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http://www.zmag.org/burchillpal.htm


This peace offer is an insult to Palestinians

By Scott Burchill October 12 The Australian (daily newspaper of Australia)


No greater compliment can be paid to US and Israeli opinion management than speculation by Middle East observers over whether recent lethal clashes between Palestinians and Israelis constitute the collapse of the peace process.

That a lasting solution to conflict in the Middle East is said to be in jeopardy implies that a just and fair settlement is within reach, that Palestinians will never get a better offer, and the only remaining question is whether Yasser Arafat will have the courage to grasp the peace.

In fact no such process worthy of the appellation exists or has done for some time. Rather, the peace process simply describes whatever arrangements Washington and its regional client are seeking to impose on Palestinian Arabs.

It should be obvious that regardless of whether Ehud Barak and Arafat resume their dialogue, the Palestinian people - as opposed to the corrupt and isolated Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership - have long since abandoned all hope in the Oslo process (1993) and in related efforts to create a diplomatic legacy for Bill Clinton.

The spin doctors in Washington and Tel Aviv want us to see Arafat as a violent recalcitrant who cannot match Barak's generous concessions and compromises offered at Camp David recently. Palestinians on the ground live a different reality. There are three reasons they are unlikely to accept what Barak, Clinton and Arafat have in mind for them.

First, Washington is not regarded as an impartial or credible mediator. Not only has the US been Israel's main financial backer, since the early 1970s it has been primarily responsible for blocking a negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. For 30 years it has distorted the meaning of UN Security Council resolution 242 (1967, "land for peace") - from full Israeli withdrawal behind pre-June 1967 borders to partial withdrawal and consistently vetoed its implementation, thus helping to prolong and legitimise Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian soil.

Unsurprisingly, Palestinians resent being told how much of their land Israel is "generously" prepared to return to them.

Second, for Palestinians, the ultimate result of the misnamed peace process is what Noam Chomsky has accurately described as "Bantustan-style arrangements", a state that would comprise four cantons of largely unusable land on the West Bank and one on the Gaza Strip.

These cantons are surrounded by territory to be annexed to Israel, which will remain in control of crucial water resources and the freedom of movement of the population between their disconnected enclaves. Israel has good reason to expect that under these arrangements the population will be a cheap supply of labour for its economy and tightly controlled by a brutal but ultimately compliant Palestinian government - hence the South African comparison. Arafat and the PLO leadership look increasingly like the Chief Buthelezi and Inkatha of the Middle East, with Palestine as their KwaZulu.

Palestinian hopes that a settlement will be based on UN resolutions and pre-July 1967 borders - as they could expect if Israel complied with international law - have been betrayed by both their occupiers and their leaders. This is not what self-determination means.

Third, in return for these "generous" concessions, Palestinians are expected to end all historical claims they have against Israel. What this means for refugees, whose right of return with compensation is acknowledged in UN General Assembly resolution 194 (1948) remains unclear.

For ordinary Palestinians, self-rule has been a humiliating disaster. Seven years after Oslo, they are still living under occupation. The basic means of a decent human existence, which acknowledges their distinctive culture, history and suffering, is denied to them. When not completely withheld, their basic rights and entitlements are represented as concessions generously granted by their overlords. Meanwhile their leaders, frightened of losing their elite privileges and affluent lifestyles, collude with Israel in their betrayal.

If there is a lesson to be learned from East Timor's liberation, it is the refusal of brutalised people to reconcile themselves to occupation and humiliation, regardless of the odds stacked against them. An enduring Middle East settlement cannot be built upon the capitulation of one side, no matter how many times it is mislabelled the peace process. Just as the East Timorese were told that the time for independence had passed, so too will Palestinians be informed that their struggle is over once Arafat signs the agreement drafted for him in Tel Aviv and Washington. No one should believe it.

Scott Burchill is a lecturer in international relations at Deakin University.


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