RALEIGH -- Recent setbacks in the Middle East "peace process" -- both the Syrians and the Palestinians have suspended negotiations, and Lebanon is again ablaze from Israeli air strikes -- give rise to the obvious question: what happened? Wasn't the election of Ehud Barak supposed to lead to a successful resolution of this decades-old conflict?
While negotiations may yet resume soon, and perhaps even some sort of "final status" agreement will be reached, I think it's fair to say that no genuine resolution of the conflict is on the horizon; at least not so long as Israel pursues its current policy, with the uncritical support of our government.
Jeff Halper, coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, speaking recently in the Triangle, expressed the fundamental problem this way. He claims that Israel has established over the years a "matrix of control" over Palestinian life. Through its widespread and strategically located settlement system, with its labyrinth of bypass roads connecting settlements to each other and to Israel's major cities, with legal restrictions that choke economic development and construction of adequate housing, and with control over borders and security, Israel has removed any possibility for genuine Palestinian independence and sovereignty. The policy of demolishing homes built without permits -- permits are of course nearly impossible to obtain -- is just one, albeit especially cruel, strand of the matrix of control.
When Barak was elected there was hope that the most oppressive measures, such as home demolitions, would cease, as an expression of good faith to the Palestinians. After a brief pause, however, demolition resumed. Land confiscation continues, as does construction of settlements.
In October of last year, for example, some 25,000 acres surrounding Hebron were declared "closed military areas" by the Israeli army and the inhabitants ordered to leave. By November, Barak had approved the construction of 2,703 units in settlements. The much-publicized removal of extremist settlers from the hilltop settlement of Havat Ma'on masked a far-reaching understanding with Yesha, the settlers' political organization, that granted them approval for widespread settlement expansion.
The fundamental issues that divide the Israelis and the Palestinians in the so-called "final status" talks involve borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees. These have been the issues for over 50 years.
In 1948, Israel pursued a policy of expanding its borders, settling quickly on captured Palestinian land, refusing to recognize the rights of refugees to either return or compensation and insisting on sovereignty over Jerusalem in the face of U.N. resolutions according it international status. If we look at Barak's current strategy for the final-status agreement, we see little has changed.
In a recent article in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Aluf Benn described Barak's position as follows:
"Barak . . . will demand roughly 50 percent of the territory of the West Bank, including two security regions in the Jordan Valley and Samaria, and a ring around Jerusalem. Settlements adjacent to the Green Line (pre-1967 borders) will comprise a western security zone, whereas an eastern zone will depend upon deployments of the IDF; the army will be allowed to move between these security zones, under terms to be stipulated in the agreement."
In other words, continuation of the "matrix of control."
The Palestinians, unfortunately, are triply oppressed. They suffer from occupation by Israel, dictatorial control by the Palestinian Authority and virtual abandonment by the world at large. This does not auger well for their chances in the final-status talks. Every time the Palestinian Authority shows some resistance, pressure from the U.S. and Arab allies like Egypt causes the authority to relent. It could happen that way yet again.
However, if Israel is truly to achieve peace and security, it must not use its considerable power, and U.S. support, to impose a settlement on the Palestinians. A just, viable peace would incorporate the spirit of U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, granting genuine Palestinian sovereignty in the entire West Bank and Gaza (subject to minor, and mutual, border modifications). Jerusalem must clearly be shared in an equitable manner. The settlements cannot remain. Finally, Palestinian refugees must receive recognition of their rights and become a genuine party to the negotiations.
Only on these terms can a stable and just peace be established.
Is any of this a realistic possibility? The first precondition for realizing this scenario is that the Palestinian Authority be overhauled completely. Only a democratic leadership, genuinely representing its people's interests, can garner the energy to resist the Israeli plan to dictate the terms of peace. The second precondition is a fundamental change in U.S. policy. Our government must finally become the honest broker it claims to be, and not the supplier of diplomatic and military support to oppression.
Joseph Levine is professor of philosophy at N.C. State University.
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