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To Hope or Not To Hope

The Other Israel Briefing no. 17
Tel-Aviv, July 7, 2000

Has it really come? Are we now living that mythical Moment of Truth - so many times predicted and endlessly speculated about? The moment when a meandering, long-overdue, interminable Peace Process should at last produce a bit of real peace - or break down altogether in an explosion of violence and bloodshed and hatred.

Twenty-two years ago, at the conclusion of that other summit in Camp David, then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed, in the context of an Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement, a document recognizing "The Legitimate Rights of the Palestinian People" - only to immediately drown that obligation in war and massacre.

Later, the Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House Lawn created the illusion that peace was coming at last - a feeling which was steadily eroded in seven years of unmet deadlines, ongoing land confiscation, terrorist outbursts, settlement expansion, and ongoing daily oppression.

The Palestinians now seem resolved to gain their independence with or without Israeli consent, ready to make ghastly sacrifices in order to shatter the chains which still bind them. Few of them still believe in the power of peaceful negotiations to set them free. And also among Israelis cynicism is on the rise.

Ehud Barak went to meet Arafat and Clinton at a "last-chance summit" at Camp David: a battered Prime Minister, deserted by most of the parties and factions of his coalition, fighting a parliamentary battle to keep the remnants of his cabinet afloat - and still forging ahead unperturbed, supremely confident (or so he appears) of his ability to bypass the hidebound political system, appeal directly to the people and get their support in elections or referendum on the agreement he would make. But of course, first he would have to make an agreement...

We were waiting for him last night, hundreds of activists in the peace vigil outside the gates of Ben-Gurion Airport: some grey-haired veterans of many actions rubbing shoulders with the Peace Now Youths, Blue-Shirts and the Peace Drummers with their hypnotic rhythms. The slogan "The majority supports peace" on the brand new T-shirts was supplemented with stickers such as Gush Shalom's "There is no such thing as a legal settlement"; young throats chanted energetically for hours on end the good old "No more war" and "Peace Yes - Occupation No!" and "Israel and Palestine - two states for two peoples" and "Don't want to die in vain - make peace now!" - as well as new ones: "Summit today - Tomorrow Peace" (which rhymes nicely in Hebrew), and "Ehud, bring us peace!", and "Ehud will bring us peace!".

Is Prime Minister Ehud Barak going to fulfil the high hopes placed in him by the young - due, all too soon, to be conscripted - or is he going to Camp David only to propose impossible terms; put blame for the failure on "Palestinian intransigence" and call upon the youths to follow him into the coming war? Barak's starting positions, as repeatedly reiterated in his Five No's ("The Red Lines") certainly seem far short of the minimal Palestinian aspirations. True, the PM does seem willing to relinquish about 90% of the West Bank, more than offered by previous governments, or even by himself a year ago. But the "settlement blocks" which Barak still insists upon keeping were established in strategic locations, so as to cut up the West Bank and break the Palestinians' territorial continuity. Thus, even gaining 90% of the West Bank (itself no more than about 20% of historic Palestine, the rest having become part of Israel already in 1948) a Palestinian state might turn out to be non-viable, a collection of isolated enclaves. Adding to this Barak's declared intransigence on the sensitive and emotive issues of Jerusalem ("Eternal Capital of Israel, Forever"), and the Palestinian refugees ("No recognition of any Israeli political or judicial responsibility"), it is easy to understand the widespread pessimism about the outcome of Camp David II, or the refusal of many activists to join yesterday's action at the airport, or the bigger demonstrations in the same vein planned in Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv.

Yet exactly because of his weakened position, Barak may be desperately in need of ending the summit with an agreement which he can present to the people. Indeed, his political survival largely depends upon it. While Palestinians are willing, if need be, to fight for their freedom, Israelis are far from enthusiastic about a war to keep territory under occupation - as the story of Israel's involvement in South Lebanon clearly demonstrates. Such a war after failure to cut a deal with Arafat would cost Barak his re-election.

Should Camp David II end, after all, with an Israeli-Palestinian agreement, a clear measure is available for evaluating it: how many of the recent campaigns by Israeli peace and human rights organizations will be obviated by it?

Will there still be a need to protest against house demolitions?

* Weekly vigils were held outside the residence of Nathan Sharansky, until this week Interior Minister of Israel - who was personally responsible for the demolition of several "illegal" Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. A true peace agreement would completely place such Palestinian homes beyond the reach of the Israeli authorities.

Will there still be a question of unequal division of water resources?

* Be'tselem is in the midst of a campaign to draw attention to the extremely unequal division of the West Bank water sources - with the bulk going to Israeli settlers, who maintain wide lawns and swimming pools, while the Palestinian inhabitants get a bare 21% of the water. Many of us participated in the demonstration held two weeks ago at the Palestinian town of Yatta, whose inhabitants get water in their taps for only two or three days in a month. An agreement which fails to give the Palestinians control over the water sources under their own land, as clearly laid down in international law, can by no stretch of the imagination be described as being "peace".

Will there still be a question of land confiscation in occupied areas?

* A coalition has been building up to oppose the government's plan to create a "by-pass road" connecting the Israeli settlements of Ofra and Beit El in the Ramallah District of the West Bank - a plan involving widespread confiscation of Palestinian land, the demolition of several Palestinian homes, and the ecological destruction of an uniquely beautiful valley. At least for the inhabitants of this region, a peace which leaves these two settlements as armed Israeli enclaves, still to be connected by a destructive road, will hardly be worth the name.

As the summit in Camp David opens, Israeli and Palestinian forces all over the West Bank and Gaza Strip are establishing lines of fortifications opposite each other and measuring angles of fire. On the eve of the summit, jittery and trigger-happy soldiers protecting the settlement of Kfar Darom - an enclave bisecting the Gaza Strip's main highway - shot wildly at a passing Palestinian taxi, killing the 33-year old Aatidal Muamar and severely wounding her husband and her eight-month old child. Will history record her name as the last tragic victim of a century-old conflict - or will many new names of Palestinians and Israelis now still breathing follow hers?

Adam Keller, Beate Zilversmidt
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