Some History On The Occupation

On October 12, 2015 · 0 Comments

psIn the decades of occupation, the futility of the occupation became more and more evident to more and more Israelis. They wanted a normal life, not an imperial life. In 1978, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat invited Yasir Arafat to join them in their peace. Arafat refused. In 1993, he shook Yitzhak Rabin’s hand and agreed to live with Israel, in return for which the way to a Palestinian state was made ready. The PLO became the Palestine Authority, and Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza was begun. In 2000, Ehud Barak agreed that the time for “final status” had finally arrived, that there was no point in deferring the two-state solution to the conflict any longer. He agreed to the creation of Palestine, and in return he wanted a clear Palestinian declaration that the conflict was over. Arafat refused.

The particulars of the deal that fell apart on July 25 are still shrouded in secrecy; but here are the central points of the deal that the United States proposed before Clinton left for a few days of brandy and cigars on Okinawa, as they were reported in Ha’aretz on July 21:

the creation of a Palestinian state, with its borders established by mutual agreement with Israel;

the postponement of any declaration that the conflict was over;

Israeli withdrawal from 95 percent of the West Bank;

Israeli annexation of the remaining 5 percent of the West Bank, in exchange for other territory now under Israeli rule;

a secure highway between the West Bank and Gaza, and a road from Bethlehem to Ramallah that Palestinians could travel freely, without interference;

Israeli annexation of the large settlements of Maaleh Adumim and Givat Zeev near Jerusalem, in exchange for Arab neighborhoods in the northern environs of the city;

broad civil and administrative autonomy for Palestinians in the Old City of Jerusalem and in the neighborhoods adjoining it;

a separate Palestinian road to the Temple Mount;

free movement by Israelis along the arteries leading to Israeli settlements;

religious administration of all the holy places;

the creation of a Palestinian army, but without heavy weapons or an air force;

the right of Israel to deploy troops along the Jordan Valley in the event of a military threat from the east;

Israeli acknowledgment of “the suffering of the refugees,” and the absorption of tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees into Israel, under the rubric of family reunification;

the creation of an international fund for the compensation and the restitution of Palestinians in their places of abode, to which Israel will contribute.

When the Americans made this “bridge proposal,” Barak agreed to it. In doing so, he exceeded his political mandate for compromise (his plan amounted virtually to a withdrawal to the 1967 borders), and he scandalized a significant number of Israelis back home. Away from home, the prime minister seems to have confused the spirit of Rabin with the spirit of Peres, though he was elected because he insisted upon the distinction. But Arafat, in a voice of rejectionism that was supposed to have disappeared into the mists of time, said no. And when Clinton returned to Camp David, Arafat again said no.

The reason was Jerusalem. Arafat explained to the crestfallen American president, and to the sympathetic American diplomats whom he embarrassed with his intransigence, that he could not concede Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. If the city is not divided, he said, then Palestine can wait. According to one report, Arafat told Clinton that he speaks on behalf of a billion Muslims. It also transpired that President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (in the words of The New York Times’ reporter in Cairo) “all but threatened Mr. Arafat with political excommunication if he accepted Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s proposals” on Jerusalem.

The prospect of dividing Jerusalem really is intolerable, and this, too, is a lesson of history. For the city was divided–as a consequence of Arab aggression–for almost two decades, between 1949 and 1967, and in those years it was a very unpleasant place. Arab snipers fired on Israelis in the streets. Jews were denied access to their sacred sites, many of which were systematically desecrated. It was not until the city was unified under Israeli rule that religious pluralism became a reality. Anyway, there is no such thing as partial sovereignty. Sovereignty is a big, coarse, strong dispensation, which is why it makes some people feel safe and other people feel unsafe.

It takes a certain temerity, moreover, to insist that a city is your third-holiest place when it is your interlocutor’s first-holiest place. But the really important point, the point upon which the sweet reason of the Oslo process has been shipwrecked, is that the Palestinian leadership has chosen symbols and sentiments over the welfare of the Palestinian people. Israeli doves, who now include the prime minister of Israel, were betting on the opposite choice, the compassionate choice, the moral choice–the choice that the Zionist leadership made in 1947, when it accepted a state that excluded Jerusalem from Jewish sovereignty. If I forget thee, o Jerusalem, the Psalmist sang, may my right hand lose its cunning; but the founders of the Jewish state were prepared to forget, at least politically. Their reason was clear: there were thousands of Jews in refugee camps, and this misery they would not countenance. Indeed, it was precisely because they chose collective rescue over collective memory that their right hand found its cunning, and the harsh, anomalous existence of the Jews was brilliantly transformed. It is this link between compromise and justice that is tragically and tiresomely missing from Palestinian politics.

Moreover, Ehud Barak did not travel to Camp David to negotiate with a billion Muslims. He went there to negotiate with the Palestinian people, who are the only people in the world who share a claim upon the land. Does Arafat understand the damage that he does to the prospect of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation when he presents himself as the representative of the Islamic world? If that is so, then the Israeli- Palestinian conflict is not a political conflict; it is a cultural conflict, even a religious conflict. And if that is so, then Israeli magnanimity is foolish, and founded on an illusion, and all that remains for Israel is to ready itself, militarily and psychologically, for war without end. But here is Arafat, hailed as a hero throughout the Arab world for standing up to Israel and the United States on theological grounds. And there are his people, going nowhere fast. Arafat is also said to have complained to Clinton that he would be assassinated if he budged on Jerusalem; so perhaps the obstacle was not only his theology, but also his cowardice.

Barak, by contrast, is fearless. And his consecration to the cause of peace was plain for all the world to see, and preempted the blame game- -more precisely, the recrimination against Israel–that usually follows such fiascoes. But Barak’s impatience with incrementalism, and his decision to wager everything on a single summit, may have been a monumental mistake. Military efficiency has no place in politics, which is what incrementalists from Begin to Rabin understood. Barak’s gamble has gained his country only anger and disillusion. Moreover, his generosity at Camp David has set a standard for Israeli diplomacy at any future negotiation, unless Barak says otherwise; but then he will owe his people a larger explanation. Indeed, Camp David was not the first instance of Barak’s historical impulsiveness. His desperate desire to find a way to return the Golan Heights to Syria defied a powerful and proper Israeli consensus that little was to be gained and much was to be lost from such a deal. It may also have encouraged the Palestinians in their foolish belief that here was an Israeli government that would provide complete satisfaction. For Arafat did not come to Camp David to negotiate, he came to receive.

And now? A reckoning with some of the premises of the peace process, perhaps. Violence, perhaps. Sobriety, for sure; and in Israel, political confusion. There remains the decency of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians who coexist with each other all the time, summits or no summits. And it is always good to be disabused.

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