"Intifada" is a misleading name for this period of confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians that began on September 29, 2000, a few weeks after the collapse of the Camp David negotiations and one day after the unprecedented visit of right-wing extremist opposition leader Ariel Sharon to Jerusalem's holiest Muslim shrine. The term "intifada" is misleading because it gives the impression that Palestinians initiated these confrontations. As well, the name "intifada" originally referred to the 1987 uprising of the Palestinian people against the occupation, a series of popular and non-violent acts of resistance that ranged from strikes to demonstrations, while this "intifada" has conversely marked the bloodiest period of confrontation in the history of the century-long Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Remembering the first days of the intifada is useful in understanding its nature, and how it has changed. The day after Sharon's visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem happened to be a Friday, the day that Palestinian Muslims gather for prayers and, on this occasion, a day that was used to protest Sharon's tour. The demonstrations were met by a massive Israeli crackdown, one that left seven dead bodies in and around the mosque area. Of course, the Palestinians killed were not armed, and not even Israel has accused them of using weapons against Israeli police.
That tragic day was followed by demonstrations and protests all over the West Bank and Gaza, most of which were unarmed public expressions of outrage. The Israeli military responded in a manner that resulted in an average of ten Palestinian dead a day, most of them civilians. And still, casualties on the Israeli side were few.
Indeed, the main characteristic of the first few weeks of what became known as the intifada was the continuous and unnecessary Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians. World leaders, including American officials and the United Nations secretary general, referred to Israel's handling of the situation as disproportionate. Tragic incidents, such as the killing of child Muhammad Dura in the lap of his father, became icons for the Palestinian people and their supporters. The killing of 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Galilee, all civilians whom even Israel has not accused of wielding arms, was another decisive moment. These incidents heightened regional public and official support for Palestinians (and conversely, animosity towards Israelis) and almost reversed in entirety the inroads that Israel had made as an accepted player within the Arab world and beyond as a result of the peace process.
Simultaneously, the United States, which did little to stop the Israeli killing, was also the target of Arab criticism. As a result, the US lost credibility that it had garnered in the region via its leadership of the peace process. Attempts were made to stop the descent into violence, including steps taken by President Bill Clinton himself, but to little avail. While these efforts proposed a way out, they offered little tangible reason to believe that the way out would actually take hold.
In the middle of the first year of the confrontations, a great deal of radicalization became apparent in the Israeli and Palestinian publics. Palestinians increasingly demanded an armed response to the continuous Israeli killing and it was during this period that the unfortunate phenomenon of suicide bombings began to take hold. Some of these attacks were against civilians and others were against military targets, but all kinds of armed attacks were carried out by Islamist groups and then even by the secular Palestinian political mainstream.
This radicalization was mirrored in the Israeli public, which elected one of the most right-wing governments in Israel's history and marginalized Israel's peace camp, the Labor and Meretz parties. Sharon's "coup" gave this man, who had always stood adamantly opposed to the peace process, the opportunity to gleefully undo nearly every outcome of the peace process, developments that Sharon had failed to prevent as leader of the opposition. The two major peace process developments that displeased his right-wing coalition were the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, seen as an expression of Palestinian political sovereignty, and the granting of limited Palestinian control over some areas of the occupied territories. Gradually, not less than 90 percent of the land that had been previously freed from occupation was brought back under Israeli control, and the Palestinian Authority was left holding the bag for administrative responsibilities. The result was a functional division between Israel, which controlled security, and the Palestinian Authority, which did its best to continue administration of the areas that had been under its control during peace times. That outcome fit snugly with the Israeli right-wing's historical argument that the proper solution for the Palestinian problem is one where Israel controls the land, while the Palestinians control the people, rather than the prospect of territorial division that had been the goal of the peace process.
These events took their economic toll. In three years of confrontation, Israel managed to reduce by half the struggling Palestinian economy. Israel's collective punishment measures, most of which have no security justification, and which prevent the movement of people and goods from town to town, were responsible for an unemployment rate that skyrocketed from 37 to 50 percent. The number of Palestinians living below the poverty line rose in turn to 60 percent.
Still, Israel has failed to achieve its strategic objective of forcing the Palestinian people and leadership to change their negotiating positions. In the long view of things, the use of an unusual level of force has certainly not helped Israel to achieve its legitimate objectives of peace and security. At the same time, the continued use of violence by Palestinians, especially against Israeli civilians, has been responsible for a new isolation of the Palestinian cause and its leadership and growing criticism in some US circles that associate the Palestinian struggle with terrorism, the major American policy issue after the events of September 11.
The only conclusion to be reached in an objective analysis is that the use of force or violence has not helped Israelis to achieve their legitimate objectives of peace and security, nor has it enabled Palestinians to achieve their legitimate objectives of ending the occupation and achieving freedom, statehood and self-determination. That leaves us both with no other option save peaceful negotiations based on international legality, which calls for a complete end to the Israeli occupation in return for terminating the conflict, a just solution for the Palestinian refugee problem based on international law and to be agreed on by both sides, and finally, the attainment of a peaceful settlement that allows everyone on this land to enjoy peace, security and economic prosperity.
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is minister of labor in the Palestinian Authority cabinet and has served for many years as a political analyst and media contact.
After 36 months of conflict and bloodshed, both Israelis and Palestinians are worse off. We are further from a peaceful settlement, our economies are suffering (the Palestinian far more than the Israeli), and our leaders are increasingly ostracized internationally.
Moreover, our military and political leaders on both sides have erred grievously in assessing that the use of brutal force could tip the scales in this struggle. Instead, we have an increasingly dirty war, initiated by Palestinian suicide bombings but pursued by Israel as well.
Only the extremists have gained. The Islamic radicals and the Jewish settlers, both of whom oppose an agreed, fair and permanent two state solution, have moved closer to achieving their perversely shared goal. In the course of three years, Israelis and Palestinians have progressively lost the capacity to communicate with one another, and their leaders have lost all credibility in the opposing camp. The settlements have spread, and the Palestinian birthrate has further closed the population gap. Soon, very soon, geography and demography will have defeated the last hope of a realistic repartitioning of Eretz Yisrael/Palestine into two separate ethnic states, and Israel will be on the slippery slope toward losing its Jewish and democratic character.
Paradoxically, in other ways Israel's overall strategic situation has improved considerably over these three years, thanks to the events and acts precipitated by 9/11. The American occupation of Iraq has reduced to nil the danger to Israel of a new Arab military coalition (an "eastern front") attacking it, thereby radically diminishing the threat of conventional war. And the United States campaign against Islamic radical terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue states has, for the first time, given Israel a major ally in countering these threats.
Only the demographic/geographic strategic threat has grown. And while it is entirely within Israel's unilateral capabilities to deal with it, the body politic of the Jewish people appears to be paralyzed by fear: fear of angry settlers and their rabbis, fear of hurting our vaunted deterrent profile by displaying "weakness", fear of making unilateral concessions--fear, indeed, of recognizing that the strategic benefits of unilateral withdrawal by Israel far outweigh the tactical drawbacks.
Under these tragic circumstances, the only potential ray of light is the fence. As an instrument originally designed to protect Israelis from Palestinian suicide bombers, the fence is a quintessential byproduct of three years of intifada. Yes, it is ugly and unpleasant, and hurtful to innocent Palestinians in even its most benign permutation. But a fence separating Israel from the West Bank, as close as possible to the green line, could generate the separation both peoples need, and might begin to delegitimize the settlements lying beyond.
The US administration, which won't pressure Prime Minister Ariel Sharon over the settlements, the roadblocks and his other obligations under the nearly defunct roadmap, has seemingly decided to get tough on the fence, make sure it sticks close to the green line, and prevent Sharon from hijacking it for political purposes. Perhaps because it perceives that the domestic political costs in America of exercising this particular type of pressure are minimal. If it keeps up the pressure, we may end up with a fence that more or less approximates the borders that Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat nearly agreed on at Taba in 2001, during the early months of the intifada.
If the fence begins to function as a border as well and contributes to a positive separation, it would be the supreme irony of this intifada, which broke out largely because Arafat could not or would not accept Barak's terms. But then again, given that the two sides are incapable of solving their differences through logic and rationality, they may just have to settle for messy solutions that evolve over time in unintended ways.
But the fence is being built slowly, and it can only reduce violence and slowly create new facts--not solve the conflict. Nor, beyond applying pressure on the fence, does the Bush administration appear to have any realistic strategy for ending the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Neither do Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat. Thus, bearing in mind the American election timetable, we are probably in for another 18 months at least of conflict and suffering.
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of bitterlemons.org and bitterlemons-international.org. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University, and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
On its third anniversary, the intifada has been the subject of a great deal of analyses, articles and essays. A quick review of the writings that appeared after the first, second and now third year of the uprising shows that they have many points of agreement, particularly regarding the intifada's achievements and accomplishments. There is marked departure, however, in assessing the dangers the Palestinian people now face.
The gamble made by the Palestinian leadership--and one initially fully justified--relied on the assumption that escalating Israeli military measures and aggression reap Arab and international solidarity. But this is no longer an easy gamble, as matters today appear quite the reverse. This change is very serious and worthy of our attention; we can neither ignore it nor let it divert us from the main dispassionate truth of the Palestinian national struggle, a truth that has been a major factor on our success thus far.
This truth is that the Palestinian national movement is not like other liberation movements in circumstance or its source of power. It cannot, for instance, achieve its goals on its own; the Palestinian people alone cannot win the quasi-military battle against Israel. Therefore, without effective external support and energized Arab and international solidarity backing the intifada, our national movement will remain stationary, waiting for such assistance.
It is not an exaggeration to say that recent years have altered the international and regional environment and gradually shifted all levels of influence in the political process from inside the occupied territories to outside. This change demands the parallel reinforcement of political and media energies abroad, particularly in the public arena, in order to form a broad international front supporting the Palestinian people's struggle and enabling them to achieve their goal of terminating the Israeli occupation.
This brings us back to the question, "What has the intifada achieved in its third year?" What can it achieve under these circumstances, given the international and regional transformation?
The intifada succeeded in aborting as a solution for the Palestine question the unjust and incomplete Camp David negotiations, which were crafted to relinquish Jerusalem and the refugees' right to return, and to keep settlement blocs and the borders of the Palestinian state under Israeli control. The intifada also discredited the American ideas that were offered in the same framework. It succeeded in enhancing commitment to our national goals and rejuvenating the Palestinian struggle. Furthermore, it substantiated American bias towards Israel and reinforced Palestinian national unity between the factions, particularly in the field. The intifada unmasked Israel's lack of seriousness towards attaining a just political solution that would fulfill Palestinian demands, halted an increasing normalization process with Israel, and refocused international public opinion on the need to find a solution for the Palestinian question.
Finally, the intifada demonstrated that it is impossible to impose solutions on the Palestinians by unilaterally changing the facts of the occupation on the ground (despite that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains convinced of this possibility). The uprising has verified that there is no room for a dual authority--Palestinian national authority and the occupation's authority--over one people in this small geographic area, the occupied territories. There is no way that a national authority that seeks independence for its people can coexist with a foreign occupation whose objective is to abolish every pillar of this independence.
But tracking these events alone do not provide us with a comprehensive view of what happened and what might happen yet. The Palestinian intifada cannot, solely on its own, shift from a defensive posture upholding national rights and demands to a political offensive intended to reap achievements. Indeed, the intifada has remained almost static since the close of its first year.
For one, the intifada has not succeeded in becoming an uprising beyond these borders, as some had wished. To date, it has not succeeded in mobilizing serious political engagement that has the possibility of ending the occupation, nor has it been able to use the pressures that do exist to hasten a just solution. It has not accelerated the rhythm of Arab solidarity, nor realized the slogans promising an international investigation committee, nor broken the American monopoly on the negotiations process. It has not provided international protection, or even lifted the physical siege imposed on the Palestinian people and their elected president.
Obviously, these failures are not solely the responsibility of the intifada, but one cannot ignore what the intifada has reaped in the form of pressures on the Palestinians. Other factors contributing to these failures include the elimination of the intifada's public protests and a shift to armed confrontations, a response forced by violent Israeli measures when all political options had been curtailed.
Internal, regional and international changes have all played a role in imposing a political embargo on the intifada. The absence of an objective reading of these changes by some Palestinian streams that ignore the importance of external pressure has contributed greatly to the situation's deterioration.
These changes included the right-wing's control over Israel with Ariel Sharon as prime minister, and the events of September 11 in the United States which then led to the so-called "war against terrorism." Afterwards, the Israeli army invaded all of the Palestinian Authority areas, and the United States prepared for a war against Iraq and threatened countries in the region that they must fight terrorism.
Under these circumstances, the Palestinian leadership accepted the roadmap. This meant that the intifada would have begun politically with Palestinian rejection of the Camp David formula and calls that international law be implemented, only to end in its third year with acceptance of the roadmap. The political gap between those two formulas is the best expression of the bottleneck that now exists, one that is growing increasingly complex and dangerous considering the recent Israeli decision to remove President Yasser Arafat.
How then can we exit this situation? It is clear that we can, if we master reading the changes underway and deal with them rationally and with farsightedness, without surrendering or subjugating ourselves in the process. The first step in this direction is to avoid any activity that might label the Palestinian national struggle as "terrorism". The second step is to reconsider the intifada's public component, which has lain dormant for some time, by diverting confrontations with the occupation to a political arena where the enemy has little room to maneuver.
Even Benjamin Netanyahu, who now adopts positions more extreme than those of Ariel Sharon, was compelled as Israeli prime minister--under international and regional pressure--to accept the Hebron Protocol and relinquish 13 percent of the West Bank in the Wye agreement. When he was asked why he changed, he replied, "I did not, but the circumstances did."
Sharon's security conditions and demands that Palestinians dismantle what he calls the "infrastructure of terrorism" are no different than the demands of any previous Israeli leader, including Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. But these leaders from the left and right never achieved their demands and--because of Arab pressure and the international climate--gave in on some basic matters in the transitional agreements. It is the environment that has now transformed these demands into real pressure on Palestinians and allowed Sharon to impede political progress while he enjoys the world's sympathy for his positions.
Even this right-wing government had to change its tack when faced with resistance to the separation wall. Sharon has since declared that annexing the Ariel settlement bloc inside the wall requires the right political environment. This admission proves the importance of international players--it can still be ill advised to reinforce occupation with military force. Further confirmation lies in the United Nations' vote where 133 nations stood opposed to Israel's decision to remove Arafat.
It is possible to employ efforts that will alter international positions still more dramatically in favor of the Palestinian people, their president and their leadership. This external support is an instrument of pressure that no Israeli government can ignore.
Israel's leftist Labor Party has been in deep crisis since the failure of its political project at Camp David three years ago. Likewise, the right-wing Likud will face the same fate when it becomes clear that a solution of surrender cannot be imposed by military means. Failure of the Zionist right-wing's policy of force will create an opening for solving the Palestinian question. This is the task that the intifada must address in the coming period.
Hanna Amireh is a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee and a member of the political office of the Palestinian People's Party.
It is tempting--in view of the coincidence of the third anniversary of the al Aqsa intifada, the tenth anniversary of the Oslo accords, the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War and the 25th anniversary of the Camp David accords that led to Israeli-Egyptian peace--to compare two Israel-Arab conflicts and their outcomes. Will the effect of hundreds of dead, thousands of disabled and billions of dollars that the Israeli public has been paying out since October 2000, ultimately resemble that of the October 1973 trauma? (I'll leave the questions regarding the Palestinian balance to my Palestinian colleagues.) What has to happen in order for Israelis to reach the conclusion that on the eastern front, like on the southern front, political accommodation with a neighbor offers a better guarantee of security than disputed territories, and that a peace that resembles non-belligerency is better than any kind of war?
It is argued that there is no room to compare the open spaces of Sinai and the Egyptian border, far from the nearest Israeli settlement, with the West Bank and Gaza Strip border, located within primitive mortar range of central Israel. Some say that a peace agreement with a stable and orderly Arab state like Egypt in no way even resembles an agreement with a Palestinian organization that hasn't decided whether or not it really wants to become a stable and orderly country. They argue that while Egypt concluded that it could not defeat Israel, there are still Palestinian leaders who believe that terrorism can win the struggle against Israel.
The conclusion drawn from an analysis of these distinctions is that Israel cannot permit itself in the foreseeable future to give up strategic territories in the West Bank and Gaza--a conclusion only confirmed by the abortive attempt, in the course of the 1991 Madrid process and the 1993 Oslo agreement, to abandon military solutions in favor of a political option. After Ehud Barak persuaded them that the Palestinians rejected his "generous offer", Israelis have blocked their minds to the argument that terrorist attacks in Tel Aviv are a response to the occupation of Hebron.
But in order for this comparison to be complete, we must address the time factor. Imagine that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat had waited another quarter of a century before coming to Jerusalem to offer full peace in return for all the territories conquered by Israel from Egypt. Imagine that instead of 6,000 settlers who had moved to Sinai during the ten years between 1967 and Sadat's historic visit, there were 230,000 Jews in Sinai, who had settled the region in the course of 36 years since the Six Day War. Would the Sharon-Lieberman-Eitam government evacuate Yamit, which in due course would have grown into a city like Maaleh Adummim with tens of thousands of residents? It is certainly possible that under these circumstances Sadat would never have come to Jerusalem, and that Israel, burdened with conflict on its eastern flank and tension on its northern border, would now have to deploy sizeable contingents in its southern theater as well, to confront a large and powerful Arab army. And under these circumstances, Jordan would be hard put to maintain its peace agreement with Israel.
Three years of intifada have opened the eyes of the world, including the United States, to recognize that, as in the case of the Israeli-Egyptian (and Israeli-Syrian) conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also has two sides: terrorism, and territory. The roadmap, born of the intifada, asserts that the lack of symmetry between the murder of children and the theft of land need not absolve Israel of the obligation to at least dismantle outposts that it itself has determined are illegal and to freeze construction in existing settlements. For the time being the roadmap has reached a dead end due to the Palestinians' difficulty in dismantling terrorist organizations as if there were no occupation, and the Israelis' problem with dismantling settlements as if there were no terrorism.
To extricate themselves from this "catch", the Palestinians must overcome domestic constraints and start acting unilaterally against terrorism. Only this will allow domestic and external pressures to force Israel to respond by acting in the territorial dimension and beginning to remove settlements. After three years of useless suffering, there are indications that the Palestinians are beginning to recognize that the horror and the anger generated among Israelis by terrorism override any logical consideration with regard to issues like the demographic danger, economic decline and even damage to quality of life. If these indications are converted into deeds, then the past three years will not have been lost, and thousands of victims will not have died in vain.
Akiva Eldar is a senior political columnist and editorial writer for Ha'aretz. He was previously the paper's diplomatic correspondent and Washington correspondent. He is currently coauthoring a book about the settlements.
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