While the United States and Israel boast of their democratic values, they continue to wreak havoc on Palestinian self-determination, as the Palestinian Authority is pressured, cajoled and offered inducements to accept agreements that most Palestinians clearly do not want.
This is not to say that most Palestinians don't want an agreement--just that they want a fair one. But the current discussions are based on massive disparities of power: Israel is a major military force; the Palestinians don't even control their own borders. True, they have international law, Geneva conventions and human rights on their side, but that doesn't speak nearly as loudly as Israel's military machine (including an estimated 200 nuclear weapons) and its multifaceted U.S. backing.
The Palestinians are also hampered by a leadership that seems more interested in preserving its status and lining its pockets than in achieving the rights of the people. It's a disquieting paradigm: The powers collude and the people get shafted.
The Israel strategy seems to be to take something by force and then give back a small portion of it, labeling it a "concession" and expecting to be thanked. International law calls for the return of all Palestinian refugees forced from their homes in 1948, along with compensation for them. It calls for Jerusalem to be an international city shared between a Jewish and Palestinian state, and for the Palestinians to have a state larger than what they are currently striving for on the West Bank and Gaza. International law would call for the removal of all Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza; they have been placed there while the land is under occupation, and ethnic transfers under occupation are illegal.
It would not have been much of a "concession" for Saddam Hussein to give back part of Kuwait. Would Clinton have negotiated with Milosevic to let some of the ethnic Albanians back into Kosovo? What Israel has done to the Palestinians is no more legitimate.
Having only recently waged war on Yugoslavia because of its "ethnic cleansing," Clinton now puts his political muscle into trying to get the Palestinians--the world's largest refugee population--to give up hope of returning to their rightful homes. An opportunity to do justice was once again missed. Instead, the politics of illusion seem to have come to the Mideast with a vengeance. It appears the Palestinians have been offered a "Jerusalem" that is not Jerusalem; the right of return for only a nominal number of the Palestinian refugees; a "state" without control over water, borders or real sovereignty; "territory" that is not contiguous; and symbols of nationhood that would become more signs of shame than of pride for an injured people.
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On Jerusalem, the trick was to expand the city to include a village named Abu Dis and claim "That's Jerusalem." It's as though another country conquered Washington, D.C., and Takoma Park, expanded the boundaries of Washington to include Takoma Park and then said that it was going to give back that "part of Washington" as part of a fair "compromise."
The cruel twists of fate against the Palestinians cannot be overcome by such sleight of hand. True peace will come as a consequence of doing the hard work of justice, not through ambiguous agreements worked out in secret. The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians must be acknowledged in a forthright fashion.
Palestinian refugees must be allowed back to their homes, and not just enough to provide pretty pictures for the cameras. There are about 4 million displaced Palestinians. In effect, Israel says it will not allow significant numbers to return because that would shift its demographic balance. But that attitude is morally and legally illegitimate.
Talk of the Palestinians getting 90 percent of the West Bank masks the reality that that is only 22 percent of historic Palestine, that Israel seems to be insisting on leases, the dubious promise of future pullbacks and the fragmented nature of Palestinian-"controlled" territories, as well as the lack of actual Palestinian control over travel, imports, exports and water resources.
This was in a sense the opposite of the original Camp David accords, which were fundamentally based on international law: full Israeli withdrawal and removal of the illegal settlements. Similarly, in South Africa, the final state--the end of apartheid and creation of a multiethnic democracy with one person, one vote--was the explicitly stated end point. The Palestinians, if the Oslo process continues, seem doomed to having bantustans and permanent subjugation.
Such a situation should not be appealing to Israelis. Do they want a genuine peace that gives them real security or a feeling of perpetual guilt over knowing that their neighbors feel righteous resentment over what they have done to them? Genuine peace would mean real acceptance of the people of Israel as equal partners in the Mideast, neither military-economic conquerors nor an outcast, outlaw nation.