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Paving the way to apartheid

Yael Kahn asks whether Israel really wants the peace process to work.

There are two complimentary views on the Middle East peace process. One says that the peace process is not going well for reasons such as the operations of Hamas. The other says that it is not going well because Israel is not fulfilling its role in the agreements. But the real question is whether at any point Israel had any intention of allowing a genuine peace process to develop.

The Palestine/Israel conflict did not start because of a religious or cultural conflict, rather the root of the conflict is the Zionist colonisation of Palestine. The conflict started well before 1948, when land cultivated by the local population, which was Arab, was gradually transferred, under a variety of policies and practices and with some help from the British Mandate authorities, to ownership by Jewish immigrants from Europe, excluding the local population from it use. Then in 1948, Rabin - who some people consider the hero of the current peace process - actively participated as a commander in the execution of the policy of expelling Palestinians, which led to a massive expropriation of Arab land for the exclusive benefit of the Jewish immigrants. This process has continued in different ways and at different speeds ever since, both within Israel's 1948 borders and in the territories occupied by it in 1967 (including the West Bank and Gaza Strip).

More recently, immediately after the initiation of the current peace process and long before the explosion of buses by Hamas, a massive process of land confiscation was set in motion. What are the aims of this confiscation? Is it a question of minor adustmenrts before real peace begins? Or is it an attempt to impose an ultimate solution, in which there will never be any hope of an independent Palestinian political entity because the whole of the West Band has been fragmented into very small Palestinians communities surrounded by Jewish settlements?

This latter scenario is exactly what is really unfolding under the banner of "peace". There couldn't have been a better time to do it. As a result of the peace process, the Palestinian opposition was undermined, the Intifada was choked off, and it became very difficult to mobilise any opposition while the new Palestinian police force was being set up with general euphoria amongst the Palestinians, and similarly among the Israelis and the international community. It was difficult to pose hard critical questions at such as time, when many believed that a solution had almost been reached and there were just a few minor problems in the way.

However, the Israeli death squads have continued their work, aimed at PLO and Popular Front activists as well as Hamas. It should be noted that the threats by the Israeli government, that the death squads' activities might resume, show that the Israelis never really thought this was an inappropriate way of fighting the Palestinian opposition to the policy of occupation, land confiscation and colonisation. Furthermore, the death squads had never really stopped assassinating Palestinian activists.

So why did the Rabin government get involved in the peace process in the first place? What were their aims? Here (without pushing the parallel too far), we should consider Israeli policy in Lebanon for an indication of what they prescribe for the territories occupied in 1967. The occupation of Lebanon had been prepared long before the 1978 and 1982 invasion, even before it became a base for forces opposing the Israeli policy of occupations. There are records from Israeli official sources of plans to establish a collaboration Lebanese force that would carry out the Israeli policy in Lebanon, dating from as early as 1953. Indeed, Israel established and maintains its mercenary South Lebanese Army for this very purpose. The role of the South Lebanese Army is to release Israel from the burden of direct involvement in policing its occupied Lebanese territory. Unfortunately, this is just the sort of role that Israel has prescribed for the Palestinians National Authorities (PNA), and the rest of the peace process is mainly a cover for this.

Over the years the Israeli authorities have always attempted to have some Palestinians to do their dirt occupation work for them. For example, in the 1980s it was the Village Leagues, but their activities were not very successful because they never had any support or trust from the local community. The Intifada completely undermined the possibility of collaboration by Palestinians with the occupation authorities, so suddenly the Israelis were in the worst situation possible for them, where they themselves had to carry the full burden of the occupation on a daily basis. There was no function which they could have entrusted to local Palestinians to carry out on their behalf.

The role Israel has prescribed for the PNA is to be responsible for securing Israel's interests. In particular, to oppress Palestinians who struggle for their tights, including PLO members and supporters who view the agreements as a sell out. Unfortunately it seems that they tricked the PNA into assuming the very task that Israel has prescribed for them.

As regards the operations currently being undertaken by Hamas, even if Hamas made an agreement with the PLO I don't think there is any way to stop such actions. The extent of the despair and the lack of any hope will drive individuals to feel that they have no other option but to act in that way. Furthermore it was not originally Hamas's policy to initiate such operations. My work with women political prisoners and my study of local politics leads me to the conclusion that originally Hamas was mainly engaged in promoting and enforcing the oppression of Palestinian women, who had gained a significant status in their community at the beginning of the Intifada. Hamas adopted nationalist rhetoric and facilitate actions against Israeli soldiers and civilians, mainly to gain popularity and satisfy its grassroots membership. These actions are not an intrinsic part pf Hamas's ideology, as their main aim is to set up an oppressive theocratic state.

Where does this leave us? During the whole period of conflict, and particularly since the 1967 occupation, things have never been worse than in the current situation. At present virtually all Israeli "peace camp" has been eliminated. Traditionally, most of the Israeli "peace camp" justified its support for Palestinian rights predominantly as the only workable policy for the defence of the interests of Israel. Now Israel has managed to get the Palestinians to take over the maintenance of the occupation, so that Israel doesn't have to pay the cost involved in employing Israeli soldiers and other forces in a hostile territory. This is a Zionist dream some true - maintaining the advantages of the occupation without the associated human or financial cost. Traditionally, most of the so called Peace Camp had justified its support for a Palestinian state predominantly as the best way to secure segregation of Palestinians. Now, under the banner of "peace", a further segregation has been imposed on Palestinians. So it is very difficult to mobilise any opposition among the Israelis.

The situation is far more desperate than it was before. In fact, the real meaning of the Oslo Agreement is a new apartheid. The Israeli government's aim is not just to get the PNA to control the Palestinian resistance to the ongoing Israeli occupation but to initiate a new phase in that occupation. The Labour government's plan is to surround the whole of the Gaza Strip with an effective wall, with guards and sensors, and thereby to establish a small and fragmented Bantustan. Much of the Israeli "peace camp", which by and large supports ethnic cleansing, did not oppose this plan. On the other hand, some people from the Israeli tight wing party, Likud, such as Arens (a prominent minister in the Liked led government) opposed the plan on moral grounds.

Israel is not giving the Palestinians control of water resources, land resources, or free access to the sea. Everything is to continue to be controlled by the Israelis. The Israeli press has revealed that even the mail to and from the Palestinian "autonomous" enclaves is censored by the Israeli authorities. There is nothing that the Israelis are going to give away, and they have given nothing away so far. All that they have done is to establish apartheid.

In the past, Israel refused to abide by most of its legal obligations as the occupring power. But now even those few obligations it did accept have been withdrawn. In the old days if a Palestinians in Gaza was denied the right to travel to medical centres or educational institutions in the West Bank, her or she could apply to the Israeli Supreme Court. When Israel closed Gaza and stopped workers reaching their places of employment, then the Israeli authorities were held responsible for denying the rights for employment. But these obligations have now disappeared, and there are are no procedures by which the denial of such rights can be challenged: now there is no Israeli authority that can be challenged in court and forced to respect the right of a Palestinian in Gaza to travel to medical centres or educational institutions in the West Bank. In addition, and most important of all, the Israelis have deprived the Palestininas of jobs. Israel no longer has the obligation to provide Palestinians with jobs and has introduced a new economic policy, whereby large numbers workers from Romania, the Philippines and other countries are being imported and replacing the Palestinian workforce. Although the growing immigrant community is creating an additional political, economic and social problem for Israel, Israel is systematically closing down any job opportunities for Palestinians, who by and large have no jobs to return to.

The Israeli government says that if the Palestinians won't accept the role Israel has prescribed them, then they will get a Likud government. This should bot be taken seriously. The Likud would never have been able to carry out the atrocities the Labour government has perpetrated' the Likud would never have been sophisticated enough to follow George Orwell's prescription in talking peace and doining war. Under the cover of peace process, the Labour government carries out a massive confiscation of land and colonisation, such that before long it will no longer be possible to dream of a Palestinian state. The Likud could never have accomplished having one half of the West Bank confiscated with so little protest, and calling it Jerusalem. The Likud would never have been able to manipulate public opinion to accept the redefinition of Jerusalem as almost on half of the West Bank - going north to Ramallah and south half of the way to Hebron.

Supporters of Palestinian rights need to reassess our perception of the current situation and what kind of political agenda we want to promote. Under the peace process the worst atrocities are being perpetrated against the Palestinian people. Without a strong campaign against it there won't be any change.

Yael Kahn has worked with women prisoners in Israeli gaols.

September 1995.