunities for peace, at least its own peace, over the years. At present, it is fair to say that it just might be too late to recapture opportunities gone by, but it is still clear that at least some players in this conflict understand the wheels that set these opportunities in motion.
Perhaps the British said it best. A government report entitled “Economic aspects of peace in the Middle East”, stressed that peace and security for Israel would never be achieved if the Palestinians’ economic conditions do not improve. On that note, Britain has called on Israel, the international community and the Arab world to assist the Palestinians economically so that peace efforts could move forward.
Plain and simple, this is where the Israelis went wrong. Economic prosperity for the Palestinians has always been the key to Israel’s peace of mind. True, the Palestinians’ national goal of establishing their own independent and sovereign state is always before them. However, when they are economically prospering, they are in a better place to negotiate and reach an amicable agreement.
The best case in point is the period following the Oslo Accords. Here, it is imperative that we set aside the negative political ramifications these accords had on the Palestinians in terms of reaching their national goal of independence. For the purpose of shining a light on Israel’s true intentions and utter lack of desire to ever allow the Palestinians to prosper, the role of devil’s advocate is in order. From an Israeli viewpoint, the Oslo Accords were the answer to their prayers. Not only did the accords ensure that a viable Palestinian state would take years, if ever, to materialize, but it gave Israel the upper hand in crucial matters such as borders, water, refugees and even Jerusalem.
From a Palestinian perspective, the Oslo Accords were no more than a death trap, creating an illusion of liberation and independence without fully realizing that Israel was not forced to relinquish any true power over substantial issues.
Still, the Palestinians weakened to the temptations offered by this masquerade, swallowing the poison whole. For the near decade that followed, Palestinians were made to believe their cities had been “liberated”, scenes of ecstatic West Bankers throwing candy at Palestinian forces returning from exile.
In tandem with this ill-placed euphoria came money, and lots of it. Not only was the international community – the United States, Europe, the Arab countries and even Israel – finally satisfied with the Palestinians’ performance, but Palestinians abroad also felt comforted by the new arrangements created by the agreements. As a result, funds began flowing – the PA was pumped up with money from outside donors, international projects began popping up at every turn and wealthy Palestinians living luxurious lives abroad either returned to their motherland to invest here or established businesses from afar, resuscitating the Palestinian economy like never before.
This is where Israel showed its true colors. In the years that ensued, quiet prevailed. Political negotiations were ongoing and the Palestinians were reveling in their newfound economic prosperity, all the while looking forward to the eventual establishment of their state, which according to the accords, was to be declared after a five-year interim period.
Instead, Israel continued to renege on the agreements, shunning its commitment to freeze settlement construction and failing to offer any reasonable solutions to final status issues. Gradually, the Palestinians realized that they were treading water, at best. Regardless of how many meetings were held, summits attended and promises made, they were no closer to their own state than they had been before signing the accords. On the contrary, they were worse off. Now, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip had been completely isolated, settlements were growing at an exponential rate and Israeli army forces continued to raid Palestinian cities at whim.
Hence, the eruption of the Aqsa Intifada in September, 2000. The rest is history. Today, only a ghost of those post-Oslo years remains. Beleaguered Palestinian policemen guard a partly demolished and pathetic presidential headquarters for a president that is caught between the rock of internal strife and hard place of an omnipresent Israeli occupation. Gaza is completely isolated by the Israelis from the outside and by Hamas from within, its people looking down the barrel of even worse poverty and unemployment than they have seen in recent years.
Meanwhile, the forces of Palestinian resistance that lay dormant during the Oslo years have reawakened in the face of these dire conditions. Nothing can get the adrenaline of resistance and defiance flowing better than poverty, deprivation and no political solution breaking on the horizon.
The more Israel and the international community try to drain these voices of resistance dry, the stronger they will become. There was a time when economic contentment muffled most calls for defiance, but that time has passed. Israel has let that opportunity slip by.
The only lesson to be learnt here is not that the Oslo Accords were such a great opportunity for the Palestinians, because they were not. However, what they did do was expose Israel’s true intentions. The post-Oslo years saw a hiatus in Palestinian attacks on Israelis, economic prosperity and the promise of some form of Palestinian independence. If Israel truly wanted peace, it would have taken advantage of the accords. Instead, Israel sabotaged even that, plunging the entire region into an even more vicious cycle of violence, from which it may take years to recover.
-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Miftah.org, Sep 21, 2007)