A Palestinian family reacts after Israeli bulldozers demolished their home in the Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, Feb. 5, 2013. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Newly elected Israeli Knesset member Yair Lapid (l), leader of the Yesh Atid party, speaks to Naftali Bennett, head of the hard-line national religious party the Jewish Home, during a Feb. 5 reception in Jerusalem marking the opening of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES)
Richard Curtiss at work in his Washington Report office. (STAFF PHOTO D. HANLEY)
Then-Vice President Dick Cheney (l) and Likud chairman Benyamin Netanyahu, out of office at the time and serving as the official Israeli opposition leader, at a March 23, 2008 breakfast meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Philippine President Benigno Aquino III (r) shares candies with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief Murad Ebrahim during a Feb. 11 visit to the rebels’ stronghold in Sultan Kudarat on the island of Mindanao. (KARLOS MANLUPIG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Emad Burnat views his five broken cameras in his documentary of the same name. (PHOTO COURTESY KINO LORBER)
April/May 1994, Page 14
West Bank Jewish Settlements: The Real Obstacle to Peace
By Richard H. Curtiss
"Real agreement with the Palestinians cannot be achieved without removal of the settlers. If the government wants this agreement to work, it has to be courageous and evacuate them."
—Israeli "Peace Now" leader Tzaly Reshef, March 14, 1994
For most of the past 47 years, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has been at one "turning point" or another. Usually one or both parties hesitate over a key decision something unexpected occurs, and an opportunity is lost. This is one of those turning points.
For both Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, it may be the last chance to make a mark in history as a peacemaker rather than a warmaker. Rabin is in his seventies. If he fails to slip through what he now describes as a "narrowing window of opportunity," there will not be another. His party probably will lose the next election.
Arafat is in his mid-sixties, but not in good health. His standing among Palestinians last September was extraordinarily high. Now it's very low. It still can go either way. All of that is inconsequential, however, compared to the significance of this moment for both of their peoples.
It seems to be the last chance for a "two-state" solution in the land of Palestine. If it is lost, there probably will be only one state. For the short run, three decades at the most, it will be Israel. In the long run, however, it will be Palestine. With luck, Jews still living there will have equal rights, unlike the situation today where Arabs living within Israel do not.
Demographically, economically, geopolitically it is impossible for a tiny Jewish state, with a declining population of fewer than four million Jews, to survive on hotly disputed land in a sea of hostile Islamic nations with exploding birthrates. Demagogues inevitably will emerge as the Arabs and the much larger Islamic world begin their deadly serious struggle to achieve the modernization necessary to support their expanding populations.
These demagogues will use Israel, just as Hitler used the Jews of Europe, as a catalyst for seizing power, and justification for holding it. If the Israelis don't make peace now while they can, sometime in the 21st century they will have to give up exclusive power or share the fate of the Jews of Europe as that continent made its bloody 20th century transition from the narrow nationalism and bigotry that can no longer co-exist with modern warfare and weaponry.
On the other hand, there are highly educated modernists in every Muslim nation. They are keen to make a bloodless transition from the benighted old ways of illiteracy, autocracy and poverty to a new age of universal education, popular participation in government and equality of economic opportunity. They would welcome and support an immediate, just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
They correctly see an unrequited Palestinian grievance, which has become the burning, personal burden of every Muslim, and of Christian Arabs too, as a time bomb which can destroy all the hopes of their peers across the entire swath of Islamic nations. For the modernists of the Muslim world, what is at stake is peaceful evolution or bloody revolution for more than a billion people from the Atlantic rim of Africa to the Pacific rim of Asia.
The road chosen for more than a fifth of the human race, and their relations with the other four-fifths with whom they share the planet, will be heavily influenced by the turning point in Israel and Palestine.
Confronting the Hebron Massacre
The massacre brought into full public view, where it must be dealt with, the question of West Bank-Gaza settlements, which was being denied. It forced the Israeli right (no territorial concessions) onto the defensive on an issue it had to defend only lightly before. It precipitated the now unstoppable debate that gives the center and left (pro-territorial concessions) their best argument for a negotiated solution."
—Editor Stephen S. Rosenfeld, Washington Post, March 11, 1994
At issue are 130,000 Jewish settlers in Israeli-occupied territories, or the one-third of those settlers who say they will reject financial compensation for moving back into Israel. They vow to stand pat, in defiance of either Israeli or Palestinian authorities, on the land that Israel must exchange for peace. Until the settlers are dislodged, there can be no further progress toward peace without triggering more of the bloodshed that would make such progress impossible.
Whenever Palestinian and Israeli negotiators sit down to work out implementation of the Declaration of Principles sealed with a handshake at the White House last Sept. 13, the question of settlements intrudes. That's exactly what was planned by the two Likud Bloc prime ministers, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, who put all the resources of the Israeli government, and of the U.S. taxpayer, into creation of Jewish settlements by such ' 'Greater Israel" zealots as ruthlessly secular Gen. Ariel Sharon and fanatically religious Rabbi Moshe Levinger.
All involved are single-minded upholders of the double standard. Palestinian land is confiscated for occupation by Israelis. Palestinians are denied building permits to make it necessary for them to take jobs building houses for Israelis. Palestinians are not allowed to deepen dry existing wells to ensure that there will be water for new wells dug by Israelis Jewish settlers are issued automatic rifles at Israeli government expense, and most choose to carry pistols as well. Palestinians are shot on sight for carrying arms. Life is made intolerable for Palestinians so that they will leave the occupied territories. Life is made idyllic for Jews so that they will stay.
The rationale is obvious. Under the land-for-peace formula of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, the sole basis for all international peace efforts since Nov. 22, 1967, lands Israel occupied in the 1967 war are to be exchanged for Arab acceptance of Israel's "right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries. " In 1947 the U.N. partitioned the Mandate of Palestine into roughly equal halves to provide for both a Jewish state and a Palestinian state. Now the lands at issue constitute only 22 percent of that Mandate.
At present, Jewish settlers occupy about 40 percent of even these few remaining lands. Unless they are returned to the Palestinians, that leaves only 13 percent of the Palestinian Mandate remaining for the Palestinian state. This reality overwhelms the negotiations. Negotiators over Gaza were faced with some 4,000 Israeli settlers occupying more than 30 percent of the land and using almost as much water as Gaza's 800,000 Palestinian residents.
Incredibly, the negotiations did not bog down over this inequitable division of resources, but over the unwillingness of the Israeli occupation authorities to leave protection of the settlers in Gaza to the Palestinian police. Can it really be called withdrawal if Israeli troops stay to protect Jewish occupants of 30 percent of Gaza, and also patrol the roads leading through the other 70 percent of the land to the Jewish settlements? Whatever authority would be left for the newly constituted Palestinian entity would be restricted to policing Palestinian towns, villages and refugee camps to ensure that none of the inhabitants molest the settlers.
And who would protect the Palestinians themselves in their own cities, towns and camps? The Israelis don't, and the Palestinian police would not be allowed to by the settlers. A settler member of the Israeli Knesset said on the Knesset floor he would "shoot any Palestinian policeman" who tried to give him orders, even if the Palestinian were only directing traffic.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, an earnest proponent of the agreement, tried to define all this as a simple problem of providing "dignity" for the Palestinians and "security" for the Israelis. However, Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein provided a more realistic definition of the problem when he massacred some 30 Palestinians in the mosque at Hebron. So did Israeli soldiers who, instead of preventing Goldstein from carrying weapons, extra clips of ammunition, and firing-range earplugs into the mosque, killed an equal number of Palestinians at the mosque, in Hebron and throughout the occupied territories in the days afterward. Together Goldstein and Israeli soldiers exposed the unworkability of an agreement which perpetuated inequality between Israelis and Palestinians, put the Palestinian police at the service of security for the privileged Israelis, and provided no security at all for the exploited Palestinians.
Oslo Accords: Unequal from the Start
"For Arafat to agree to resume talks without some change is dangerous for him and could harm the overall progress...
Half the PLO executive council quit prior to the White House ceremony, and the full language and terms of the Oslo accord were not known to the remaining council until days later. As a growing chorus among the Israeli left agrees, adjustments are needed. Linking the peace process to the Security Council may help ensure fairness. Dismantling the 450-member Hebron settlement would be a powerful signal. In any event, settlements, and security in them, should be put on the table. The U.S. should reexamine its role, including its extraordinary new position that Jerusalem isn't under occupation. " —Christian Science Monitor editorial, March 16, 1994
The Israelis who began the negotiations that yielded the Declaration of Principles were academics. As differences narrowed, an imaginative government official, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Yossi Beilin, became involved. He and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres concluded that the flexibility being shown by Yassar Arafat's emissaries gave Israel its first realistic hope, since its birth in 1948, of peaceful political integration into the Middle East and, possibly, paying its own way economically after years of living off U.S. and European handouts.
It was Peres, master of the "big picture" and a civilian, who sold the idea to his long-time political rival, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a methodical "detail man, " but a general who had the confidence of the Israeli people. Rabin had been elected because Israelis realized the no-compromise policies of his predecessor, Yitzhak Shamir, were alienating the United States, upon which Israel is militarily and economically dependent. No adventurer, Rabin entered the negotiations not because he shared the dream of Israeli economic integration into the oil-rich Middle East, but because he saw it as a way of getting rid of Gaza, under conditions that would keep it from becoming a base for operations against Israel.
From his headquarters in Tunis, Yasser Arafat saw the negotiations as a way out of the corner into which he had painted himself after the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. With many of his assets and followers in Baghdad, Arafat chose the losing side in what he probably thought would be the quick write-off by the West, and even its oil-rich neighbors, of Kuwait.
Arafat's choice was popular among Palestinians at home and in Jordan and Syria, who saw it as the beginning of an era in which the Iraqi strongman would harness Gulf petroleum to a war for Palestinian liberation. The choice was not popular, however, among Palestinians long established in the Gulf countries, which were the source of virtually all PLO funding.
The result was that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who had been contributing to the PLO were deported from the Gulf, and the government of Saudi Arabia, the PLO's main source of income, cut Arafat off without a cent to pay his bureaucrats, his army, or the pensions and schooling of widows and orphans of PLO martyrs.
Yasser Arafat was broke and desperate when he agreed to sign an open-ended agreement that held out the prospect of independence, but was vague on details. The Israelis also had led him to believe, falsely, that whether or not he signed, Syria's Hafez Al-Assad, Lebanon, and Jordan's King Hussein were prepared to sign separate peace agreements of their own with Israel.
Arafat's primary condition was that the agreement be signed in Washington, in presence of President Bill Clinton. As Arafat saw it, Israel had little more to gain because it already occupied Palestine and no longer had to contend with American pressure to trade land for peace. But Palestine, which had had nothing at all, suddenly had something, even if it was just an agreement on paper and a vague U.S. moral commitment to its fulfillment.
Forces That Won't Be Contained
"Shai Feldman, an analyst at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, said the massacre forced Rabin to confront head-on the entire issue of security for Palestinians, not just for Jews. Feldman said the result could be far-reaching decisions about the settlements. 'Now, when he sees the pictures of a patrol of four soldiers and two settlers walking behind them with guns, or six settlers in Hebron walking with the guns during a curfew, my guess is he understands something is wrong with this picture, Feldman said."
—Correspondent David Hoffman, Washington Post, March 15, 1994
The White Houseceremony gave Yasser Arafat stature in the one place he didn't already have it-the United States. He shared a dais with President Clinton, met administration officials, and visited Congress and the United Nations in New York. Americans saw him shake hands with every Israeli and American within reach.
Then they saw or heard him on U.S. television and radio and discovered that he really had "renounced terrorism" and did accept U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and Israel's right to exist. They even saw that he called Israel by its proper name and not "the Zionist entity," as media apologists for Israel had fictitiously claimed for years. Americans also saw their congressmen and media and talk show hosts scrambling to be photographed with or to interview this ever-smiling "terrorist."
Arafat's public relations triumph, however, rapidly turned into a personal disaster. He was aware that the Israelis had purposely strengthened Hamas, the PLO's hard-line Islamist rival, by jailing PLO activists and interdicting their funds, while letting Islamists run free and get funding from Iran and individual sympathizers in oil-rich Arab countries. Then, when the Israeli government discovered it couldn't keep Hamas members from killing Israelis, it tried to nurture a moderate indigenous West Bank leadership to rival both Hamas and Arafat. Only when Rabin concluded that the PLO chairman was the sole leader who could and would deliver all the Palestinian people, did the Israeli prime minister sign the Sept. 13 agreement.
However, as negotiations to implement "Gaza and Jericho first" went nowhere, Arafat began to suspect that Rabin was dragging his feet in order to discredit with the Palestinian people their only remaining leader of universal stature. If that was Rabin's plan, it had almost worked when the Hebron massacre snapped the world's attention back to the Holy Land.
The Unintended Consequences
There is a widespread misperception that, under the Declaration of Principles signed in Washington last September, negotiations on permanent status are not to begin until after two years of the 'interim period have elapsed. But, in fact, Article V of the declaration states: Permanent status negotiations will commence as soon as possible, but not later than the beginning of the third year of the interim period. " —International lawyer John Whitbeck, Washington Post, March 16, 1994
Well before the Hebron massacre, Palestinians felt the agreement their leader had signed left them unprotected from Israeli deathsquads, random brutality by any Israeli soldier or policeman who chooses to inflict it, and relentless, purposeful, and deadly harassment by Israeli settlers. To regain credibility, Arafat has demanded that U.N. personnel be authorized to protect his people, that thesettlers be disarmed, and that some settlements be dismantled before he returns to negotiations.
The Israeli response is that moving to such questions as the settlements, borders and Jerusalemwould be a violation of the accord signed last Sept. 13. This response is not merely pedantic, it is untrue.
There is nothing in the agreement to prevent dealing with the settlements now. Yasser Arafat's position is not only legally valid, it is morally and tactically imperative. A decision to at least move settlers out of the areas where they have harassed their Arab neighbors on a day-to-day basis for years, as in Hebron, or from areas soon to be turned over to Palestinian authorities, as in Gaza and Jericho, makes sense from every point of view.
The unenforceable policing arrangements presently tying negotiators in knots would becomemoot. Palestinians would become responsible for security in areas of which they assume control. Israelis would remain responsible for security until they depart. Israelis who choose to remain behind, even after they have been offered generous financial terms to relocate, would have to do so on the understanding that they obey the laws and rulings of the returning Palestinian authorities-just as the 800,000 Palestinian Arabs remaining in Israel inside the Green Line unquestioningly obey the Israeli authorities responsible for their protection. New Israeli immigrants into the occupied areas would be barred, just as are Palestinians seeking to immigrate into Israel-even those who were born there.
Israeli reluctance to accede to such sensible requirements leads to the suspicion that has generated such hostility to the Declaration of Principles among many Arafat followers. It is possible that such Israeli proponents of the accords as Peres and Beilin are sincere, but that Rabin sees them as a means of buying five more years to reach separate agreements with other Arab states, consolidate Israel's hold on East Jerusalem and its environs, and complete two chains of settlements, running north and south and east and west across the West Bank.
This would isolate Palestinians from other Arabs, and from each other. It would pen them into nonviable enclaves that would make the eventual sovereign Palestinian entity impossible to realize.
If Rabin's performance points to such a breach of faith, Yasser Arafat would be justified in breaking off the talks now, rather than five years later when more damage has been done. If it is not the case, the Rabin government can demonstrate its sincerity by moving the settler issue to the top of the agenda where it belongs.
In The Washington Post, journalist and Middle East specialist Milton Viorst pointed out that even as the Rabin government rushes to start new housing for Jews in and around East Jerusalem, and finish housing already under construction in West Bank settlements, "tens of thousands of apartments in the West Bank have stood vacant for months and show no prospect of being occupied."
Viorst suggests that the Israeli government use some of the loan guarantees the U.S. originally made available to Israel (to help settle Russian immigrants who never came) to help Jewish settlers who wish to leave the West Bank and resettle in Israel. Viorst further suggests that some of the $25 million the U.S. has authorized to provide housing for Palestinians be used to help Palestinians move into the vacant houses and apartments in West Bank settlements.
It would be a relatively peaceful way to begin the shifts that are imperative if the bloodshed is ever to end. Until these things start to happen, Yasser Arafat should make no concessions. When movement on the ground begins, he and his supporters can return and begin the preparations for free and democratic elections throughout the occupied territories promised in the accord.
To refrain from further precipitate agreements but, when his reasonable conditions are met, begin preparations to hand over power to the next generation of Palestinians, are the two greatest services their greatest leader still can perform for the Palestinian people.
In the history of all the Arab and Muslim peoples, Yasser Arafat may be remembered far longer for completing his organization's transition from a liberation movement to a democratic government, and for laying the groundwork for normal and peaceful relations with all of Palestine's neighbors, than for his lifetime of service to his country's freedom.
Palestinian and Israeli leaders who demonstrate they are working honestly for a land-for-peace settlement deserve the support of the United States. Those seeking to turn the ambiguity of the Oslo accords into petty advantage deserve exposure.
In fact, time is on the side of the Palestinians. But only if their Arab supporters pledge to make no separate deals, and to relieve the financial strains that, for a while, made Yasser Arafat forget it.
For their part, the best contribution to Middle East peace that supporters of Israel can make is to remind Yitzhak Rabin that time is not on Israel's side. It would be foolish to say this is Israel's last chance to establish peace with its neighbors. It would be reckless to act as if is not.
Richard H. Curtiss is the executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
U.S. Grants to Israel in FY 1993 (in billions)
From FY '93 foreign aid budget ... $3.000
From other parts of FY '93 budget or off budget ... 1,271
Total 1993 grants ... $4.271
Interest paid by U.S. on money borrowed for 1993 grants to Israel
(paid during first month of fiscal year rather than on a quarterly basis as with all other foreign aid recipients)... .050
U.S. loan guarantees for Israel for FY 1993 ... 2.000
Total 1993 grants, interest, and loan guarantees ... $6,321