November 29, 2000
Why This New Intifada,
and How It Might Be Cooled Down
people ask why a new intifada, or Palestinian uprising,
has broken out, especially at a time when the world
believed that Palestinians and Israelis were coming
close to achieving a lasting peace. This is a legitimate
negotiation process that began with the Oslo agreement
in 1993 was designed to bring peace and prosperity to
the region, but in real terms Palestinians are worse off
economically and politically today than before the Oslo
It is worth
remembering the true roots of the most recent effort to
resolve the conflict and reconcile our differences.
In 1988, the
democratically elected Palestinian National Council,
then meeting in exile, voted to accept a two-state
solution based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, which call
on Israel to return all the lands it occupied in the
1967 war. This historic decision recognized not only
Israel's right to exist but also its right to exist on
78 percent of historic Palestine.
The PNC agreed
that an independent Palestinian state would be
established in Gaza and the West Bank. With this act,
the indigenous people of Palestine acknowledged a
peaceful and secure Israel within the borders that
existed until June 4, 1967.
paved the way for the Madrid talks, in which Israel also
accepted (for the first time) UN Resolutions 242 and
338, and for the talks that led to the Oslo agreement.
Both parties now had agreed to apply the UN resolutions
and to the principle of land for peace.
Finally - or
so we thought at the time - Israelis and Palestinians
had the opportunity to change the face of the region and
transform hatred and bloodshed into peace and
fast-forward to the beginning of 2000. Palestinians
partially control only 40 percent of the West Bank and
70 percent of Gaza, and this under restricted conditions
while Israel is still haggling over the terms of interim
meantime, Israel, particularly under the Barak
administration, is establishing more facts on the ground
by accelerating settlement construction and land
confiscation (more than 50,000 new Jewish settlers have
moved into the West Bank since Oslo); Jerusalem remains
closed to most Palestinians; and Palestinians are
severely restricted in their ability to travel between
Palestinian towns and between Gaza and the West Bank.
allowed Israel time to literally cement its occupation
of territories that were supposed to become the
ongoing violation by Israel, Palestinians remained
committed to the peace process and tried to deal with
the daily hardships it entailed.
Clinton administration pressured the Palestinians to
attend the summit at Camp David, we warned that neither
side was ready to negotiate final status issues. After
all, we were still trying to get Israel to live up to
its past interim agreements. Final status issues,
including Jerusalem and the right of return for
Palestinian refugees, had not been addressed in the
previous seven years.
Yet we agreed
to attend, in large part because Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright assured President Yasser Arafat that
whatever happened at Camp David, neither side would be
blamed if it failed.
The Camp David
summit was ill timed and the proposals presented there
only confirmed our suspicions. The Palestinian
leadership faced a much stronger partner in Israel, and
we found that the United States, instead of being a
disinterested mediator, teamed with the Israelis in
pressuring us to make concessions of such magnitude that
they would not be acceptable to the Palestinian people.
And in the case of Jerusalem, the deal we were offered
at Camp David would also have been unacceptable to the
wider Arab and Islamic worlds.
summit failed, and within hours, despite Mrs. Albright's
promise, the Clinton administration was publicly blaming
Israeli claims that Mr. Barak had gone further than any
other Israeli leader, the proposal he presented at Camp
David still did not provide the minimal conditions for a
viable Palestinian state, nor did it satisfy our rights
to East Jerusalem or adequatly address the tragedy of
the refugees. His proposals may have been less
unacceptable than previous Israeli offers, but they were
David was a great leap forward for both parties, and
many former barriers were crossed. Unfortunately, Mr.
Barak was so consumed by domestic politics upon his
return that he began to carry out a series of
shortsighted decisions aimed at saving his government.
The most tragic was the decision to permit Ariel Sharon,
with whom Mr. Barak was hoping to create a coalition
government, to visit the Haram al Sharif, Islam's third
most holy site.
Palestinians have learned to live with many injustices
during the past 52 years, and we have made many
compromises in our pursuit of peace. But our human
dignity is non-negotiable. When Mr. Sharon carried out
his provocative march on the Al Aqsa Mosque accompanied
by some 3,000 armed Israeli soldiers, the Palestinian
people, both Christian and Muslim, felt utterly betrayed
by Mr. Barak and Israel. Our limit had been reached.
that followed Mr. Sharon's visit quickly turned into a
popular uprising fueled by years of frustration and
humiliation. This is an uprising composed of people from
all walks of life. Israel's occupation of Palestinian
territories is the last military occupation in the
world, and the occupied are merely demanding their right
to freedom, self-determination and democracy.
last month, people rose up to overthrow their government
to obtain their rights, and were embraced by the world.
Palestinians are rising up against a foreign military
occupation, and yet we are being condemned for our
States and Israel demand that the Palestinian leadership
put an end to the violence and stop the uprising, as if
there were a magic button we could press to convince
people to go home and placidly continue their lives
under military occupation.
of excessive and brutal force is beginning to
destabilize the entire region. The use of tanks,
missiles and American-made Apache helicopters on unarmed
demonstrators in our towns and villages is terrorizing
and radicalizing the population. The Israeli violence
must end, and the siege of our villages must be lifted.
international peacekeeping force must be assembled to
ensure the protection of basic human rights as well as
the monitoring of any future agreement. Only in this way
will a conducive environment be fostered to allow UN
Resolution 242 to be implemented without more bloodshed.
If such a new
approach is felt clearly by the Palestinians, this will
give us hope that there is a chance to proceed forward.
The peace process, as begun in the Madrid talks of 1991,
must once again replace the war process, and the logic
of reason replace the logic of power.
The writer, an
executive member of the Palestine Liberation
Organization in charge of Jerusalem affairs, contributed
this comment to the International Herald Tribune.
2000 The International Herald Tribune
80,000 settlers not 50,000 settlers have moved into the
West Bank since 1993.