excerpted from the book
How our covert wars have
across the Middle East and brought terror to America.
by Mark Zepezauer
Common Courage Press, 2003,
Theodore Herzl, founder of the Zionist movement, had written frankly
of plans to "spirit the penniless [Palestinian] population
across the border," while noting that the "removal of
the poor must be carried out discreetly and circumspectly."
Chaim Weizmann, a future president of Israel, noted in 1917 that
the British had told him that there was a population in Palestine
of "a few hundred thousand Negroes, but that is a matter
of no significance."
... the British Empire left a huge mess behind when it pulled
up its flag and went home. Britain had assumed control of Palestine
after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. In 1917
the Balfour Declaration promised a home in Palestine for the Jewish
people, consistent with the demands of the Zionist movement of
European Jews. At the same time Britain promised the inhabitants
of Palestine an independent Arab state on the same land, and that
Jewish immigration would not come at the expense of the "political
and economic freedom of the Arab population." So far, it
hasn't worked out that way.
There were two main factions of the Zionist
movement. The Labor Zionists, later the Labor Party, advocated
a national home for the Jews in Palestine. The Revisionists, who
later became the Likud Party, favored the use of force to create
a Jewish state on the model of the biblical Kingdom of Israel.
Other Zionists who called for peaceful cooperation with the Arabs
were "maligned and scorned," according to Israeli author
Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi. As early as 1938, David Ben-Gurion, future
founder of the state of Israel, anticipate a future partition
of the territory: "After we become a strong force, as a result
of the creation of a state, we shall abolish partition and expand
into the whole of Palestine."
Conflicts between the indigenous Jewish
and Arab populations had been rare prior to the arrival of the
Zionists, but became more frequent as Jewish immigration began
to increase. Jewish settlers from Europe began buying up large
tracts of fertile farmland from absentee owners, evicting the
"penniless population" who worked the land. Tension
began to rise, leading to uprisings and violent incidents in the
1920s, and general strikes by Arabs in 1933 and '36, brutally
suppressed by the British. Britain eventually promised the irate
Palestinians to place limits on immigration, and in 1940 limits
were placed on land purchases by foreigners in Arab areas. But
these restrictions were widely ignored, and vast amounts of Arab
land had been illegally purchased by the time the British pulled
Jewish immigration to Palestine increased
dramatically during and after World War II, as did Jewish militancy.
Zionists assembled an army of some 60,000 men and also formed
terrorist organizations to pressure the British on their demands
for a Jewish state. Future Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin
headed Irgun Zvai Leumi (IZL), which bombed Palestinian buses
and marketplaces, killing hundreds of civilians. The Irgun also
bombed the British embassy in Rome. Begin himself planned the
bombing in 1946 of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing
91. Future prime minister Yitzhak Shamir led the Stem Gang, which
assassinated the British minister for Middle East affairs in 1944
and the UN mediator for Palestine in 1948. In 1941 the Stem Gang
had even offered to collaborate with the Nazis if that would help
oust the British from Palestine.
The terrorism worked. In February 1947,
the British Empire declared that it would withdraw from Palestine
in mid-1948, leaving the problem of Palestinian/Jewish relations
in the lap of the United Nations. As the most powerful nation
in the UN, the United States became the leading advocate for a
partition of Palestine. And as President Harry Truman said, "I
do not have hundreds of thousands of Arabs among my constituents."
Truman had personal misgivings about the Zionist movement. He
pressed the British to allow more European Jews to immigrate to
Palestine, but worried that a Zionist state could be destabilizing
to the region. But Truman also had a sizeable constituency that
was, as he put it, "anxious for the success of Zionism,"
and their support in the 1948 election was something he badly
In late 1947, the UN General Assembly
voted narrowly for a partition plan. The U.S. role in its passage
was pivotal. The U.S. pressured its territories and allies, threatening
war-tom France with a total aid cutoff. At the same time, the
U.S. and other supporters of the partition were limiting their
own immigration of European Jews, in effect forcing even more
Jewish refugees into Palestine.
Even with the increased migration to Palestine
during and immediately following World War II, at the time of
the partition, Jewish residents made up less than one-third of
the population and owned less than 10% of the land. The partition
plan gave them 56% of the territory of Palestine. Much of the
best arable land ended up in the Jewish portion. In exchange,
the Arab state was to be awarded an annual subsidy. The cities
of Jerusalem and Bethlehem were to be international territory,
while it was envisaged that the two states would share a common
currency as well as joint postal, telephone and transportation
services. But there was no plan to implement these key aspects;
they were left to be resolved by the forces on the ground.
The UN partition was unacceptable to the
Palestinians, then constituting a two-thirds majority, since they
were being denied their right to self-determination. Unbeknownst
to them, however, King Abdullah of Jordan had made a secret deal
with David Ben-Gurion to prevent the emergence of any Palestinian
state by seizing the West Bank.
Palestinians were at a military disadvantage.
The Jewish forces were already well armed by 1948, and continued
to import weapons from Eastern Europe as well as from private
citizens in the U.S. The Palestinians had no such organized forces,
and were dependent on neighboring Arab states. As the date for
British withdrawal drew nearer, Jewish forces mounted dozens of
military operations, while Arab armies (mainly from Jordan, Egypt
and Syria) infiltrated into the Palestinian portion and along
the borders. Both sides prepared for all-out war. The Israelis
have always claimed that they were attacked first by the Arab
armies. But as BenGurion later stated, "until the British
left, no Jewish settlement, however remote, was entered or seized
by the Arabs."
Ben-Gurion declared the formation of the
state of Israel on May 14, 1948, one day ahead of the British
departure. The joint Arab forces then formally entered into a
state of war in order to secure the Palestinian portion. But by
that point the Jewish army had already occupied many key cities,
whether they were part of the Jewish portion or not. Violence
between the two sides had already spun out of control. A month
earlier, on April 9, Irgun paramilitaries had entered the village
of Deir Yassin and executed more than two hundred men, women and
children, and then mutilated many of the bodies. In reprisal,
Arabs attacked a Jewish convoy, killing 77 civilians. These were,
of course, neither the first nor the last such incidents.
To give a sense of the balance of terror,
virtually all of the fighting took place in the Arab portion of
Palestine. The official Zionist history of the war shows that
of the thirteen major offensives staged by Jewish forces prior
to independence, eight were in Palestinian territory. The Jordanian
army in particular was under orders not to enter the Jewish portion.
And as Israeli historian Uri Milstein put it, nearly every skirmish
between Israeli and Arab forces "ended in a massacre of Arabs."
In the end, no Palestinian state was established;
the West Bank and East Jerusalem were claimed by Jordan, while
Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip, and Israel took the rest. By the
end of the 1948-49 war, over 700,000 Palestinians were expelled
from their homeland or fled in terror.
Israeli media had long claimed that the
Arabs left in response to pleas from neighboring states broadcast
via radio. But internal Israeli documents show that more than
75% of the refugees fled because of Israeli military actions,
including psychological operations to instill fear, as well as
direct expulsions (what we now call "ethnic cleansing").
More than 50,000 Palestinians were expelled from the towns of
Lydda and Ramle alone. As these facts have come to light, the
claim that the migration was voluntary and due to persuasion over
the radio has been largely abandoned in Israel, though it is still
widely repeated in the U.S.
When it was over, Israel controlled not
56% of the land (as originally allotted by the UN partition plan)
but 78% of it. At least 55% of the Palestinian population had
fled or been forced from Palestine, and were living in squalid
refugee camps. To prevent the return of the inhabitants, some
350 Arab villages had been depopulated and either partially or
completely demolished. Implicitly endorsing these events, the
United States immediately recognized the state of Israel-within
eleven minutes of its founding.
The U.S. did not become Israel's number
one military patron until the 1967 war (replacing France). But
after Israel's founding, Ben-Gurion immediately set up a liaison
between the Israeli intelligence service Mossad and the fledgling
CIA-and blackmailed one prominent CIA officer, the infamous James
Jesus Angleton, into serving as an Israeli mole. Eventually the
Mossad became a sort of proxy force for the CIA in places where
congressional opposition or budgetary restraints prevented our
own involvement, such as in South Africa and Guatemala during
the Reagan years. But as a self-interested proxy, Israeli intelligence
often created as many problems for the U.S. as it solved-most
notably in the Mossad's links to the Iran-Contra scandal of the
1980s. (Israeli middlemen helped transport U.S. arms to the Khomeini
regime in Iran and helped Reagan to circumvent Congressional restrictions
on aid to Nicaraguan rebels. While Israeli profited financially
from its role, the scandals blew up in Reagan's face.) Today,
Israel is among our closest allies, forming a strategic alliance
with Turkey to help project U.S. power in the region.
But relations were not always so warm,
especially in the early days. While Truman was guardedly pro-Israel,
his successor Dwight Eisenhower's administration was noticeably
cool to the new state at first. The turning point in the relationship
came with the Suez crisis of 1956. While Egyptian President Nasser
had quietly let it be known that he was prepared to negotiate
a peace treaty with Israel, the Israelis were more interested
in getting rid of him. He represented what they had most feared:
the rise of a charismatic Arab leader to replace the easily bribed
monarchies set up by the British and French. Ben-Gurion said,
for instance, "I always feared that a personality might rise
such as arose among the Arab rulers in the seventh century or
like [Kemal Ataturk] who rose in Turkey after its defeat in the
First World War. He raised their spirits, changed their character,
and turned them into a fighting nation. There was and still is
a danger that Nasser is this man." The Mossad began filtering
disinformation on Nasser to the Europeans and the U.S., and set
off bombs in U.S. and British offices in Cairo, hoping to blame
the Egyptians and poison their international relationships. The
Israelis had also, as an act of provocation, attacked the Egyptian-held
city of Gaza in 1955, killing 37.
After Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal,
Britain and France made a secret deal with Israel to invade Egypt
and take it back. Their joint forces captured the Sinai Peninsula
and the Gaza Strip from Egypt in a surprise attack. But Washington
was not in on the secret plan, and was alarmed by this European
influence in this region so rich with oil and strategic importance.
To counteract the European powers, the U.S. intervened on Egypt's
behalf by pressuring the Israelis to withdraw. That withdrawal
marked the end, once and for all, of the role played by Britain
and France as colonial powers in the Middle East.
From that point on, despite the U.S. having
sided with Egypt over the Canal, Nasser was seen more and more
as an enemy, and the strategic alliance with Israel was established.
President Eisenhower came to share Israel's fear of "radical
Arab nationalism," especially as it might lead to the disruption
of the neighboring oil-rich monarchies. And Mossad assistance
proved valuable when the U.S. sent troops to intervene in Jordan
and Lebanon. By 1958 CIA Director Allen Dulles called Israel's
intelligence service "the only one on which we can count."
Emboldened by their growing alliance with
the U.S., the Israelis immediately began planning to re-conquer
the Sinai, which came to fruition 11 years after the Suez crisis.
While the Egyptian border was secured,
the frontiers with Jordan, Syria and Lebanon had been in contention
ever since the armistice of 1949 (to this day the state of Israel
has never officially declared its borders). Palestinian refugees
resisted the appropriation of their homelands with cross-border
raids into Israel. Massive retaliation from the Israeli Defense
Forces (IDF) inevitably followed. Often, the IDF did not wait
for the Palestinians to attack before retaliating. According to
Palestinian writer Edward Said, these regular skirmishes led to
the deaths of at least ten times as many Arab civilians as compared
to Israelis. In 1964 the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)
was founded with the intention of reclaiming the Palestinian homeland.
Several factions vied for control of the PLO; Yassir Arafat, the
head of Fatah, assumed overall command by 1969.
By the time of Arafat's ascent, the Six
Day War of June 1967 had destroyed not only the air forces of
Egypt, Jordan and Syria, but also their credibility as champions
for the Palestinian cause. Israel had re-conquered the Sinai along
with the Gaza Strip, seized the Golan Heights, and occupied the
West Bank, including the entire city of Jerusalem.
The situation for the Palestinians within
Israel had been dire since the country's 1948 inception. Treated
as second-class citizens, the Palestinians' homes, lands and businesses
were confiscated or destroyed; their olive orchards were uprooted;
they were restricted from purchasing land and barred from military
service; display of the Palestinian flag was forbidden; even the
gathering of herbs for traditional recipes was restricted. Palestinian
villages paid taxes, but received virtually no services from the
government. With the illegal 1967 conquests that (except for the
Sinai) remain in place 35 years later, a million more Palestinians
were placed under direct military occupation.
After the war, the U.S. and Israel assisted
Jordan in its own crackdown against the PLO, killing thousands
of civilians. Unsurprisingly, this led to the emergence of more
militant factions. Extremist Palestinian splinter groups began
hijacking airplanes and staging other acts of terrorism in order
to draw attention to their cause. Among the most infamous of these
were the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics and
the mass shootings of passengers at the Rome and Vienna airports,
carried out by the Black September movement as revenge for the
massacres in Jordan. While these atrocities did indeed draw attention,
they set the Palestinian cause back by at least a generation.
It would be nearly 20 years before either Israel or the U.S. would
openly negotiate with the PLO. "Palestinian" became
synonymous with "terrorist," a shift in perception that
conveniently minimized and obliterated from memory Israel's own
acts of terror.
In conjunction with the terrorist assassinations
by the Stem and Irgun groups mentioned earlier, Israel had in
fact invented airplane hijacking back in 1954, and had used bus
bombings and car bombs in order to establish their state. The
IDF uses the bombing of vehicles and assassination on a regular
basis to this day.
In any conflict involving terror, reprisal,
and counter-reprisal, it is often hard to sort out which party
bears the greater responsibility for the casualties. But Israel's
deliberate provocation is a conscious strategy, not a response
to terrorism. The Israeli war hero General Moshe Dayan explained
quite frankly that "[Israel] may-no, it must invent dangers,
and to do this it must adapt the strategy of provocation and revenge."
This strategy was used quite effectively in the wars of 1948,
1956, 1967 and 1982, as well as in both of the Palestinian Intifada
uprisings. Israeli terror had (and has) killed far more Palestinians
than vice versa. The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem has reported
that between 1987 and 2000, more than 1500 Palestinian civilians
were killed by Israelis, as opposed to 270 Israeli civilians killed
by Palestinians. But in a major propaganda victory for the Israelis,
it was the PLO that carried the stigma.
The PLO was chased from Jordan into Lebanon,
and later into Tunisia. In the meantime, after Nasser died suddenly
of cardiac arrest in 1971, his successor, Anwar Sadat, also let
it be known that he was interested in signing a peace treaty with
Israel. Like Nasser, he was initially ignored; Egypt had to fight
another war with Israel in 1973 before those efforts were taken
seriously. At Camp David in 1978, Sadat signed a separate peace
to get back the Sinai, and left the Palestinians to their own
devices. This "peace process" freed Israeli forces to
focus with greater intensity on the West Bank and Lebanon. Sadat's
peace efforts also exacerbated a schism within the Palestinian
movement between those who also sought a negotiated settlement
and those committed to military action.
Sadat was not the only one who tried to
negotiate peace with Israel; nor was he the only one who faced
indifference and hostility from the U.S. in trying to do so. UN
Resolution 242 was passed in November 1967. It called for Israel
to withdraw from territories gained by force, and emphasized the
right of both peoples to live in secure and recognized boundaries.
But from the beginning, both the U.S. and Israel rejected 242,
and the Nixon Administration actively worked to subvert it. In
1974 Yassir Arafat addressed the United Nations, the first head
of a liberation movement to do so. He said, "I come to you
with an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun; do not let the
olive branch fall from my hand." He initially proposed a
one-state solution: a united, secular Palestine as a democratic
homeland to Christians, Jews and Muslims on the entire territory
of the divided Palestinian homeland, including Israel.
Soon after, the PLO was granted observer
status at the UN, and the General Assembly passed UN Resolution
3236, "reaffirming the inalienable rights of the Palestinian
people, including the right to self-determination." In 1976,
the UN called for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza,
but the resolution was vetoed by the U.S. By 1978, Arafat had
accepted the two-state solution, and agreed to renounce the use
of violence in order to enlarge the Palestinian portion, though
he said he hoped to do so through negotiation. And in 1982 a PLO
spokesman stated that "the PLO has formally conceded to Israel,
in the most unequivocal manner, the right to exist on a reciprocal
basis." But by that point Israel was gearing up to destroy
both the PLO and Arafat himself.
According to Israeli media, the 1982 invasion
of Lebanon was necessary as a response to Palestinian cross-border
attacks. But according to Israeli statistics, the total number
of Israelis killed by such attacks was 106-over the previous 15
years. The IDF killed more civilians than that in the very first
day of the invasion. As the Israeli Chief of Staff put it (in
reference to a previous Lebanese incursion), "we struck the
civilian population consciously, because they deserved it."
In fact, the acquisition of Lebanese territory shared something
in common with Israel's annexations of the Sinai and the West
Bank. Contrary to assertions that they were in response to terror,
the conquests had been planned many years before, as part of the
"Greater Israel" project. With the Likud Party in power
for the first time, Israel's revisionists also saw the chance
to fulfill long-cherished dreams of installing a friendly Christian
regime in Beirut.
The justification Israel used to invade
Lebanon stands as clear evidence that it sought to create a greater
Israel and was not as a response to terrorism. To avoid giving
Israel any excuse to invade, the PLO had been rigorously adhering
to a cease-fire in northern Lebanon. When a rival Palestinian
faction-one not even based in Lebanon-made an attempt on the life
of the Israeli ambassador in London, Prime Minister Begin seized
on this as a pretext for the long-planned invasion. Begin turned
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon loose on the Palestinians and their
This context makes clear that it was not
so much Palestinian violence that required an Israeli military
attack. Rather, it was their insistence on a negotiated two-state
solution-anathema to the Israeli government.
Begin had announced a brutal aim for the
invasion: to expel the Palestinians from a 25-mile security zone
north of the border. But Israeli forces went far beyond this,
pushing all the way to Beirut. Occupying half the city, Israel
bombed indiscriminately for nine weeks. In the end, Israel had
killed at least 17,000 civilians, in the process so inflaming
world opinion that the U.S. agreed to help evacuate the PLO from
Beirut to Tunis.
With the PLO leadership in exile, the
situation for millions of Palestinian refugees remaining in the
West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon worsened as they had even less protection
from the actions of the Israeli occupation forces. Under the Likud
Party, Israel stepped up the pressure by dramatically increasing
the number and size of its illegal settlements on the occupied
territories. In defiance of international law, Labor governments
had established the infrastructure for Israelis to consolidate
control over the West Bank and Gaza beginning in 1967. But they
had proceeded gradually. In 1972, there were 1500 Israeli settlers
in the West Bank; by the time Begin refused President Carter's
request to freeze settlement activity in 1977, that number had
increased to 7,000.
In 1977, Ariel Sharon, then Minister of
Agriculture, published a blueprint for a "demographic transformation"
of the West Bank, envisioning a majority of 2 million Jews on
the seized lands by the end of the 20th century. By 1983, just
six years later, the settler population of the West Bank alone
had quadrupled to nearly 30,000. Other Israeli settlements were
established in Gaza and the Golan Heights, and tens of thousands
of Israelis were encouraged to move into and around the Arab neighborhoods
of East Jerusalem. Generous subsidies from the government helped
to fuel the migrations, and many of the new communities were built
on land previously occupied by demolished Palestinian homes or
farms- or villages. Many were fitted with swimming pools and lush
lawns, appropriating scarce desert water resources. The impoverished
Palestinians in surrounding villages were forbidden to dig new
Palestinians began to chafe more and more
under the misery of the occupation and its daily humiliations.
They continued to have their homes demolished and confiscated;
were subject to routine harassment at border checkpoints when
crossing into Israel for menial jobs; suffered continuing expulsions
into Jordan-often, wives and children were deported across the
Jordanian border on short notice while the men were away at work.
Military authorities quashed any show of Palestinian nationalism
and incarcerated men and boys in squalid prisons where torture
was not only commonplace, but also actually legal according to
the Israeli Supreme Court. Israeli settlers and soldiers literally
got away with murder, including killing children. Those who beat
and killed Palestinians often received no more than slaps on the
wrist like fines and probation.
As Palestinian rage in the occupied territories
intensified, the exile of the PLO left a power vacuum, which was
increasingly filled by radical Islamic groups. Ironically, the
Israelis had initially sponsored Muslim groups like Hamas to weaken
the authority of the PLO. (Funding rival groups who share a common
aim antithetical to the funder may seem odd. But it is in fact
standard practice, in the hopes that a more vigorous rivalry between
the funded groups will turn their focus on each other with mutually
destructive effects. But often it is the funder who gets it in
the end. For example, the U.S. was funding Islamic militants in
Afghanistan from 1979 through 1995-with devastating consequences).
In 1978, seeking to counter Arafat's influence
and prevent the success of his peace initiatives, the governing
Likud Party registered a religious organization led by Sheikh
Ahmad Yassin. The Sheikh not only opposed Arafat's secular rule,
but also opposed the land-for-peace negotiations sought by the
PLO. Israel funded Yassin's organization, which set up mosques,
schools and clinics in the occupied territories. The Israelis
also set up a system of "Village Leagues," used to recruit
and bribe Palestinian collaborators and informers. Yassin used
funding-and Israeli-trained Palestinian fighters-from the Leagues
to set up a military wing of his movement, which he named Hamas.
During the 1990s it grew into a rival power to counter Arafat's
PLO, but not in the way Israel had hoped.
A measure of how out of touch the PLO
leadership was with frustration in the Occupied Territories came
in December 1987. An Israeli truck killed four Palestinians, and
Gaza and the West Bank erupted into a spontaneous uprising that
was as much a surprise to the PLO as it was to Israel. It became
known as the Intifada, and would last, in varying degrees of intensity,
At first much of the resistance was non
violent, including strikes, demonstrations, tax resistance, boycotts
of Israeli products and institutions, and the establishment of
Palestinian schools and other alternative institutions. Much of
this was put down with force by the Israeli authorities. The outburst
of anger had also begun with rock-throwing youths, who were shot
down with live ammunition. When this led to a public relations
crisis for Israel in the court of world opinion, orders went out
to simply "break the bones" of the protestors. Surprisingly,
the beating of unarmed demonstrators was also not too popular.
But within the first few years, the uprising was more or less
crushed by Israeli military power.
In the first 17 months of the Intifada,
424 Palestinians were killed, and 17 Israelis. The Mossad also
infiltrated Palestinian groups and executed Intifada organizers.
The IDF responded to the uprising with mass arrests, and curfews
for which violators were shot on sight. Schools and universities
were closed, and in the most egregious example of collective punishment
(long held illegal under international law), Palestinian workers
were prevented from commuting to the* jobs in Israel, with unemployment
reaching 30 to 50%.
In the midst of the Intifada, the plight
of Palestinians worsened. Many of the Gulf monarchies rebuked
the PLO for its support of Iraq in the Gulf War by cutting off
financial aid to the organization. The monarchies also meted out
another collective punishment by expelling hundreds of thousands
of Palestinian workers.
Finally, as Israel had hoped, the Islamic
groups were at odds with the PLO (many of whose leaders were Christians).
Mutual recriminations had undermined Palestinian unity. In many
ways the Intifada was also a Palestinian civil war-250 were killed
by their own countrymen. Yet the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict
was primary: Palestinians killed 405 Israelis while the Israelis
killed over 1,400.
By 1993, the Palestinians were severely
weakened, both politically and economically. But Israel had also
seen damage to its international reputation, and the U.S. had
promised many of the Arab states to push for some movement on
the Palestinian question as a condition of their involvement in
the Gulf War coalition. In 1988, Arafat had proclaimed a Palestinian
declaration of independence-though he was still in Tunisia with
no state to rule-and had agreed to recognize Israel's right to
exist (This was a concession of 78% of what was once Palestine).
A peace conference was held in Madrid in 1991, which led to secret
negotiations between Israel and the PLO in Oslo, Norway. In September
1993, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Arafat signed
the Oslo Accords, shaking hands on the White House lawn.
The agreement established a declaration
of principles for talks leading to a final settlement, with many
of the terms on borders, refugees and Jerusalem left intentionally
vague. It also created a Palestinian Authority (PA), initially
based in Gaza and Jericho, to which Arafat was easily elected
President. The accords also declared Israel to be responsible
for the "overall security," but also established a Palestinian
police force, which was trained by the CIA.
The PLO agreed to this ambiguous and flawed
arrangement because they felt they had no choice, but the peace
process was popular with a majority of Palestinians as it seemed
to be predicated on the promise of a Palestinian state. Many Palestinians,
though, opposed the Oslo Accords from the beginning. Some saw
them as an opportunity for Israel to set up a Bantustan-style
occupation, like that of South Africa. Exiled writer Edward Said
characterized any state Arafat might conceivably set up as "the
largest jail in the world," and predicted an eventual second
Though a timetable was drawn up for eventual
Israeli withdrawal from West Bank towns and cities, the PA never
ended up fully controlling more than 17% of the territory. A deadline
of September 2000 was set for a final agreement, but that deadline
was never met.
Extremists and rejectionists on both sides
undermined any hopes for peace. In 1994, a crazed Israeli settler
massacred 30 Muslims at a mosque in Hebron. Right-wing Israelis
launched a campaign of vilification against Rabin, culminating
in his assassination by a Jewish fanatic in 1995. Under his successors,
both Labor and Likud, the pace of settlements and land appropriations
continued to increase. West Bank settlements alone had reached
over 100,000 settlers by the end of the Intifada; over the eight
years of the Oslo process, they doubled to more than 200,000.87
Israel now controls 85% of the water supply in the Jordan Valley.
Palestinian rejectionists were also empowered
by events which followed the agreement. The Palestinian poverty
rate doubled in the Oslo years, and general despair continued
to increase (along with the number of Israeli settlements. Hamas
and Islamic Jihad launched a series of suicide bombings beginning
in 1995, and began to gain more recruits among young Palestinians
who saw no hope for the future. This in turn led to the 1996 election
of Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who openly disdained
the Oslo process and dragged his feet on implementing its agreements.
Final status negotiations scheduled to begin in 1996 took place
only after Netanyahu had been replaced by Ehud Barak in 1999.
But Barak opened the Camp David summit
by breaking another promise of West Bank force withdrawal, and
laid down a series of positions from which he said he would not
budge. Under the circumstances, Arafat was reluctant to attend
at all, but agreed under the condition that he not be blamed as
a scapegoat if the talks should fail. That turned out to be yet
another in a series of broken promises, as President Clinton publicly
blamed Arafat for the failure to reach an agreement.
One of the enduring myths of the continuing
crisis is that Barak offered Arafat "95% of the West Bank,"
but that the latter rejected it, preferring to return to armed
conflict. In fact, a look at the maps of Barak's initial offer
show that Israel was actually seeking to retain nearly 40% of
the West Bank in one form or another-including the most desirable
land. In May 2000, he called for a "temporary" security
zone along the Jordan Valley, amounting to 14% of the territory.
Another 25%, incorporating 90% of the illegal settlers, would
be annexed permanently, while the remaining islands of Palestinian
sovereignty would be criss-crossed by a network of "Jewish-only"
highways connecting the settlements. Though this "generous"
offer was later modified somewhat, no Palestinian leader could
agree to anything like it and expect to retain his job.
And, in fact, the Camp David summit sponsored
by President Clinton in July 2000 did collapse without an agreement,
but the Palestinians did not walk away from the process. They
continued to send negotiating teams to Taba, Egypt, working ever
closer to an agreement, even after the eruption of the second
Intifada in September 2000.93 But by January 2001, both Clinton
and Barak were lame duck leaders. Ariel Sharon had helped to spark
the renewed violence by marching to the holy Islamic site of the
Temple Mount with 1000 armed policemen. Once again Palestinian
rock-throwers were met with lethal force, and Sharon exploited
the ongoing tragedy to win election as Prime Minister. The newly
inaugurated President Bush refused to send a U.S. delegation,
and Israel-not the Palestinians-withdrew from the negotiations.
In fact, the Bush camp advised the Israelis during Clinton's Camp
David talks that they should be prepared to walk out of the negotiations-four
months before the U.S. presidential election.
Sharon came to power in early 2001, promising
Israel "security"-but has instead delivered just the
opposite. Refusing all calls for a settlement freeze as the precondition
for a cease-fire, he established dozens of new settlements in
the West Bank. Whenever there was a lull in the violence, Israel
assassinated an Islamic leader, virtually ensuring another retaliation.
The levels of violence on both sides were considerably higher
than in the first uprising, as the grisly suicide bombings increased
in both number and intensity. When one of them killed 20 Israelis
at a Passover celebration in March 2002, Sharon's IDF forces invaded
the West Bank, re-establishing the occupation and working to destroy
all vestiges of the Palestinian Authority. Just as with earlier
incursions, the reoccupation of the West Bank had been planned
well in advance, during the summer of 2000, while peace talks
were still ongoing. Ironically, this renewed warfare came just
as the Arab League issued an unprecedented joint offer to recognize
Israel, in return for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders.
As with his incursion into Lebanon 20
years earlier, Sharon stands accused of complicity in war crimes,
including summary executions, use of human shields, and the aforementioned
bloodbath at the Jenin refugee camp. Finally, after 15 months
of looking the other way, the Bush Administration turned its attention
to the ongoing carnage, under pressure from both Arab and European
allies. Vice President Dick Cheney was sent to Arab capitals to
drum up support for an attack on Iraq, and was told in no uncertain
terms that no such support would be forthcoming without progress
on the Palestinian issue. Subsequently (and belatedly) Secretary
of State Colin Powell was sent to the region to try to arrange
a cease-fire as Sharon defied the president's call to withdraw.
Powell tried (in vain) to arrange an international
conference to address the crisis, and prospects for the ultimate
success of the "peace process" are dim-particularly
since President Bush called on the Palestinians to replace both
their leader and their system of government before any further
negotiations. Both the U.S. and Israel are too powerful to be
thwarted, and the Bush Administration seems sympathetic to Sharon's
"Greater Israel" fantasies. Israel will eventually relinquish
only enough territory to mollify America's so-called "moderate
Arab allies," which is unlikely to defuse the newly heightened
levels of hatred on both sides. A 2002 poll found 46 percent of
Israelis in favor of simply expelling the Palestinians from the
West Bank altogether-and it appears that their prime minister
may be planning to do just that. In November 2002 the Labor Party
pulled out of the governing coalition with Sharon's Likud. He
then formed a new government allied with far-right parties, while
calling for new elections in January 2003. In the meantime, the
IDF began work in June 2002 on a 200 mile "Berlin Wall"
that will eventually encircle most of the occupied territories.
The strategy behind these moves was laid
out many years before by the late Israeli General Moshe Dayan.
He argued that the Palestinians should be told "that we have
no solution, that you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever
wants to can leave-and we will see where this process leads...."
The greatest tragedy here is that so much
of this was avoidable. An international conference held thirty
years ago would have reflected the consensus of most of the world,
as expressed in UN Resolution 242, which called for Israeli withdrawal
from the occupied territories. Israel's ongoing rejection of these
terms has been made possible by U.S. aid, which currently runs
at some $5 billion a year. Over the history of the state of Israel
that has amounted to nearly $100 billion in military and economic
aid, the vast bulk of it after 1967, when Israel-the region's
only nuclear power-had proved capable of handily defeating the
combined forces of all its adversaries. The real threat to Israeli
civilians (as well as to U.S. citizens at home and abroad), comes
from the ongoing delusion on the part of both countries' rulers
that Israel can occupy territory at will and still expect to negotiate
It may serve U.S. interests for Israel
to be our proxy, a sand-covered aircraft carrier in a sea of hostile
Arab states, as it helps to keep the Arabs divided and squabbling.
But it doesn't necessarily serve the interests of the Israeli
people, who are subject to reprisals for this brutal and cynical
strategy. Just as useful to U.S. interests is another well-armed