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Intifada 2000 presages Palestinian state

Peace of any sort seems a far cry says Mike Heiser.

At Expo 2000 in Hanover the Israeli and Palestinian stands were located in adjacent exhibition halls. The Israeli stand boasted possibly the worst slogan in the entire exhibition: 'From Holyland to Whole-E land'. The Palestinian stand, less high tech and self-congratulatory, was laid out as a simplified model of the walled Old City of Jerusalem, with its gates, churches and mosques.

The message was plain to see; Jerusalem is integral to the Palestinians self-vision of their nation and their state-in-the-making and Hanover wasn't the only place where it was being stated. However the Israelis chose to ignore it. Jerusalem was the issue that broke the Camp David summit in July. And the renewed Palestinian intifada that broke out at the end of September was unleashed by the decision of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to go for a pre-New Year stroll on the Temple Mount / Haram al Sharif in the Old City, with the little matter of a thousand security officers to keep him company.

Jerusalem was one of the issues that was not solved by the Oslo agreement, but it was instead put off until 'final status talks'. These were postponed time after time, but at last got underway at Camp David in July. The shape of the agreement that might have emerged from Camp David is fairly clear, and is not dissimilar to the famous Beilin /Abu Mazen agreement, which was concluded, but never acknowledged, at the time of and immediately after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and 1996. Most of the West Bank and Gaza would become a Palestinian state. The exceptions were to be areas with high concentrations of settlements, which would be annexed to Israel. Other settlements would be within the Palestinian state, but Israel would be responsible for their security.

Most of Jerusalem, including the Old City would remain in Israeli hands. However Palestinians would get some neighbourhoods and would have some rights on the Temple Mount / Haram al Sharif, including a tunnel from the Mount to Palestinian areas. There would be no general right to return for refugees and their descendants displaced in 1948, but there would be some token resettlement and a compensation fund, as well as an international effort involving Europe and America. As commentator Akiva Eldar said "the assumption is that most of the refugees will prefer to get on the first plane to Montreal than wait in line for the bus to the employment office in Umm al Fahm (an Arab town in Israel)." (Ha'aretz 23rd October 2000)

The Camp David deal was peace of a kind, but not a just peace, rather it reflected the unequal relations on the ground. It was not sure that either side could sell it to their respective constituencies. In the run up to Camp David Barak was deserted by most of his coalition partners and left with a minority government. As for Arafat, when he returned without an agreement, having resisted American pressure to sign, he was hailed as a hero. But the message of the Palestinian street has been shown decisively in the new uprising; it rejects Camp David. It rejects the occupation and the associated closures and checkpoints and house demolitions and uprooting of olive groves for bypass roads for Jewish settlements.

There are many features of the current uprising which are qualitatively different from what has gone before. Unlike the Intifada, where the Palestinians were unarmed, the current disturbances have drawn in the Palestinian police force, which is armed, but no match for Israel. However, like its predecessor, the 2000 Intifada has involved children throwing stones; and this accounts for the large number of children among the casualties. Isolated Jewish settlements have been particular targets; many shootings have occurred at the settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip; an outpost of some tens of families next to a city of a million. For the first time since 1948 the Palestinian Arabs who are Israeli citizens have been drawn into the disturbances, particularly at the start, with disturbances in mixed cities such as Haifa and Jaffa and in Israeli Arab towns such as the aforementioned Umm el Fahm. There have been anti-Arab riots in Nazareth and Tel Aviv, which as the Israeli peace movement Gush Shalom said, would have been recognisable as pogroms to anyone in nineteenth century Russia. Equally there was the ugly incident of two Israeli army reservists who lost their way being lynched in the Palestinian controlled town of Ramallah.

The Israelis within the Green Line could shut the previous Intifada out; except when they had to do reserve duty in the Gaza or Ramallah. However it is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the current uprising in the same way. The latest settlement to come under attack is Gilo, one of the new neighbourhoods of Jerusalem constructed in the area annexed in 1967, indistinguishable from any other neighbourhood in Jewish Jerusalem. Psychologically, that is a lot harder to shut out than shootings in Nablus or Ramallah, even though the latter may be much greater in intensity.

What is likely to happen now ? If there is to be no agreement, unilateral action by one side or the other seems more and more likely. A unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state on or around November 15th, accompanied, or preceded, by unilateral Israeli action to enforce separation.

As I write, coalition negotiations are going on which could lead to an emergency government with Sharon as a member. According to an article in Ha'aretz (23rd October 2000) Sharon considers that Israel should hang onto all the West Bank it can; it should not evacuate any settlements and Israel should deploy troops in the Jordan Valley. The Palestinians would be left with 42% of the West Bank and none of Jerusalem.

What Barak has in mind is not yet clear, but plans are being drawn up to impose a unilateral economic separation, in the fields of trade, infrastructure and labour markets. The territories provide Israeli with a labour pool, they are dependent on it for their water and electricity.

However a closure, whilst it deprives Palestinians of their livelihood and supplies, and would in effect be economic warfare also deprives settlers of their umbilical cord. Israeli commentators have begun to conclude that isolated Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas, such as Netzarim in the Gaza Strip or the few hundred settlers in Hebron may well be indefensible at the time of a popular uprising. Some, such as Shlomo Gazit, a former co-ordinator of the Israeli army in the territories, have started to argue that the cleanest, and the most just solution, would involve the evacuation of all 170,000 settlers from beyond the Green Line.

For the Palestinians, the best hope seems to be to hope that international pressure will force Israel to give ground on Barak's 'final offer' at Camp David. This would have to involve more substantial compromise on Jerusalem and evacuation of such outlying settlements. In other words, more of a just, as well as potentially more durable, peace than Israel has been prepared to concede without the uprising. But at time of writing peace of any sort seems far away. It would be a bleak irony if the one gainer from the whole situation turned out to be Sharon, whose preferred solution seems a recipe for, in the words of one commentator in Ha'aretz, Algeria in the territories and Bosnia within the Green Line.