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Posted by Mr. E from ? ( on Tuesday, April 02, 2002 at 12:52PM :

The Path From Oslo to War

RAMALLAH, West Bank — To justify Israeli actions, two deliberate
distortions of reality are being employed in Israel's war against Yasir
Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. First, the government of Ariel
Sharon is treating the Palestinian Authority as a full-fledged state
when it is nothing of the sort. Second, perhaps more significant for the
international community, Israel blames the Palestinian Authority for its
failure to provide security for Israel's pursuit of territorial
objectives that are clearly illegal under international law.

The Palestinian Authority was established by agreement between Israel
and the Palestine Liberation Organization and granted powers that fall
far short of those of a state. It was not given sovereignty over the
West Bank and Gaza. Instead, under Article VIII of the Declaration of
Principles, commonly referred to as the Oslo accords, the authority was
allowed to establish "a strong police force," while Israel would
continue to carry "the responsibility for overall security of Israelis
for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public
order." The sharing of security responsibilities between Israel and the
Palestinians has clearly not worked.

When the Oslo accords were signed, they had the support of a majority of
the Palestinian people in the territories. This was because Palestinians
were promised by their leaders that those agreements would be the first
step toward the creation of a Palestinian state in the territories
occupied since 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital. From the
beginning, those who did not agree to the principle of the division of
historical Palestine into two states, Israel and Palestine, were the
mutual enemies of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. As long as there
was the perception that the two sides agreed on the principle of
division of the land, the Palestinian security forces had no compunction
in fighting those who opposed the division.

According to the declaration of principles, the negotiations on
permanent status would lead to the implementation of United Nations
Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which affirmed the
inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and called on
Israel to withdraw its forces "from territories occupied" in 1967.
However, while the final status negotiations were being conducted,
successive Israeli governments continued at a faster pace than ever with
their policy, begun three decades earlier, of building Israeli
settlements in the occupied lands. As a result, the number of Israeli
settlers living in the territories almost doubled from 1993 to today.
This development strengthened the political power of those among the
Palestinians who had rejected the Oslo accords. As opponents of the
peace process increased, the work of the Palestinian security forces
became more difficult and complicated. Israelis became increasingly
frustrated. They expected Palestinian cooperation regardless of what
policies their government was pursuing in the territories and what
effect these policies were having on popular Palestinian support for the
Palestinian Authority.

Finally, by declaring Yasir Arafat irrelevant, Prime Minister Sharon has
made clear that the Oslo accords, which he had consistently opposed,
were also irrelevant. Throughout this crisis, he has confirmed his
commitment to holding on to all the settlements and has not accepted any
freezing of settlement activities. And as long as the Palestinian
partner was not going to cooperate with Israel in allowing it to proceed
with an illegal policy of settlement, the Sharon government had to find
other ways to preserve its hold on the land. This has now led to the
reoccupation of the cities and territories given over to the Palestinian

Authority under Oslo, a growing humanitarian crisis and disastrous
consequences for both peoples, as well as the real possibility of
regional conflagration.

Israel maintains that its recent actions are necessary to protect its
citizens from attacks by its enemies. If Israel's concern is protecting
Israelis living within Israel's 1967 borders, then surely it would be
possible to achieve security through the withdrawal of Israeli forces to
those borders and through appropriately strong measures. But the problem
is that whenever Israel declares its right and duty to protect all its
citizens, it is including the 380,000 living in East Jerusalem and in
settlements scattered throughout the territories. These settlements are
a central blockage to the peace process and the very reason that Israel
cannot practically close off its borders. Had Israel not proceeded with
its energetic pursuit of the settlement policy, political and security
cooperation between the two sides could have successfully defeated the
opponents of a two-state solution.

So long as Israel pursues a policy believed by Palestinians to be
antithetical to the promise of the establishment of a state in all the
territories occupied in 1967, it will not be possible to find a
Palestinian partner to make and sustain peace. That is why there is now
a retreat to the old relationship between Palestinians and Israelis,
with Israel assuming full occupation of the territories and using its
army to exercise direct control over a hostile population.

The Sharon government seems to believe that over time a more compliant
Palestinian leadership will emerge, even without a change in its own
policies. From the Palestinian perspective, however, only a quisling
government would make peace with a country in full occupation of its
land and which refuses to stop a colonizing program.

Yasir Arafat, in the Palestinian context, still represents the moderate
national leadership. Imprisoning him at his headquarters in Ramallah has
made his popularity soar. If Israelis seek a durable peace, they have to
elect a government willing and able to take decisive action to protect
its citizens living within its borders. But peace cannot be achieved
with an Israeli government that is committed to pursuing expansionist
policies aimed at depriving Palestinians of their legitimate claim under
international law to a viable state in all the lands occupied by Israel
in the 1967 war.

Raja Shehadeh, a lawyer, is the author of "Strangers in the House:
Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine.''

-- Mr. E
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