MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 2

International Socialist Review, Fall 1997

Notes of the Quarter

Israel’s Reign of Terror

When “peace” means war

From International Socialist Review, Issue 2, Fall 1997.
Copied with thanks from the ISR Archive
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

It is hard to find anyone in the Middle East who takes the “peace” process seriously anymore. Following July and August suicide bombings that killed seventeen Israelis in crowded Jerusalem markets, Israel locked down the West Bank and Gaza, suspended its planned handover of West Bank territory to the Palestine National Authority (PNA), and threatened war with the PNA instead. Meanwhile, Israel’s undeclared war against Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon continued its upward spiral.

Almost seven in ten Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza favor a return to the intifada-style mass uprising against Israel, and 38 percent favor “armed attacks,” according to a recent survey by the Center for Palestine Research and Studies.

The Clinton administration dispatched Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in September in hopes of getting the “peace” process “back on track.” But the U.S., which supported Israel in every one of its provocations against the Palestinians, shares the blame for the current crisis.

Having stood alone with Israel in vetoing United Nations resolutions condemning Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem in the spring, the U.S. joined with Israel in calling for Arafat to crack down on “terrorists” after the market bombings.

Of all the major players in the Israel-Palestine conflict, only Arafat seems to cling to the “peace” process. Having offered to play Israel’s gendarme in exchange for a few pieces of land that he nominally controls, he has little choice.

”In essence, the Palestinian leadership is trying to counter Israeli intransigence by proving to the U.S. and the world that it is the party committed to the Oslo process, in the hope that international pressure will be brought to bear on Israel,” Louis Andoni wrote in Middle East International in June. “Meanwhile, it will continue to fulfill its obligations to protect ‘Israeli security’ while Israel continues to form the shape of the future final settlement.”

Arafat’s acceptance of Oslo and the “peace” process has locked him and the PLO in a vise whose grips Israel turns. To Israel, the PNA is useful only insofar as it represses the Palestinian population effectively enough so that Israel won’t have to bother. Until the recent bombings, Arafat’s bloated security apparatus – as many as 50,000 cops and security officers in an array of different agencies – fulfilled its appointed role.

Under the cover of the “peace” process, Israel – under both “pro-peace” Labor and right-wing Likud governments – has achieved major strategic gains.

Israel has been able to reduce Palestinian workers’ employment in the Israeli economy. Between 1993 and 1996, Israel reduced the number of Palestinians working in Israel from 116,000 to 29,500.

Israel replaced Palestinian workers with Jewish immigrants from Russia, as well as non-Jewish contract workers from Thailand and Romania. The 1992–1996 Labor government’s policy of “separation” of Palestinian workers from Israel has nearly reached fruition under Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud government.

This kind of economic warfare against the Palestinian population is the chief explanation for the drop in living standards among the Palestinian population living in the PNA-administered areas. Since the PNA took over formal rule of six West Bank towns and most of Gaza in 1994, the Palestinians living in those areas have seen their already miserable incomes decline by nearly 40 percent.

What is more, Israel has nearly managed to seal off areas under Palestinian control from any contact with areas under Israeli sovereignty while populating Israeli-held areas with Jewish settlers. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forced Arafat to break off negotiations with Israel last March when he announced that Israel would continue to build a massive housing settlement on Palestinian land at Jebel Abu Goneim (known in Israel as Har Homa) in East Jerusalem.

The new construction would complete a wall of settlements cutting off the city’s Palestinian population from connection with the West Bank. In combination with an almost completed network of superhighways connecting the West Bank to Israel, Israeli settlements aim to complete a de facto annexation of the majority of Arab land that Israel occupied in 1967.

All of this has left Palestinians living under the PNA angry and disillusioned with Oslo. Palestinians perceive Arafat and his cronies as repressive, incompetent, and corrupt. The PNA’s elected legislative council agreed, urging Arafat to fire his entire cabinet for corruption in late July. And a small, but growing, minority perceives Arafat as little more than a stooge of the Israelis. Arafat’s recent “embrace” of leaders of the Islamist Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations was an attempt to repair his standing.

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy insisted that Israel “doesn’t want the collapse of the [Palestine National] Authority.” But Netanyahu’s threats to invade the PNA seem aimed at preparing the Israeli public for the possibility of reoccupying the PNA’s territory.

If Israel takes this route, it will face a challenge better armed than children throwing stones. And the leaders of the PNA security forces will have to choose whether they will fight a war against Israel or a civil war against Palestinians.

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