As the al-Aqsa Intifada in Palestine enters its fifth year, debate has been renewed about the Oslo Accord and its subsequent negotiations that eventually failed in Camp David-2 and in Taba (Egypt) in 2000. Many commentators have begun to argue that launching the intifada was a mistake on the Palestinian side, as it has brought immense suffering on the Palestinians while destroying the progress that had supposedly been made in the ‘peace process’. The debate also endeavours to assess the pros and cons of the four-year experience of the intifada.
One notes that there is a tendency in the West always to blame the Arab side, regardless of its position or its efforts to pursue a just peace. The people and parties who think like this always absolve the Americans and Israelis of all responsibility; even if some pretence is made of attaching some responsibility to either, it is only done for the sake of seeming to be reasonable or objective, while the focus on Arab and Palestinian mistakes continues. This sort of bias is sometimes disguised as a call for self-criticism or reform. However, these pretensions lack credibility because they flagrantly defy established realities and facts.
For instance, some critics insist that Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian president, is the main culprit for the failure of the Camp David-2 and Taba talks, and that the Palestinians should have accepted whatever they were offered in those negotiations. Nonetheless the record does not lend support to such arguments.
In an interview on September 27 with the editorial board of the Jordanian al-Ra’i daily, MahmoudAbbas, the former Palestinian prime minister, arrived at different conclusions. He asserted that what was offered in the Camp David-2 talks by Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and US president Bill Clinton was unacceptable then, remains so now, and will continue so in the future. Why? “As soon as you accept the present jewish settlements that make only 1.7% of the West Bank, you practically split the West Bank into four parts,” Abbas said. “The settlement sites are located on the top of the Palestinian aquifers and wells.” Abbas also addressed the Israeli position regarding Palestinian refugees. Israel justifies the confiscation of their properties as a sovereign resolution which resembles the Nazi confiscation of the Nazis’ victims’ properties.
As for Jerusalem, the Israelis initially proposed autonomy, but for al-Aqsa Mosque they proposed that “we keep the top of al-Aqsa site and they keep control over what is beneath the site”. They also demanded that they maintain, on the top of the site, a small chapel that could accommodate three Jews. “We told them that in the next Sabbath this number will grow to three thousands. And in addition to the Wailing Wall (70 meters), the Israelis also requested to control the Western wall (480 meters),” Abbas said.
Abbas considers President Clinton’s proposals on the refugees in Camp David-2 unfeasible, and mentioned that Clinton informed him and Arafat that he was about to issue a statement that does not consider any party responsible for the failure of the talks. Later, however, he blamed Arafat. However, “Mr Arafat was, in fact, more flexible in Camp David-2 talks than I was but the Israelis did not present any serious offer.” Abbas attributes his cabinet’s failure primarily to the charge that “Israel that did not provide anything, the Americans dragged their feet, and the Palestinians frustrated me,” but he confirms that Israeli prime minister Sharon does not want peace. Interestingly enough, Abbas mentioned that the American side reminded him to state, in his address to the Aqaba summit, that “Israel is a Jewish state”, but he declined. Perhaps he alludes to Yasser Arafat’s statement that declared Israel is a state for the Jews. In other words, these remarks are meant to refute the arguments that blame the Palestinian side for the failure of peace efforts, and exonerate the Israelis and Americans.
For any observer who follows the Zionist enterprise as manifested in Israel’s policies, it is quite obvious that accepting what has been deliberated within or without the negotiations is just another bundle of concessions that will never lead to a just peace. That is, not only is the declared Israeli ceiling of settlement that no Palestinian or Arab negotiator can accept unreal, but also the real ceiling is to take over, abolish and replace al-Aqsa mosque (which is not the octagonal blue-and-gold-mosaic mosque of the Dome of the Rock but the other, much less spectacular, mosque on the south side of the Haram) with a Jewish temple.
The same is also true for land and refugees. The zionist ‘solution’ for Israeli Arabs and for Palestinians in the West Bank and Ghazzah is expulsion or, in the zionists’ language, ‘transfer’. The reality of the zionist enterprise and Israeli state policy admits of no other alternative. For what is openly proposed in the negotiations has its underlying terms and implications, which are always far worse. This reality cannot allow the implementation of any UN resolution or the success of the negotiations that were initiated in the Madrid conference or Oslo accord.
This reality has been ignored by all those who turned negotiations into a “strategy”, including Arafat, Abbas, most Arab officials, and many critics of the intifada after four years. In fact most of the critics have adopted the same position since the early days of the intifada because it initiated an alternative strategy to defeat the Israeli occupation, dismantle zionist settlements, and rescueJerusalem. This strategy should be implemented on many levels: Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and global.
The unilateral Sharon plan claims that Israel will withdraw from the Ghazzah Strip, dismantle its Jewish settlements, withdraw from 40 percent of the West Bank, and remove a few settlements from there. On the one hand, this plan will a real threat if it is really imposed and implemented: it would be a truce based on repressive security measures and on restricting the Palestinian and Arab strategy within the negotiations process and what is proposed by the US. Overall, this means discarding the strategy of uprising, resistance and long-term perseverance, as well as Arab and Muslim solidarity and mobilization against occupation.
On the other hand, the unilateral plan demonstrates the failure of Ariel Sharon’s strategy that he initiated after he became prime minister, which was implemented by the Israeli military to defeat the intifada and to bring forward an alternative Palestinian leadership. So the failure of this plan is an achievement for the intifada; focusing on the plan’s threats should not be allowed to obscure various aspects of the defeat sustained by Sharon’s strategy.
So it is a grave mistake to think that the past four-year experiment has resulted only in massive victimization of the Palestinians (dead, maimed, wounded and harmed economically and financially), usurpation of land and water (settlements and the Wall). As well as defeating the strategy of subjugating the Palestinian people and imposing the Israeli ‘solution’, the intifada has realized substantial achievements on three levels: (i) earning the support of international opinion and reasserting the justice of the Palestinian cause; (ii) exposing Israel as a threat to international peace and security (e.g., the EU polls) and Israel’s policies as war crimes; and (iii) remobilizing most of the UN General Assembly in support of the Palestinian people and their cause.
Furthermore, the intifada has precipitated or exacerbated political, social and economic crises inIsrael and rifts within the ruling coalition and the Likud party. So the big picture should not be overlooked because of the Israeli voters’ tilt towards the extremist right-wing parties in reaction to the intifada. For any approach to the Israeli political map in terms of right and left or moderation and extremism will start with classifying the Labor party as a pioneer of extremism and right-wing politics. Otherwise Israeli history will appear as a history of moderation. Excessive violence and extremism have been an inherent part of the zionist enterprise since the first zionist conference in 1898. However, the Israeli voters’ orientation varied from one line to a harder line of extremism. Since 1977 the Labor and Likud coalitions have alternated power in Israel. The fact that some Israeli politicians are “more extremist” than Ariel Sharon does not make him a “moderate” or “centrist”, let alone a “man of peace”. And the Oslo negotiations brought in Likud’s Netanyahu government that replaced Labor’s Perez government, just as the intifada brought in Likud’s Sharongovernment that replaced Labor’s Barak government. Consequently, no one should blame theintifada for the rise of Israeli extremism.
As such, any honest assessment of the strategy of uprising, resistance and perseverance will rightly conclude that eventually it will prove to be enough for the intifada to destroy the Wall of racist separation, defeat the occupation, or bring about a second unilateral plan of withdrawal to the lines of the 1949/50 truce. However, this requires a better Arab-Muslim solidarity and support, and better-prepared and more sympathetic international opinion. Initiating a confrontation with the Wall that was condemned as illegitimate by the International Court of Justice and the UN General Assembly will make the Israeli and American position their weakest point.