Working for "Win-Win" in the Middle East

Questions and Jeff Halper's Replies

By Karin Brothers

QUESTION: Many people feel uncomfortable speaking about the Palestinian situation. Isn't it all this talk about Palestinian human rights actually anti-Israeli or even anti-Semitic?

JEFF HALPER: The understanding that if someone is pro-Palestinian, they are automatically anti-Israeli or even anti-Semitic has led to the polarization of attitudes and to the present crisis, which is a "lose-lose" situation for all of us. We have to get away from the attitude that you have to take sides, or that one side has to win at the expense of the other. As Salim says, "What is good for Palestinians is good for Israelis." Both of our people have to live together on the land. We have to work together for a "win-win" solution that will respect everyone's human rights.

QUESTION: What were the terms of the 1993 Oslo Agreement? Have the two sides respected it?

JEFF HALPER: Arafat undercut tough Palestinian negotiators to make his own deal with Israel; it was an agreement of surrender. While Arafat gave up Palestinian rights to all but 22% of original Palestinian territory and took on Israel's role in controlling Palestinians living under occupation, Israel was to start to withdraw from Palestinian occupied territory. According to this agreement, neither side was to take any actions that would change the status of the occupied territories until the outcome of the permanent status negotiation. Arafat gave Israel permission to build temporary roads to connect their settlements until the final negotiations were settled.

Israel had no intention to uphold this agreement; it immediately started to build 450 km of massive "bypass" roads and to vastly increase the illegal settlements. Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian land has been minimal. Since Oslo, Israeli actions have ensured its continued control of occupied territory, precluded the emergence of a viable Palestinian state, and, in effect, made the entire negotiation process meaningless.

QUESTION: Why are Palestinians so angry now, when it was Arafat who refused to agree to Barak's final generous offer for a peace agreement?

JEFF HALPER: When one looks at what has happened "on the ground" there has been no "peace process" for the Palestinians. All the Palestinians have to show for seven years of negotiations is 18% of the West Bank, in the form of small communities totally encircled by Israeli-controlled territory. Israel has been giving the Palestinians small breaks politically to keep the negotiations ongoing. But the peace negotiations have served to camouflage the brutal 33-year long occupation; since the Oslo Agreement, life has become far more difficult for Palestinians.

After Oslo was signed, Israel closed off the occupied territories, so that only a fraction of Palestinians could enter Israel - or even other parts of the occupied territories - to work, worship or visit their families. Israel created a dependent Palestinian work force, then cut off its ability to work, hiring hundreds of thousands of cheaper foreign workers. Since the Oslo Agreement, the average Palestinian makes only one-third of what he did in 1993; the Palestinian economy is in shambles.

The settlements have doubled since 1993, with 200,000 settlers now living in the West Bank and another 200,000 in East Jerusalem. There have been 96% more settlement housing starts just between 1999 and 2000. Settlement construction used to be surreptitious; now bulldozers work openly on mammoth projects. In Gaza, 6,000 settlers control 40% of the land; while 1,000,000 Palestinians live on the rest, the most densely crowded spot on earth.

Palestinians live under constant humiliation, with roadblocks and checkpoints blocking virtually all movement. They are not permitted to use any of Israel's new "bypass roads" that have cut up their own routes. Travel between their own communities is now extremely time-consuming, humiliating and even dangerous.

There has been massive destruction of Palestinian property since Oslo. Six percent of West Bank farmland has been expropriated (385 sq. km) and about a quarter of Palestinian olive and fruit trees uprooted for Israeli construction and "security"; 1200 Palestinian homes have been demolished, with orders to demolish 4000 more.

Palestinians have severe water shortages, with their aquifers illegally incorporated into the Israeli water system and allocated mostly to Israelis. With water and power now on a unified Israeli grid, and a captive Palestinian work force, Israel has now formulated plans for a unilateral separation that includes the construction of massive fortifications to defend parts of the West Bank.

Palestinians, watching their property and their rights disappear since 1993, have been afraid that Arafat would sign away any possibility for a viable state. Arafat was under tremendous pressure from the US. and Israel to permit further occupation "by consent." This intifada is the Palestinian "street" sending Arafat the message that they cannot live without the hope for a viable state.

QUESTION: In Barak's final offer, he reportedly offered to return 90 to 95% of the land Palestinians asked for, plus parts of East Jerusalem. Shouldn't that be adequate for their state?

JEFF HALPER: You cannot assume that regaining 90% of the land equates to 90% of sovereignty over the land; one has to look at what the remaining 5 - 10% of the land would be used for. Military control of a country takes very little actual land. The five or so percent that Israel wants to keep represents settlements and roads; retaining these will give them control of the West Bank.

The West Bank is small, roughly the size of the State of Delaware, or Prince Edward Island; the retention of Israeli settlements will seriously fragment a Palestinian state. There are 150-195 settlements in the West Bank, with typically 1,000 to 1,500 people in each. To make them harder to move, Israel has combined most of them into what it calls the "settlement blocs - Western Samaria Bloc (including Ariel), the Adumim Bloc, and the Etzion Bloc - each with populations of 50,000 to 70,000 people. Israel's retention of the three "settlement blocks" would break up the West Bank into three unconnected sections. If one includes Gaza and Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, a Palestinian state would then comprise five separate sections. In the latest negotiations, Israel has insisted that a minimum of 80% of these settlers must remain.

Israel's extensive road system further fragments Palestinian territory. The "temporary" roads that Israel had permission to build are now a massive, fenced 450 km superhighway system of roads that are three to four football fields in width. These roads, which are changing the landscape of The Holy Land, are also isolating Palestinian communities even further. What would have been five disconnected areas will now be dozens of isolated pockets. Any connections between Palestinian areas will be by elevated highways or, in the case of access to Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a tunnel; Israel is to retain all land between these areas.

These settlement blocks and the 450 km of "bypass roads" together make up about 5% of the West Bank. They would totally control all Palestinian movement of people and goods, making a viable Palestinian economy impossible.

QUESTION: What would a Palestinian state look like at this point?

JEFF HALPER: A Palestinian state would be a state without any sovereignty. Besides the fragmentation of the territory, Israel has announced that it will retain complete control of the airspace and all international connections, such as ports, airports and all international borders, such as the Jordan valley. It will also retain control of the aquifers of the West Bank.

To further incorporate the West Bank territory into the rest of Israel, there are now plans to run a north-south highway that would go from the Negev and fork into the Galilee, skirting the Palestinian "green line." The public plan is to "Judaize" areas now inhabited largely by a Palestinian-Israeli population by 1) moving the Israeli population further eastward towards the West Bank and 2) "anchoring" the Palestinian territory to Israel with seven massive urban areas that would straddle both sides of the new highway (built by a Toronto company).

Jerusalem has been redefined to separate it from the adjoining Palestinian territory; "Jerusalem" now refers to the greater Jerusalem area, rather than to the city. Since Israeli suburbia now surrounds it, this has the effect of diluting the Palestinian population to about 15 percent.

QUESTION: Why would Israel want the Palestinians to have their own state? Isn't Israel doing the Palestinians a favor in trying to work out a state for them?

JEFF HALPER: Israel wants the Palestinians to have their own state because they don't want to give Israeli citizenship to Palestinians; they are afraid it would change the character of the Jewish state. But "security" concerns mean they want to have total control of the Palestinian state.

QUESTION: What legal rights do Palestinians have at this point?

JEFF HALPER: Palestinians have international law on their side without any power to enforce it. The Fourth Geneva Convention gives them the right to all of their land and property that was seized illegally, the right to return to their land, or, if they choose, to be compensated for their losses. The Fourth Geneva Convention, binding on all signatories which include Israel, does not permit Israel to take Palestinian territory, or deprive Palestinians of any rights, even through agreements with Palestinians.

QUESTION: What can be done to work for a just peace?

JEFF HALPER: The first priority is to end the occupation. There must be co-ordinated international grassroots campaigns that focus on ending the occupation and attaining a just and viable peace. There could be "sub-campaigns" that focus on aspects of the occupation, such as a Campaign to freeze all Israeli construction in the Occupied Territories (including East Jerusalem), a Campaign against Israel's human rights violations, a Campaign to stop the use of US. arms against Palestinian civilians, and a host of others, including the ongoing Campaign for the Right of Return. Networking is essential to support peace activities.

QUESTION: What hope is there for the future?

JEFF HALPER: There is no hope for justice as long as the United States is retaining control of this situation and the American Congress is controlled by Israeli interests. International grassroots diplomacy must work to get these negotiations out of American hands. Sharon has a reputation for brutality against Arabs. If Sharon causes massive Palestinian suffering, perhaps the world community will feel compelled to intervene to protect Palestinians, and enforce their rights for real justice.

Karin Brothers is an editor for Peace Magazine.

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2001

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2001, page 25. Some rights reserved.

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