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International Socialist Review Issue 15, December 2000-January 2001

Oslo: Cover for Territorial Conquest

Interview with Naseer Aruri

 

NASEER ARURI, author of The Obstruction of Peace: The U.S., Israel and the Palestinians, spoke to ISR's ANTHONY ARNOVE about the Oslo Accords and the new Intifada.

Aruri is Chancellor Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. He is the author of The Obstruction of Peace: The U.S., Israel and the Palestinians. He formerly served as a member of the Palestinian National Council and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Committee. He has lectured and written widely on the politics and history of the Middle East.

 


WHAT HAS the "peace" process begun at Oslo in 1993 meant for ordinary Palestinians?

OSLO HAS become a symbol of diplomatic paralysis for the Palestinian people. It is an instrument to prolong and consolidate the Israeli occupation of Palestine by pseudo-diplomatic means.

More Jewish settlements have been built since the start of the Oslo process in 1993 than at any other period in the past. Palestinians simply sat and watched the expropriation of their land for settlements and bypass roads--built for Israelis only--to connect the settlements to each other and to Israel proper, while at the same time atomizing Palestinian society. Oslo provided a cover for these conquests as people around the world watched a diplomatic charade that was packaged by the U.S. media and Israel's propaganda apparatus as "peace" negotiations.

For Palestinians everywhere, Oslo has meant the voluntary renunciation of internationally recognized rights in favor of agreeing to engage in talks during which they would have to convince the Israelis that they have rights. This is almost unprecedented in the annals of diplomatic history.

The Palestinian people have been plagued by having one of the most stupid leaderships in modern history--and one of the most militarily powerful and ruthless enemies. That combination is one of the factors in the present uprising, Al-Aqsa Intifada.

 

HOW DID Oslo come about?

THE U.S. endeavor to impose its hegemony on the Middle East, which predates the 1967 [Six Day] War, reflects the consensus of U.S. politicians on all sides of the spectrum. With the departure of the former colonial powers--the United Kingdom and France--U.S. planners decided the Middle East would have to be recolonized by the United States. In an era of decolonization, Arab nationalist ideas and concepts, such as Arab unity, Arab socialism, nonalignment, return and restitution for Palestinian refugees, and indeed Arab-Israeli parity, were considered anathema in Washington and Tel Aviv.

The various U.S. doctrines for the Middle East--starting with the Truman Doctrine all the way up to the Carter Doctrine and Reagan Codicil--were part of the U.S. policy of containment. That policy was intended to contain Arab nationalism just as much as it was directed against the Soviet Union. The Arab world had to be kept at bay and subordinated to Israel, which was assured of a "margin of technological and military superiority over all of her Arab neighbors combined." That assurance, which was made by President Richard Nixon, who was widely considered to be an anti-Semite, was kept by every succeeding president and has been upheld by presidential candidates from the two major parties all the way through to George W. Bush and Al Gore. That is how powerful the U.S. consensus on Middle East policy is.

For four decades, U.S. administrations were able to hold tight to this consensus, but there were adaptations and stylistic changes along the way, meant as a sort of cosmetic surgery to make the policy less objectionable to conservative Arabs. This is the significance of the numerous "plans" presented by and named for either presidents or secretaries of state, most of which adhered to an Israeli consensus that rejected withdrawal from occupied Arab territories, the right of return for refugees, Palestinian independence, and the concept of parity.

Oslo represents a departure from the past insofar as the Arabs yielded on their consensus and the Palestinian leadership accepted a peace process outside the framework of international legality.

Given that Iraq, a contender for strategic deterrence vis-ý-vis Israel, had just been crushed, and given that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had lost the support of the Gulf countries and their financial backing because of its support for Iraq in the Gulf War, the United States was able to impose its will and agenda--together with Israel's agenda--on the Arabs and the Palestinians.

When 18 months of negotiations between West Bank and Gaza leaders and the government of Israel failed to yield any results, the road was paved to Oslo. Israel had rejected any framework in which it acknowledged it was an occupier and refused to make any commitment to withdraw and to stop building settlements.

The impasse was broken only when Yassir Arafat--whose organization was stricken by a crisis of legitimacy, of finance, of ideology, and of leadership--stepped in and agreed to negotiate with Israel without any conditions and in an open-ended process. That was viewed by Israel as a crowning achievement--a vindication of its policy of no compromise. It was also a major victory for the U.S. government, which now looks at a strategic region that it has coveted for decades where there is virtually no opposition at the official level to its policy and designs for the area.

The United States now has unimpeded military access and bases throughout the Gulf region and naval forces stationed in the surrounding seas, with hardly any rivals in international diplomacy. George Bush Sr.'s famous statement, "What we say goes," sums up these developments.

Oslo was the diplomatic equivalent of the military destruction of Iraq.

 

WAS THE recent collapse of Oslo unexpected?

THE RECENT collapse of the so-called peace process was predictable. At the Camp David II talks in August, Israelis and Palestinians had to face a moment of truth. The "final status issues"--Jerusalem, refugees, borders, water, and statehood--were suddenly on the table.

Oslo was based on the theory that the two parties needed two stages of negotiations in order to get used to each other and to develop the necessary confidence-building measures before they could move on to the intractable issues, such as Jerusalem. The interim period was allegedly needed to work out plans for Palestinian self-governance and to smooth the way for the more difficult issues.

The whole process was to take five years, so it should have been over by 1998. Instead, by 1998, Benjamin Netanyahu had reneged on previous commitments to redeploy Israeli forces. When Ehud Barak assumed power about 18 months ago, he pledged to have peace within a year, but at the end of 1999 [he] was insisting on negotiating what he called a "framework agreement" as a necessary condition for making another redeployment in accordance with previous agreements.

Barak also insisted on going directly to the final status negotiations, while the Palestinian Authority (PA) was demanding the redeployment that Israel was obligated to undertake. Not unexpectedly, President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright maneuvered Arafat into Camp David under the pretext that Israel would be generous. Arafat had to simply have faith in the "honest broker."

The oxymoronic nature of the phrase "honest broker" was never comprehended by Arafat, who was flattered to have numerous invitations to the White House after years of being snubbed by the United States. After all, he was the quintessential "terrorist" and even the United Nations in New York City was out of bounds for him in 1988.

Had Arafat resisted the notion of a framework agreement and stood by Oslo's call for the completion of Israeli redeployments prior to final status talks, he would not have been cornered at Camp David. True to pattern, though, Palestinian concessions never seem to bottom out. At Camp David, Barak was able to outmaneuver Arafat with Clinton's help.

Selective reporting and biased editorializing seemed to convince public opinion that Barak had offered Arafat 94 percent of the West Bank, Palestinian sovereignty over the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, and a sharing of power in East Jerusalem. In fact, that was a plain and simple lie.

Most people are not aware that Israel arbitrarily tampered with the borders of Jerusalem after the 1967 conquest and that 20 percent of the West Bank is annexed Jerusalem territory. So, in fact, the Palestinians were offered about 65 percent of the West Bank, itself only 22 percent of what Palestine was in 1948 when Israel was established on land that was 94 percent owned, farmed, and used by Palestinians.

Palestinian refugees were also given short shrift at Camp David: no right of return and no restitution. With regard to Jerusalem, Barak offered Arafat sovereignty over the structures of the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but not over the land on which these structures are built--not far different from the right-wing Zionist dictum of sovereignty for the people, not the land. When Arafat couldn't accept this deal and Clinton blamed him publicly on Israeli television for the failure, it became obvious that an explosion was imminent.

Anyone reading the Israeli press at that time would have noticed the number of editorials and opinion pieces predicting that such a daring act--to turn down the president of the United States and mighty Israel, particularly coming from someone like Arafat, who is closer to a mayor than a president--could not be allowed. Arafat had to be taught a lesson. He and his people must be given a taste of what the Middle East's superpower can deliver.

Israel has never had difficulty finding pretexts for its military adventures--not in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1976, 1982, or now. This time, Ariel Sharon, who ought to be afraid to be caught, like the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and tried for war crimes, made a triumphant entry to the compound of al-Haram al-Sharif (known to Jews as the Temple Mount) to provoke the Palestinians. Israel's newly trained sharpshooters, with orders to kill, went into action and their massacre is ongoing.

 

URE SAVIR, chief Israeli negotiator at Oslo, told the New York Times, "I think we'll end up concluding that we need more Oslo, not less Oslo." What's your reaction to that?

ISRAEL WANTS more Oslo because it is the single most important instrument in the realization of strategic Israeli and Zionist goals. It is cost-effective, sufficiently deceptive, and rather disarming. It has been simply indispensable for Israel--left, right, and center.

Historically, colonial-settler movements relied mostly on military conquests, population expulsion, land alienation, and even genocide to accomplish their goals of ethnic cleansing. While Israel has been no exception, having tried most of these reprehensible methods, Oslo is the first diplomatic arrangement that has permitted it to make tangible colonial achievements with minimum reliance on its armed forces.

In fact, Oslo has enabled it [Israel] to recruit its victims to police the natives and keep them under control. Oslo provided for the dirty work to be transferred to Israel's new subcontractor--the Palestinian Authority.

Moreover, Oslo has opened markets for Israeli exports, after having transformed Israel from a pariah state to a legitimate and rather influential state that is now considered the Middle East Silicon Valley. Had it not been for Oslo, many Arab, Islamic, African, and Asian states would not have opened their doors either to Israeli diplomats or salesmen.

Uri Savir, who conceptualized Oslo and sold it to Arafat, knows the exact worth of this. It is not surprising that he wants "more Oslo."

 

THE MAINSTREAM media here have called the current uprising "Arafat's war" and have suggested that he deliberately provoked it.

THE ROLE of the U.S. media borders on that of an information office in the Israeli foreign ministry and the U.S. State Department. They parrot the Israeli accusation that Palestinian parents send their children to the street to throw stones and get killed in order to score a propaganda victory.

Such racist attitudes are based on the premise that Palestinians don't value human lives as do Israelis and Westerners-- a well-known and well-documented phenomenon in Western discourse about Third World societies challenging colonialism.

Moreover, the accusation assumes that Arafat is directing the uprising by remote control. Not only does this defy simple logic--since the uprising is in part being waged against his own regime--but it's racist in that it assumes that the Palestinian people have no independent judgment or critical faculties.

This isn't the first time that the U.S. media have misunderstood the essence of a popular revolution among oppressed people. South Africans, the Vietnamese, Central Americans, and African American activists in the 1960s were portrayed as being driven by "external" forces whenever they challenged the oppressive status quo.

Moreover, Arafat is an easier target than the "Palestinian people." Demonizing individual leaders like Saddam Hussein has proven rather effective in the arena of public opinion. Arafat is also regarded in the U.S. as a former terrorist and thus makes an easy target.

What the media fail to--or refuse to--understand is that all these struggles and the popular discontent throughout the Arab world are really a consequence of the efforts of the imperial powers and their regional collaborators to restructure and rearrange the political systems of the region to suit their interests.

 

ARAFAT SEEMS to be in a bind. He'll lose legitimacy if he makes further compromises on Palestinian rights, yet he has gone so far down the road of concessions to Israel.

NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN Israel and the PA are like an encounter between the wolf and the chicken. Having traded the Palestinian people's legitimacy for U.S. and Israeli legitimacy, Arafat has placed himself in a no-win situation. He has placed himself in the untenable position of being unable to deliver either to Israel and its U.S. patron, or to his own constituents, who were ready to scale down their aspirations but not to surrender their fundamental rights.

Arafat's denunciations of "terror" and vows to eradicate violence under repeated urging by the United States and Israel over the past seven years have been seen in the Palestinian streets as an ominous attack on civil liberties and the right of dissent.

By expecting Arafat to agree to a "cease-fire," Clinton and Barak seem to miss a new reality--that Arafat's commitments may have been made on the Palestinian people's behalf but without their consent. The people are asserting their legitimate right of resistance, and they are paying an exceedingly high price for it--with their lives and children's lives, with their homes and property, and with their livelihood. As long as this Intifada continues, the old rules of the division of labor between the PA, Israel, and the United States will be obsolete, discredited, and illegitimate.

The Intifada has penetrated the conscience of the Arab masses, the Islamic community, and numerous constituencies around the world who came to recognize Israel's acts as a form of war crimes.

The Intifada is directed just as much against Arafat and his PA as it is against the entire Oslo process and its sponsors.


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