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The Middle East Settlement: Its Sources and Contours

Chapter Six From the Book Power and Prospects, 1996 by Noam Chomsky

 

When the DOP [the September 1993 Declaration of Principles, the agreement between Israel and Arafat] was announced, knowledgeable observers recognized that it did not offer "even a hint of a solution to the basic problems which exist between Israel and the Palestinians," either in the short run or down the road (Israeli journalist Danny Rubinstein). Its operative meaning became still more clear after the May 1994 Cairo Agreement, which ensured that the territories administered by Arafat would remain "squarely within Israel's economic fold," as the Wall Street journal observed, and that the military administration would remain intact in all but name. The significance of the agreement was understood at once in Israel. Meron Benvenisti, former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and head of the West Bank Data Base Project, and one of the most astute observers in the Israeli mainstream for many years, commented that the Cairo Agreement, "much as it is difficult to trust one's own eyes when reading it, ...grants the Military Administration the exclusive authority in 'legislation, adjudication, policy execution,'" and "responsibility for the exercise of these powers in conformity with international law," which the US and Israel interpret as they please. "The entire intricate system of military ordinances...will retain its force, apart from 'such legislative regulatory and other powers Israel may expressly grant'" the Palestinians. Israeli judges retain "veto powers over any Palestinian legislation 'that might jeopardize major Israeli interests,'" which have "overriding power," and are interpreted as the US and Israel choose. Though subject to Israel's decisions on all matters of any significance, Palestinian authorities are granted one domain as their own: they have "exclusive responsibility for anything done or not done," meaning that they agree to take upon themselves the debilitating costs of the 28-year occupation, from which Israel profited enormously, and to assume a continuing responsibility for Israel's security. This "agreement of surrender," Benvenisti observes, puts into effect the extremist 1981 proposals of Ariel Sharon, rejected then by Egypt.

After another Israel-Arafat agreement a year later, Benvenisti commented that "Arafat once again bowed his head before the infinitely stronger opponent." He reviewed the terms of the agreement, which left over half the West Bank under "absolute Israeli control" and the status of another 40 percent delayed for several years, during which time Israel can continue to use US aid to "create facts" in the routine manner. The agreement, Benvenisti notes, rescinds the provision of the DOP "that the West Bank will be considered 'one territorial unit, whose integrity will be preserved during the interim stage.'" Little will change from the occupation period, he predicts, except that "Israeli control will become less direct: instead of running affairs up front, Israeli 'liaison officers' will run them via the clerks of the Palestinian Authority." Like Britain during its day in the sun, Israel will continue to rule behind "constitutional fictions." No innovation of course; that is the traditional pattern of the European conquest of most of the world.

The situation is even worse in Gaza, where the Israeli Security Services (Shabak) remain "an invisible but violent force whose shadowy presence is always felt, wielding a fateful power over Gazans' lives," Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass reports, adding that Israeli authorities continue to control the economy as well. Since 1991, Graham Usher elaborates, Israel has redirected Gaza's traditional fruit and vegetable production to ornamentals and flowers by various punitive measures, including reduction of arable citrus land by almost a third through confiscations. The goal is only in part to remove valuable territory from eventual Arab control. Israel also intends "to decouple Gaza's trade with other economies, the better to lock it into Israel's own." Export from these single-crop sectors is in the hands of Israeli contractors, and very low labor costs in the demoralized Gaza Strip allow Israeli entrepreneurs to maintain their European markets at substantial profit.

By summer 1995, 95 percent of the population of the Gaza population was "imprisoned within the region" by Israeli force, the Israeli human rights group Tsevet 'aza reports, with the "economy strangled" and security forces controlling trade, export, and communications, often seeking to "produce harsher conditions for the Palestinians." Under these conditions, few are willing to face the hazards of investment, at least outside the industrial parks set up by Israeli manufacturers to "exploit the cheap labor of Palestinians." They report further that Israel continues to refuse to allow Palestinian investors to open small productive facilities, and that fishermen are kept to six kilometers from the coast, where there are no fish during the summer months. The limited water supplies in this very arid region are used for intensive Israeli agriculture, even artificial lakes at elegant resorts, visitors report. Meanwhile water supplies to Palestinians in Gaza have been cut in half since the Oslo Accords, UN human rights investigator Rene Felber wrote in a harshly critical report on prison conditions and water policy. He resigned shortly after, commenting that it is pointless to issue reports that go into the wastebasket.

A year after the DOP, Israel's control of West Bank land reached about 75 percent, up from 65 percent when the accords were signed. Establishment and "thickening" of settlements also continued at a rapid pace, along with the construction of "bypass roads" that integrate the Jewish settlements into Israel proper, leaving Arab villages cut off from one another and from the urban centers that Israel prefers to relinquish to Palestinian administration. The highway projects are immense, with costs expected to be about $400 million, according to the Secretary-General of the governing Labor Party. The purpose is to provide settlers with what one calls "a road where I don't have to see Arabs all around me." Details are secret, but "outlines are emerging from settlers' maps," correspondent Barton Gellman reports, including the usual method of quietly putting "the force of Israeli law" behind projects "begun illegally by the settlers." Benvenisti describes the roads as "political facts that have long-term consequences" within the plan to "cut the Arab areas into boxes, making laagers (encircled camps) out of the West Bank," part of "a victor's peace, a diktat."


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