By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Palestinians have the right to resist like any people under occupation – the Czechs under the Germans or the Algerians under the French – but they have been vilified if they resist and denied justice if they do not! Is there any form of Palestinian resistance to the occupation, the colonization and the siege, so innocuous that it would not win condemnation from Israel’s backers and self-appointed mediators in the West? After a century of struggle, the Palestinian people are hopelessly divided, abandoned by the Arab governments, their land colonized or under siege, and their options limited by the traps of the Oslo’s agreements.
The first Intifada was the revolution that the Palestinians waited for after the 1967 war, if not after 1948. No gun was fired or bomb detonated – only demonstrations and stones at the symbols of occupation. The Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including the refugees for whom camps had been their own reality in their daily life for too long, were not afraid to put themselves and their own children at risk because life under occupation, military rule and the settlers’ harassment had proven that there was no safe place to hide the children. They declined to live under occupation, and chose to fight actively with stones against power far stronger than their own.
They were reckoning with the losses and wounds that their uprising inflected as the consequences of their commitment to live free. They let the children take part in the demonstrations, and the kids learnt to overcome their fear because they saw themselves as other than passive victims, by participating in the protests. The children learned to defy their complacent elders and not to fear the IDF gunfire. After many confrontations, the children of the first Intifada did not talk about pop stars and sports, only clashes, prisoners, and the latest martyrs. After great sacrifices in facing the Israeli repression, they suspended the resistance option and tried the so-called “peace process” at the advice of their leaders in Tunisia and Israel’s Western allies. What did they get? Oslo!
Arafat had agreed to give up armed resistance and formally recognize the state of Israel. Rabin, in exchange, recognized the PLO as “the representative of the Palestinian people,” i.e., not quite a state! In fact, not really a state at all! At the time of its first signing, the Oslo Accords were glorified and celebrated by Western leaders and peace advocates as a political breakthrough of immense importance. Norway, having brokered the deal, was viewed with much respect. President Bill Clinton declared: “A peace of the brave is within our reach,” and the leaders of the Palestinians and Israel were granted the 1994 Nobel Peace prize. Oslo was described by a French-Israeli supporter in historic terms as “the ‘Thermidor’ [the eleventh month] of the eighteenth century French revolution [that produced the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen].” But critical views of the agreements were voiced by Palestinians and even some Israeli intellectuals. They were skeptical about Palestinians’ gains from the accords. Edward Said thought that Oslo aborted the first successful Palestinian uprising and highlighted “the fact is that Israel has conceded nothing.”
Oslo created the Palestinian Authority (PA) to govern most of the people in the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians were sold the idea that the PA would be a temporary body charged with governing their people until a final agreement could be reached. It turned out that the idea of Oslo that carved the West Bank into three distinct geographic zones was to give Israel control over as much land as possible. Oslo was, in the words of Adam Hanich, “to transfer front-line responsibility for Israeli security to a Palestinian face, in this case the PA, while all strategic levers remained in Israeli hands.”
The Palestinian leaders won no real sovereignty, only the responsibility of administering to their own population needs. The PA would assume the obligations assigned to occupying power according to international laws that call for the occupier to provide for “the safety, health and hygiene, education, and religious freedom of the occupied.” Professor of politics at Ben-Gurion University, Neve Gordon, concluded that “Israel had outsourced the occupation,” adding that “outsourcing in this case was not motivated by the power [Israel] to retreat, but, on the contrary, it is unwavering effort to endure and remain in control.”
The Palestinian leaders were allowed to return from exile, but they effectively gave up almost all of the West Bank and Jerusalem except for some enclaves – Bantustans or cantons in a rising sea of settlements in exchange for a phantom state and the trappings of sovereignty. Israel has relied on the PA to repress resistance from the Islamist right, nationalist left, or dissent factions within Fatah. “Security coordination” between the PA and the occupying army that provokes resentment and shame among the Palestinian people meant that PA forces did Israel’s bidding by removing any perceived threats to the occupation in the territory under the PA partial control. It allowed Israel to feel confident about conducting arrests, assassination and home demolitions within the West Bank, in areas that the Oslo agreements had placed under the direct control of the PA.
Besides turning the West Bank into a captive market, the Paris Protocol allowed Israel to have almost complete control over the PA economy, to collect custom duties on goods destined for the PA markets, and determine what the PA is permitted to import and export. Israel succeeded in creating a client state that it continues to control through the rents distributed to the PA via international donors and a strategy of territorial fragmentation and containment.
The PA secures loyalties among constituents by offering access to resources of economic survival but no freedom from occupation. The PA public sector currently employs over 195,000 civil servants, mostly security personnel to maintain tranquility and peace. They are fully dependent on salaries guaranteed by international aid to the PA. There is rampart corruption in the PA and Israel has been a key factor in fostering such corruption and protecting the corrupt. Monopolies controlled by individuals high up in the PA echelons, and their partners in the private sector, have been possible only with the collaboration of Israeli businesses and the consent of the Israeli political and security establishment. And a large segment of the Palestinian labor force found employment in the Israeli economy, at wages higher than possible at home.
Some Palestinians in the West Bank found work in the hundreds of NGOs that sprang up under Oslo, all of which survive on funds from North American and European donors. Their work inevitably reflected the priorities of the donor nations as well as Israel, more than the needs of the Palestinians. The NGO donors created non-productive economic dependency for a class of elite Palestinians under Israeli occupation and do not promote the aspirations of the Palestinians. The donors after all are close allies with the occupier and major financiers of the settlers.
In short, the destinies of a significant number of Palestinians are tied to the PA, hence, to forces bullying or cajoling the PA or to the pleasure of the donor states that tend to obey Israel’s dictates. Prospering in post-Oslo meant investing in the status quo – that is, the occupation. The Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish wrote: “It is dangerous for the homeland under occupation to turn into a loaf of bread.” One concerned West Bank Palestinian resident told me, “It is like when you give a dog a bone. They [the Israelis] want us to be busy with the bone until they are finished with what they are doing.”
The two million Palestinians in Gaza mostly refugees who are not allowed to go back to their homes in Israel are under complete siege. The Israeli military continues to blockade the 25 miles long by 3.7 to 7.5 miles wide land for almost a decade leaving its residents living in extreme poverty. When everything appears to be lost and no reason to hope for justice, people must resist. The West has dehumanized the besieged and starved Gazans and condemned them for fighting back and for declining to consent to their own eradication. To blame the Gazans for their suffering was to exonerate the perpetrators and to blame the victims for their own misfortune. The situation has been made even worse by Egypt’s decision to support Israel’s siege by closing and sealing its border with the Strip that used to be Gaza’s lifeline before the 2013 military coup.
Palestinians in the West Bank tried to emulate Gandhi and Dr. King. They marched or sat and prayed and accepted whatever blows and insults were hurled against them by armed settlers and Israeli soldiers wearing helmets and body armor, and who routinely fired lethal projectiles. The peaceful demonstrations are a ritual performance repeated week after week in the shadows of the apartheid wall and the hundreds of settlements against the deadly forms of Israel’s systematic violence: the land theft, the permit system, the military courts, and the economic hard squeeze in its multiple forms that Palestinians have been born into and endured every day of their lives. The IDF response has been more arrests and more Palestinian blood, shed on an almost daily basis. While Palestinians in the West Bank practice standard peaceful protests, they are accused by Israel of inciting violence.
The two-state solution has been a cadaver for years. The West Bank settler population had more than quadrupled since the signing of Oslo. There are too many settlers in the West Bank hills and they have more representatives in the centers of Israeli power. The settlers control the Knesset, the media, the Army and the ministers. No Israeli leader who values his/her career would dare to evict them. Even in the face of the PA concessions, the long-dreamed-of Two-state Solution seems to embody the same fate.
In talking about the two-state solution, President Obama said in his address to the Saban Forum that: “There is going to be a transition period where the Israeli people cannot expect a replica of Gaza in the West Bank.” This means the Palestinian state would have to wait until Israel can be assured that the Palestinians would vote in a way that would not make their occupier uncomfortable. The journalist, Allison Deger, noticed that instead of talking about Palestinian statehood, Secretary of State, John Kerry, has been talking about “effective state institutions” until “Israel and Jordan must know that they will have a reliable and responsible neighbor between them.” Kerry had said “It will take time to train, build, equip, and test Palestinian institutions.” There is no guarantee that the next US government views will change policy and explore the prospects of making a case for the Palestinian rights. Under the present conditions that have been created by Oslo, “The Two-State Solution” has become “The Two-State Delusion” according to the renowned peace advocate Padraig O’Malley’s book.
The current Palestinian leadership that has been recognized by Israel since 1993 as the only representative of the Palestinian people under Oslo agreements has failed to represent its own people. If anything it has comprised the very core of the Palestinian struggle, encouraged division among the Palestinians, abandoned the refugees, created dependency on Israel and its foreign supporters, protected the settlers, and helped sustaining the occupation. The future of the Palestinians under the current leadership will be more of the same. Such a state of affairs could not persist indefinitely, the Palestinians will not vanish, and something had to happen.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.