Return to Clinton approach heralds disaster
By Ali Abunimah
The Jordan Times,
June 18, 2001
THE MOST abused word of recent times is ceasefire. Hoping to reap
international sympathy, several weeks ago Israel declared a unilateral
ceasefire in its war against the Palestinian people. In reality,
Israeli occupation forces continued to operate with all their
customary brutality and violence, avoiding only the most dramatic
measures, such as the use of attack helicopters and F-16
What Israel discovered is that if it desists from these telegenic
measures, it can continue with all its usual tactics of shooting dead
unarmed civilians, assassinating activists with car bombs, demolishing
houses as it has done without pause in occupied Gaza and occupied East
Jerusalem, confiscating land and destroying tens of thousands of trees
while building settlements apace.
On June 9, three Palestinian women were killed by Israeli shelling as
they slept in their home in Gaza. Israel's army later admitted that it
used Flechette shells against them, a horrific and illegal weapon
which spreads hundreds of razor-sharp nails over a wide area to kill
and maim as many people as possible. Meanwhile, settlers rampage
through the occupied territories, destroying Palestinian houses and
crops and attacking civilians.
Israel guaranteed itself the space to behave in this way by tightening
to an unprecedented degree its internal and external siege of the
occupied territories, to such an extent that poverty has skyrocketed,
normal life is rendered impossible and it is now routine for sick
Palestinians to die because they are denied permission to pass through
checkpoints, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
Following the horrendous bomb attack which killed twenty young
Israelis in Tel Aviv two weeks ago, Israel made a great show of
restraint even though its measures against Palestinians on the
ground were as harsh as ever. But Israeli violence against
Palestinians has become so routinised that most of the ongoing Israeli
repression falls beneath the radar of the US media who almost
universally continue to report that Israel has indeed imposed a
ceasefire while Israel continues to be subject to Palestinian
attacks. Under severe international pressure following the Tel Aviv
bomb, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat also called for a ceasefire, an act
which, while demanded by the Israelis and Americans, runs counter to
popular feeling that a ceasefire is something which can only be
called between two warring armies and not between an occupied
population fighting for its freedom, on the one hand, and a powerful
occupying army, on the other.
But like every word related to the peace process, the word
ceasefire has been debased, its meaning altered beyond normal
recognition. According to the Israelis, American government and the US
media, violence is almost uniquely a Palestinian phenomenon.
Israelis only respond and retaliate, the aggressive and
systematically violent nature of the Israeli occupation itself having
been deliberately obscured. Therefore, a ceasefire is something that
imposes a burden almost entirely on the Palestinians. What it means in
effect is that Palestinians are being told to cease their resistance,
accept military occupation in full and return to the situation where
Israel is allowed to do whatever it pleases on the ground. The
Palestinians, meanwhile, are to give up all rights to respond on the
ground and are to limit themselves to futile complaining at what is
misleadingly called the negotiating table.
It is within this framework that CIA Director George Tenet came to the
region with an American plan to cement the ceasefire and explicitly
to restore the situation on the ground which existed prior to Sept. 28
one which was rightly wholly unacceptable to Palestinians. This
initiative sidestepped and undercut the already minimally acceptable
suggestions of the Mitchell report which Palestinians embraced, albeit
with reservations, since at least that report recognised the need for
the cessation of all settlement activity as a condition for progress.
The Tenet plan, as far as it has been revealed, says nothing about
settlements and calls only for Palestinians to cease all resistance
(violence) and for the Palestinian National Authority to arrest
those whom Israel deems to be militants or terrorists. What few
obligations this plan imposes on Israel only follow after Israel deems
the Palestinians to have carried out their part to its satisfaction.
The absurdity of this plan and the impossibility of Palestinians
complying with it successfully is embodied in a so-called six week
cooling off period which, according to one of Sharon's advisors,
will be restarted every time any Palestinian anywhere so much as
throws a rock at occupation troops.
Tenet's initiative marks the final return of the Bush administration
to the failed approach of the Clinton administration. The Bush
administration has collaborated with Israel to gut the Mitchell report
of the few points which could have served as a common basis for
climbing out of the crisis and to adopt an approach which views the
conflict entirely on Israeli terms. It treats the Intifada not as the
symptom of a long-standing political conflict requiring a just
resolution, but merely as a security problem requiring management
primarily through control and repression of the Palestinians.
For now this must put to rest any hope that the United States can or
will break out of its enthrallment to Israel and develop a more just
and balanced policy, and must kill the illusion that the Bush
administration is any more favourable to Palestinian rights and
interests than Clinton.
But the message of the Intifada, which the Americans have studiously
ignored, is that the Palestinians will not accept a return to
occupation as usual. For seven years of the Oslo accords the
Palestinians accepted innumerable agreements and Byzantine formulas,
all cemented with worthless American assurances. What it got them
was more settlements, more human rights abuses, more checkpoints and
in the end, the prospect of living forever in a state of semi-autonomy
and apartheid, surrounded by Greater Israel, while Palestinian
refugees would have to give up all their fundamental rights.
The Palestinians have taken a decision to resist the occupation until
they achieve freedom and independence once and for all. Neither Tenet
nor anyone else is likely to be able to lead them back onto the road
which goes from Oslo to prison.
The writer is an analyst based in the United States. He contributed
this article to The Jordan Times.