The mainstream media have reported extensively on the latest horrific violence in the West Bank and Gaza. However, in its typical fashion, our media missed the real story the full context for the violence and the U.S. role in causing the new intifada.
This intifada is a reaction to the failure of the Oslo process to deliver a just peace security for Israelis and an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Despite initial support of Israelis and Palestinians for Oslo, neither now support it. The U.S. has major responsibility for this situation because it failed to be an honest broker.
The Oslo Accords were based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which called for Israel to end its occupation of Arab land in exchange for security guarantees. Hardly being an honest broker, the U.S. focused its attention on the Palestinians in an effort to reduce the security threat to Israel. At the same time, instead of pushing for a withdrawal of Israeli settlers and troops, the U.S. allowed Israel to place 50,000 new illegal settlers on Palestinian land.
By this action, Israel and the U.S. showed that neither intended to honor the agreement. The U.S. also permitted Israel to demolish over 1,000 Palestinian homes and allowed Israeli closures of the Occupied Territories. Neither of these acts advanced the cause of peace; instead, they fueled Palestinian hatred of Israel. Under these closures, the Palestinian gross national product has fallen by 35 percent since the start of the Oslo process. As a result of the closures, Muslim Palestinians in the West Bank are not allowed to worship at Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem and Christian Palestinians are denied access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
After seven years of negotiation, the Palestinians have complete control over 12 percent of the West Bank and Gaza and partial control over another 26 percent. Even this control is problematic since these areas are surrounded by Israeli forces which can isolate and besiege Palestinian living there, as they are doing now.
During this same time period, the U.S. continued to give Israel approximately $4 to $5 billion per year. The U.S. continued to arm the Israeli military even though Israel uses these weapons against civilian targets. The U.S. also prevented the U.N. from imposing sanctions on Israel for its numerous violations of international law.
An Israeli government source recently confirmed the U.S. bias when he said "The Palestinians always complain that we know the details of every proposal from the Americans before they do. There's a good reason for that; we write them." Even if this source is not totally correct, the U.S. has supported a Palestinian surrender instead of a just peace.
The failure of Oslo has disillusioned Palestinians and even long-time peace advocates have lost hope. Most Palestinians now support the intifada in an effort to end Israel's illegal and brutal occupation of Palestinian lands.
When I was a human rights observer in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in 1996, I saw the despair and I expected an explosion well before now. In May 1999, World Vision, a religious charity, stated, "an increasing sense of disillusionment with the peace process by Palestinians may well ignite future violence." Even then, if the U.S. had pushed for a just peace, the violence could have been prevented. Instead, the U.S. continued to be a dishonest broker.
The spark for this new intifada was the invasion by Ariel Sharon of the third holiest Muslim site on Harem al-Sharif. I say "invasion" because Sharon was accompanied by at least 1,000 Israeli police. This invasion was a deliberate insult, an act to show who is in control.
Sharon is particularly reviled by Arabs for his long history of terrorist acts against Arab civilians. To make this incitement even worse, it occurred just ten days after the anniversary of the 1982 massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon. During that massacre, Israeli forces surrounded the camps and allowed their Lebanese militia allies to slaughter 2,000 defenseless people. The Sharon-led Israeli attack on Lebanon in 1982 killed at least 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians (mostly civilians) compared to fewer than 500 Israeli deaths.
This new intifada is an attempt to do what the Oslo negotiations failed to do end the harsh Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. Palestinians want an independent state consisting of the entire West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. This Palestinian position represents a huge concession because the West Bank and Gaza represent only 22 percent of the original area of Palestine.
As I write this, the violence is intensifying. Due to the tremendous imbalance of power in Israel's favor, fighting invariably leads to an overwhelming majority of the dead and wounded being Palestinian. To end this violence, the U.S. must allow international peacekeeping forces to enter the West Bank and Gaza. In addition, the U.S. must join the international consensus and support Resolution 242, the basis for a just peace.
Even mainstream Israeli media recognize the wisdom of withdrawal from Palestinian lands. For example, in a recent article, prominent Israeli columnist A. B. Yehoshua reversed his former position and told the settlers: "Come home from the Palestine exile. Only thus will we be able to set up a true border, a solid border that divides us from the State of Palestine. Only thus can we defend the State of Israel better and try to hope that one day we will live as peaceful neighbours."
Ron Forthofer lives in Longmont, Colorado and was the Green Party candidate for the U.S. Congress seat in Colorado's 2nd District.