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Israel's New Berlin Wall

The Middle East 'peace process' is institutionalising apartheid-style oppression of the Palestinians, says Eve Anderson


The peace process has 'reached a state beyond collapse' according to Palestinian local government leader Saeb Erekat. Many believe the hope of peace between Jews and Arabs is being destroyed by Muslim extremists - a view strengthened by suicide bombings like the January attack on the Beit Lid road in which Islamic Jihad killed 20 Israeli soldiers and one civilian.

But fundamentalism is not unravelling the peace process. Suicide bombing missions are a symptom of the sense of utter desperation that many Palestinians feel in the face of Israeli intransigence, and a growing awareness that the peace deal offers them nothing.

Israel is moving towards a system of economic apartheid. After the Beit Lid bombing, the Israeli authorities closed the Gaza Strip, preventing tens of thousands of Palestinians going to work in Israel. The Israeli authorities are moving towards a permanent closure, as thousands of imported workers from South-East Asia and Eastern Europe replace Palestinian labour inside Israel. The Israelis are also building six industrial parks along the Gazan border, which will allow them to continue exploiting cheap Palestinian labour while keeping Palestinian workers out of Israel itself.

In addition to economic exploitation, the Palestinians still face political repression--2000 Palestinians have been arrested since the Tel Aviv bus bombing in October last year, joining the 5000 existing political prisoners. The Israeli attorney general has agreed to extend the period of 'administrative detention', a euphemism for internment without trial, from six months to a year.

Gradually the real nature of the 'peace' deal is becoming clear. Palestinian protest and activism were recently rekindled over the issue of expanding Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. There are already over 130 Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, containing around 125 000 settlers, in addition to the 155000 settlers in East Jerusalem. Slowly the West Bank is being 'cantonised', broken up into islands of Palestinian territory surrounded by a sea of hostile Jewish settlements. This process is rendering meaningless the moves to create an autonomous Palestinian state loosely based on the territory of the West Bank.

Moderate Palestinians protest that, by building new settlements on Arab land, the Israelis are going against the letter and the spirit of the Oslo Accords and the Cairo Agreement. But the tragedy is that the Israeli government is not violating the peace treaties in pursuing settlement expansion.

According to these agreements, settlements are to remain under Israeli jurisdiction until their fate is decided in the permanent status talks three years from now. Nowhere is a freeze on settlements mentioned, except for a verbal pledge made under duress by the Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in order to induce the Americans to release $10 billion in loan guarantees. Even this pledge was hugely quali-fied by the rider that the settlement freeze would exclude East Jerusalem and the building of 2000 housing units in the West Bank to accommodate 'natural growth' (Middle East International, 20 January 1995).

To heap further humiliation on the Palestinians, Israel has cancelled the Palestinian elections which were due to take place last July, before being delayed until last October and now indefinitely delayed due to the 'security' situation (The Law Society, Human Rights in a Period of Transition, the Case of the Occupied Territories, Jericho and the Gaza Strip, p14). They are also refusing to redeploy Israeli troops away from Palestinian population centres. To cap it all, the Israelis are now redefining what 'redeployment' means. To the Palestinians, redeployment means moving Israeli troops out and so ending the military occupation. To Rabin, however, redeployment means only a three-day withdrawal for the elections, with Israeli soldiers resuming their positions once the polls close.

Far from conceding to Palestinian aspirations for equality, the Israeli authorities are planning a new system of subjugation. The latest plan cooked up by Israeli Defence Force (IDF) generals is for a $400m network of 'apartheid highways' dissecting the West Bank. These roads will allow settlers to by-pass Palestinian towns and villages and reach Israel under the protection of IDF patrols. They will be reserved for the exclusive use of Israelis. The plan has already been foreshadowed by an 'Arab-free' access road being built for settlers at Netzarim.

In addition to the 'apartheid highways', a new Berlin Wall is being proposed by the Israelis to separate the West Bank from Israel. The wall is claimed to be a barrier to prevent suicide bombers from entering Israel. It will be over 100 miles long, cost over $150m and take a year to build. Critics of the plan point out that it would leave over a million Palestinians on the Israeli side of the new frontier. Government spokesman Uri Dromi responded that 'the two populations will be separated but not necessarily by a fence'. (Independent, 25 January 1995). In other words, there will be more troops, electronic surveillance, arrests, interrogations and controls on the movement of Palestinians within Israel. It is widely suspected that Israeli segregation plans also include the formal annexation of large swathes of the West Bank.

Many now make the point that Oslo is dead, but not yet buried, and call on the USA to intervene to rescue the 'peace process'. The truth is that this is the peace process; the Israeli authorities have the right to do all of this and more under the terms of the agreement with Yasser Arafat's PLO, and they have the full support of Washington for their actions.

On a state visit to the Clinton White House last November, Rabin came away with the promise of continued US aid, up to 5000 US troops for the Golan Heights as part of any peace deal with Syria, two 'supercomputers' denied to Israel since the mid-1980s, and hundreds of millions of dollars to complete Israel's Arrow missile programme. The USA is footing the bill for the 'peace process', but the Palestinians are paying the price.

 

 


Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 78, April 1995


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