It might be easy to be deceived by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's comments alluding to a unilateral withdrawal from Palestinian territory and even some settlements, if the wall Israel is building around us Palestinians were not growing longer and more oppressive by the day. Maps show the barrier's predicted path slicing into the West Bank, taking half of the land inside of the green line--half of the land that Palestinians and the world agreed would make up the Palestinian state.
But Sharon's hints that he is ready to dismantle some settlements are not an anomaly in his position, rather they are the natural conclusion of the promise Sharon made decades ago to render Palestinian statehood inoperable by dividing Palestinian land into cantons and surrounding them by Israeli military control. Sharon was never happy about building this "separation wall"--for him, it was an unnecessary division of land that God promised the Jews. But Sharon and his allies also recognized that building the wall was simply another way to proceed with his plan--to push Palestinians into as little space as possible, making their freedom and independence unattainable and leaving the rest of the land for Israel.
When Sharon speaks now of unilateral withdrawal, he is eyeing the map of the West Bank and the less than 20 illegal Israeli settlements (of some 150) that will eventually fall inside its walled Palestinian cantons. Dismantling these is his "difficult concession" to the idea that the land of historic Palestine is not the birthright of the Jews. It is by no means an admission that this land is occupied territory, or that Palestinians have any rights here at all. And, once his allies further to the right have their say, the chances are that those withdrawals will never take place. Sharon is under fire from Israel's left, and as usual he is trying to dodge the bullet.
The international community cannot let the Israeli wall--the apartheid wall--go unanswered. First, the humanitarian crisis that it is introducing on an already exhausted population is of immense proportions. When one takes the land of a farmer and leaves him only a plot for his home, not only his family suffers. Palestinians will be forced to buy their produce from Israeli farms built on Palestinian land and tilled (maybe) by the Palestinians who once owned that land. It is one more chapter in the same Palestinian story, one more land grab in defiance of all international legality and norms.
That brings us to the second reason for blocking the wall's construction: the United Nations' own resolutions. The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly voted that the way out of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict lies in the two state solution based on Resolution 242 and the green line. This is the international consensus and international law. Why then is Israel allowed to act with impunity and draw new borders when and where it chooses? If this were truly about Israel's security, the wall could easily follow those borders sanctioned by international law.
If the wall is completed as planned, the two-state solution will be rendered a thing of the past. Three million Palestinians will be inside these barriers, detached from each other and their land, with no economic agreements to maintain financial viability and unable to move without Israeli permission. The next negotiations will agonize fruitlessly about areas where the wall might be moved or removed, distancing us further from the crux of the problem: the illegal Israeli occupation. Tensions will escalate with the desperation of a people canned in tight borders and stewing in poverty and hopelessness. The Gaza Strip already has a wall, and it is a prime example of what lies in store for the West Bank.
Ariel Sharon began the implementation of his plan to decimate Palestinian nationhood by sending the Israeli army to annul the borders that had been drawn by the Oslo process. Palestinians responded by rethinking their commitment to the two-state solution. "If Israel doesn't recognize us," they said, "why should we recognize Israel?" Thus, in a marked change from before the uprising, nearly half of Palestinians now say that the aim of the intifada is to liberate all of historic Palestine. The building of the apartheid wall will only further prove to Palestinians that Israel has no intention of offering them independence and freedom on any part of this land.
The two-state solution is the only compromise on the table, and it is in dire jeopardy. It is up to the international community--the Quartet guided by the United States--to save this region from Sharon's grand plan.
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian government and for many years prior was featured in the press as a political analyst.
The sad tale of the security fence has recently taken on new dimensions that have potentially far-reaching ramifications.
The fence project began some two years ago as a unilateral initiative by Israeli “security doves”, backed--according to the opinion polls--by a large majority of the public, to stop suicide bombers more or less along the green line and to dismantle isolated settlements and those in Gaza. The model was the fence around Gaza, which has never been penetrated by suicide bombers. The objective was to radically improve the security situation and ensure Israel’s long-term survival as a Jewish and democratic state, while in no way prejudicing chances for a viable and negotiated two state settlement with the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, after initially rejecting the idea because of the political ramifications for the settlements that would lie beyond the fence, eventually embraced it, but only because he saw that he could “hijack” the fence and run it deep inside the West Bank in order to embrace as many settlements as possible.
Over time it emerged that Sharon and others on the right intend to subvert the original design of the fence yet further, and to use it to delineate the outlines of a Palestinian enclave state on about half of the West Bank. If Yasser Arafat and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala) do not agree to call the fenced-in enclave a “state” within the framework of a new interim deal that ostensibly corresponds with phase II of the roadmap, then Sharon, according to his most recent hints to the press and the public, will seek to impose the new arrangement unilaterally and for an unlimited period of time. Sharon has even alluded to the possibility of removing a few settlements--for security reasons, and/or in order to give the enclave some sort of technical “contiguity”. In exploiting the fence project to this end, he has skillfully appealed to the public’s generalized support for the fence, for separation and for removing settlements, and to President Bush’s support for the roadmap, while taking advantage of the president’s current preoccupation with Iraq and elections.
Never mind that the end product will be a disastrous arrangement that only prolongs and even escalates the conflict. Sharon believes he has a unique opportunity--while Bush is busy and as long as corruption charges don’t chase Sharon from office--to create the very Palestinian autonomous enclave that he has been talking about for nearly three decades. He has distorted the fence project to incredibly destructive ends.
Meanwhile, Palestinian opposition to the fence has been based on a series of calculations, some of which seem inspired, others of dubious wisdom. Thus the Palestinian information campaign has succeeded in persuading the world that the fence is a “wall”, even though only a few small segments out of hundreds of kilometers are configured as walls (mainly where they separate Palestinian urban concentrations from large numbers of Israelis scarcely meters away who have been, and could again be, shot at by Palestinians). This tactic is particularly successful in winning over European opinion to the Palestinian cause, because Europeans in the post-Cold War era react viscerally to the notion of walls and forced physical separation, even though Israeli-Palestinian circumstances are radically different from those of Cold War Europe.
Then too, by focusing on the human suffering among innocent Palestinians created by the fence wherever it diverges from the green line, the Palestinian campaign has successfully diverted the attention of the international public from the original purpose of the fence: to alleviate Israeli suffering by preventing suicide bombings. In this regard, the many successes already registered by existing segments of the fence in stopping incursions into Israel by suicide bombers are of little interest to the world, because there is nothing visually dramatic about non-events.
Now the Palestinian leadership has persuaded the United Nations General Assembly to take the case against the fence to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The potential success of this move is less clear. For years the Palestine Liberation Organization avoided having recourse to the ICJ because the outcome of such an appeal is far from a foregone conclusion. It gives Israel an international forum for making its case against Palestinian suicide terrorism and in favor of the international legality of its diverse activities in the West Bank and Gaza. And no matter what the court decides, its findings and recommendations will end up at the Security Council, where the US can prevent any definitive action being taken.
As Sharon’s fence-building proceeds apace in and around the West Bank and its original purpose gets hopelessly obscured by geography and politics, it behooves everyone concerned, and especially Palestinians, to bear in mind the original and most fundamental truths about the fence. The idea began with the suicide bombings, a quasi-existential threat to Israelis. The fence works. Israelis have every right to defend themselves.
But the fence is extremely expensive, it’s ugly, and most Israelis do not seek to cause hardship to innocent Palestinians. Israelis have no biological or psychological predisposition toward fences. If the Israeli public could be unequivocally persuaded that there would be no more suicide bombings, support for the fence would drop to near zero. Sharon could not proceed with the project.
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is a former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
We may differ among us over the repercussions or the morality of suicide bombings. But what we do agree on unanimously is that when an individual insists on deploying his or her own body, a power is released that might be called a part of the “flesh against iron” strategy.
The problem with the strategy of “flesh against iron” in this case is that it is based on actions of an individual and hence, remains inaccessible to the public and the nation as a whole. Indeed, the nation is forced to stand back and watch this solitary occurrence.
Observe the events of recent weeks in the world (which were not covered by the Arabic press, including al Jazeera satellite channel), in particular those in Bolivia where citizens of an entire nation bared their chests and thus forced their government to relinquish power and authority and flee the country. The same happened in Georgia, where continuing demonstrations resulted in the overthrow of the government and parliament, and obligated Edward Shevardnadze to resign in the wake of charges that he rigged the elections.
These examples are offered here merely to demonstrate that nations possess power, a power manifested in bodies tightly pressed together and directed at a singular goal. After close examination, it appears that we Palestinians are in dire need of this power. Some will say that there are already organizations that call demonstrations to resist and denounce the building of the Israeli wall and there are international solidarity groups that coordinate with local Palestinian movements and organize popular activities to confront the building of this racial separation wall. This is all well and good, I would argue, but it does not achieve the formula of “flesh against iron.”
What has happened in Latin America and Georgia is what social scientists and intellectuals call “people power.” What is taken into account here is persistence and numbers-- numbers are decisive in implementing goals, rather than the particular action underway. Demonstrations that are rallied to resist the construction of the wall must include thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands persistently placing their bodies as a barrier in the path of this wall. To achieve these numbers, each Palestinian movement is responsible for organizing and mobilizing people as a way of demonstrating their active presence on the ground, rather than simply maintaining a popular base in society.
Some non-governmental organizations that do manage to organize activities play an important role in maintaining contact with international groups that stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. However, the structure of a non-governmental organization differs from the composition of a social or national movement, which is responsible for mobilizing and organizing the people. Some claim that, as a result, political organizations and parties currently play a very weak role in the public sphere--even being completely absent at times. Still, this does not relieve these groups' responsibility for confronting this wall, and in invigorating and supporting the public, in particular those who have suffered with the wall's construction.
Political movements that maintain a popular base must take responsibility and act; this means that they must fully bear the consequences on their shoulders, rather than acting as guests at activities hosted by non-governmental organizations. Some will argue that a bloodthirsty Israeli army and Israeli settlers will easily prevent public gatherings by using excessive force. But the point here is that the goal of these public gatherings is to prevent the excessive use of force, because Israelis cannot kill or attack thousands of people at once. True, this strategy demands a high level of consciousness, commitment, organization and support. It also requires the creation of organized political frameworks.
But right now, international advocacy is at its optimum: the companies hired by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to polish his public image have failed in their mission. That was clearly reflected in the latest European poll. Too, the United Nations is becoming more direct in its messages regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is already a network of international support for the Palestinian cause, and this will help in gearing a broad popular movement to prevent the building of the wall. It is also worth noting that most European countries and the United States of America do not support the building of this wall.
The “flesh against iron” formula should not only include the public and its organizations, parties, and civil institutions; it must also include the Palestinian National Authority itself. Many articles have been written about the fall of the government of Mahmoud Abbas; others are debating the future of the current administration. I, for one, believe that if the current government follows the lead of its predecessor in placing our destiny at the hands of “American and Israeli goodwill,” and finds no other path except “negotiations" and "peace processes,” it will be unable to shape a future out of the numerous sacrifices of its own people.
What prevents governments from following the "path of peace," while simultaneously organizing popular resistance? What explains the official failure to lead public demonstrations against the building of this wall or the spread of settlements?
The natural flow of life for all cross-sections of Palestinian society is already impaired. What prevents us then from specifying certain days or weeks for the public to gather around a settlement to prevent it from spreading or to halt the confiscation of Palestinian land? What prevents thousands from positioning themselves between the Israeli bulldozers and targeted Palestinian homes to prevent Israel from demolishing homes in Rafah, Jenin, or the Old City in Nablus? Yes, Israeli tanks and bulldozers can kill a single person (as they did to American activist Rachel Corrie), but Israel cannot kill thousands in one stroke.
What we need is goodwill, planning, organization and support. Israeli tanks may kill tens or hundreds, but they cannot murder an entire population. This is the value of pursuing the formula of “flesh against iron.”
-Published 15/12/2003 ©bitterlemons.org
Islah Jad teaches women's studies and cultural studies at Birzeit University. She is currently doing research at London University (SOAS).
bitterlemons: What is the significance of the United Nations General Assembly resolution to turn the issue of the fence over to the International Court of Justice in The Hague?
Lapidoth: It means that the IJC will have to deal with the legal aspects of this question. I’m afraid that this discussion will also draw the court into basic [and] complicated issues such as the status of the West Bank (whether it is occupied territory or territory in dispute) and the status of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank (whether lawful or not). It would have been wiser to leave open these controversial issues concerning the past and the present and instead to concentrate on the search for a compromise solution of the political conflict, namely, to look at the future and negotiate a new objective political and legal settlement.
There are many legal questions in the history of the conflict which have never been solved, such as the Arab claim that the British Mandate over Palestine was illegal, that the 1947 partition resolution  was illegal, that the 1967 war was not an act of Israeli self defense, etc. In the same way I would suggest not to deal with the questions mentioned above on which we can never reach agreement, and moreover, to look for a compromise solution whereby the answer to those questions is not necessary
bitterlemons: Is the fence issue suitable for the ICJ?
Lapidoth: There have been many cases where the court had to answer the question whether a request for an advisory opinion was suitable for the court. But the court has very often agreed that it should give its opinion even if the case is rather political or concerns security issues.
bitterlemons: So this is only an advisory opinion?
Lapidoth: The court has two kinds of jurisdiction. The first is to settle contentious matters submitted only by states. The second kind of jurisdiction is the power to give an advisory opinion that is not binding, upon the request of a major organ of the UN or one of its specialized agencies. When the court is asked to give an advisory opinion, it has discretion to give or not give an opinion. Except for one case in 1923 it has always given an opinion.
It has to look at all the aspects that are relevant, and here the matter is very political and disputed. The question that has been submitted by the UN is: “What are the legal consequences arising from the construction of the wall being built by Israel, the occupying power, in the occupied Palestinian territories, including in and around East Jerusalem, or described in the report of the secretary general, considering the rules and principles of international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions?” If the court has to answer this question it will have to deal also with the very controversial questions I mentioned earlier, and the answer will not help us to reach a compromise.
bitterlemons: In this respect, could you comment on the legal aspects of the suicide bombings the fence was built to prevent?
Lapidoth: The legal aspects of the case are three. First, does Israel have the right to build a fence? The answer is that because of suicide bombings this is an act of self-defense to reduce the danger. The second legal question concerns the power of Israel to confiscate the land on which the fence is built. Here Israel is careful because it does not confiscate the land but only requisitions it and pays rent, and this is permitted under The Hague Rules of 1907. The third question concerns freedom of movement, which has been established by the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. There is no doubt the fence will impair the freedom of movement of the Palestinians. Here Israel claims it is trying to find a proper balance between its right to self-defense on the one hand, and the need to preserve freedom of movement on the other. Therefore Israel has promised to build many gates and crossing points in the fence in order to reduce the impairment of the freedom of movement. Importantly, the Palestinians themselves acknowledge Israel’s right to self defense in their legal memorandum which is attached to the report of the secretary general.
Ruth Lapidoth is professor emeritus of international law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and professor of international law at the law school of the College of Management in Rishon LeZion.
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