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The Geneva Bubble

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  • ummyakoub
    The Geneva Bubble Ilan Pappe on the prehistory of the latest proposals LondonReview of Books Vol. 26 No. 1 :: 8
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1 6:34 PM
      The Geneva Bubble

      Ilan Pappe on the prehistory of the latest proposals


      LondonReview of Books Vol. 26 No. 1 :: 8 January 2004

      Even though we live in an age of intensive and intrusive media
      coverage, TV viewers in Israel were lucky to catch a glimpse of the
      meetings that produced the Geneva Accord. The clip we watched in
      November showed a group of well- known Israeli writers and peaceniks
      shouting at a group of not so well-known and rather cowed
      Palestinians, most of them officials of the Palestinian Authority.
      Abba Eban once said that the Palestinians never missed an opportunity
      to miss an opportunity, and that, more or less, was what the Israelis
      were saying now. This was their last chance, the Palestinians were
      told: the current offer was the best and most generous Israelis have
      ever made them.

      It's a familiar scene. The various memoirs produced by the major
      players in the Oslo Accord suggest that much the same sort of thing
      was said there, while leaks from the Camp David summit in 2000
      describe similar exchanges between Clinton, Barak and Arafat. In
      fact, the Israeli tone and attitude have barely changed since British
      despair led to the Palestine question being transferred to the UN at
      the end of the Second World War. The UN was a very young and
      inexperienced organisation in those days, and the people it appointed
      to find a solution to the conflict were at a loss where to begin or
      how to proceed. The Jewish Agency gladly filled the vacuum,
      exploiting Palestinian disarray and passivity to the full.

      In May 1947, the Agency handed a plan, complete with a map, to the UN
      Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), proposing the creation of a
      Jewish state over 80 per cent of Palestine - more or less Israel
      today without the Occupied Territories. In November 1947 the
      Committee reduced the Jewish state to 55 per cent of Palestine, and
      turned the plan into UN General Assembly Resolution 181. Its
      rejection by Palestine surprised no one - the Palestinians had been
      opposed to partition since 1918. Zionist endorsement of it was a
      foregone conclusion, and in the eyes of the international policemen,
      that was a solid enough basis for peace in the Holy Land. Imposing
      the will of one side on the other was hardly the way to effect a
      reconciliation, and the resolution triggered violence on a scale
      unprecedented in the history of modern Palestine.

      If the Palestinians weren't happy with the Zionist idea of partition,
      it was time for unilateral action. The Jewish leadership turned to
      its May 1947 map, showing clearly which parts of Palestine were
      coveted as the future Jewish state. The problem was that within the
      desired 80 per cent, the Jews were a minority of 40 per cent (660,000
      Jews and one million Palestinians). But the leaders of the Yishuv had
      foreseen this difficulty at the outset of the Zionist project in
      Palestine. The solution as they saw it was the enforced transfer of
      the indigenous population, so that a pure Jewish state could be
      established. On 10 March 1948, the Zionist leadership adopted the
      infamous Plan Dalet, which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of the
      areas regarded as the future Jewish state in Palestine.

      Palestine was not divided, it was destroyed, and most of its people
      expelled. These were the events which triggered the conflict that has
      lasted ever since. The PLO emerged in the late 1950s as an embodiment
      of the Palestinian struggle for return, reconstruction and
      restitution. But the refugees were ignored by the international
      community and the regional Arab powers. Only Nasser seemed to adopt
      their cause, forcing the Arab League to express its concern. As the
      ill-fated Arab manoeuvres of June 1967 showed, this was not enough.

      In June 1967, the whole of Palestine became Israel; the new
      geopolitical reality demanded a renewed peace process. At first the
      UN took the initiative, but it was soon replaced by American
      peacemakers. The early architects of Pax Americana had some ideas of
      their own, but they were flatly rejected by the Israelis, and got
      nowhere. American brokering became a proxy for Israeli peace plans,
      which were based on three assumptions: that the 1948 ethnic
      cleansings would not be an issue; that negotiations would only
      concern the future of the areas Israel had occupied in 1967, the West
      Bank and the Gaza Strip; and, third, that the fate of the Palestinian
      minority in Israel was not to be part of a comprehensive settlement.
      This meant that 80 per cent of Palestine and more than 50 per cent of
      Palestinians were to be excluded from the peacemaking process. The
      formula was accepted unconditionally by the US, and sold as the best
      possible offer to the rest of the world.

      For a while - until 1977 - the Israelis insisted on another
      precondition. They wanted to divide the West Bank with the Hashemite
      Kingdom of Jordan. (The 'Jordanian option', as it was called, was
      later adopted by the Reagan Administration as its own peace plan.)
      When Likud came to power in 1977, the option dropped from view - the
      new Government was not interested in any kind of agreement or
      compromise - but it was revived in the days of the national unity
      government, 1984-87, until the Jordanians realised that the Israeli
      Government would not relinquish the entire West Bank even to them.

      The Israeli occupation continued unhindered in the absence of a
      proper peace process. From its very first day - long before the
      suicide bombers - there were house demolitions, killings of innocent
      citizens, expulsions, closures and general harassment. The 1950s and
      1960s saw the rise of the ever- expanding settler movement, which
      brought with it not only land expropriation but also further
      brutality. The Palestinians responded with a radical form of
      political Islam, which by the end of the first twenty years had
      become a force to reckon with. It was bolder in its resistance
      to the occupation than anything that had preceded it, but equally
      harsh in its attitude to internal rivals and the population at large.
      Neither movement, any more than the Likud Government before them,
      showed any interest in a diplomatic effort to resolve the conflict.
      Frustration in the occupied areas intensified until, in December
      1987, the local population rose up against the occupiers.

      In due course the violence ended and a new period of peacemaking
      began, very like the previous ones. On the Israeli side the team was
      extended to include academics as well as politicians. Once again, it
      was an Israeli endeavour seeking American approval. Once again, the
      Americans tried to put forward some ideas of their own: the Madrid
      process of 1991 was part of an American attempt to justify the first
      Gulf War. There were ideas in it with which the Palestinians could
      agree. But it was a long and cumbersome business and in the meantime
      a new Israeli initiative was developed.

      This initiative had a novel component. For the first time, the
      Israelis were looking for Palestinian partners in the search for
      their kind of peace in Palestine. And they aimed at the top - the PLO
      leadership in Tunis. They were lured into the process by an Israeli
      promise, enshrined in Article 5, Clause 3 of the Oslo Accord, that
      after five years of catering for Israeli security needs, the main
      Palestinian demands would be put on the negotiating table in
      preparation for a final agreement. Meanwhile, the Palestinians would
      be allowed to play with independence. They were offered the
      opportunity to form a Palestinian Authority, decorated with the
      insignia of sovereignty, that could remain intact as long as it
      clamped down on any resistance movement against the Israelis.
      For that purpose, the PA employed five secret service organisations,
      which compounded the occupiers' abuses of human and civil rights with
      those of the indigenous Administration. Palestine's quasi-autonomy
      had little bearing on the occupation. In some areas it was directly
      enforced, in others indirectly. More Jewish settlers arrived, and
      harassment continued everywhere. When the Palestinian opposition
      retaliated with suicide attacks, the Israelis enriched the repertoire
      of collective punishment in such a way that support for the suicide
      bombers grew by the week.

      Six years after the signing of Oslo, the 'peace camp' once more came
      to power in Israel, with Ehud Barak at its head. A year later he was
      facing electoral defeat, having been overambitious in almost every
      field. Peace with the Palestinians seemed to be the only salvation.
      The Palestinians expected the promise made in Oslo to be the basis
      for the new negotiations. As they saw it, they had agreed to wait
      five years: it was time to discuss the problem of Jerusalem, the fate
      of the refugees and the future of the settlements. The Israelis once
      more devised the plan, enlisting even more academics
      and 'professional' experts. The fragmented Palestinian leadership was
      unable to come up with counterproposals without outside help, and
      sought advice in such unlikely places as the Adam Smith Institute in
      London. Not surprisingly, the Israeli plan alone was on the
      negotiating table at Camp David in the summer of 2000. Endorsed by
      the Americans, it offered withdrawal from most of the West Bank and
      the Gaza Strip, leaving about 15 per cent of original Palestine for
      the Palestinians, in the form of discrete cantons bisected by
      highways, settlements, army camps and walls. No capital in Jerusalem,
      no solution to the refugee problem and total abuse of the concept of
      statehood and independence. Even the fragile Arafat, who had hitherto
      seemed to be happy with the Salata (the perks of power), having never
      exercised Sulta (actual power), could not sign a document that made a
      mockery of every Palestinian demand. He was immediately depicted as a

      Unarmed demonstrators showed their dismay in the autumn of 2000 and
      were shot by the Israeli Army. The Palestinian response was not late
      in coming: the resistance was militarised. Three years into the
      second intifada, the peace effort resumed once more. The same formula
      was at work: an Israeli initiative catering to the Israeli public and
      Israeli needs disguised as a piece of honest brokering on the part of
      the Americans.

      Three initiatives appeared in 2003. The first has already won
      American support: the road map. At the end of that road, 10 per cent
      of Palestine will be divided into two huge prison camps - one in Gaza
      and the other in the West Bank - with no solution to the refugee
      problem and full Israeli control of Jerusalem. The initiators are
      still looking for a prospective Palestinian chief warden. Having lost
      Mahmoud Abbas, they are pinning their hopes on Ahmad Qurei.

      The second is the Ayalon-Nusseibeh proposal, based on a total Israeli
      withdrawal from the Occupied Territories (apart from greater
      Jerusalem, which takes up about a third of the West Bank) in return
      for a Palestinian undertaking to relinquish the refugees' right of
      return. I suspect that Sari Nusseibeh, the president of al-Quds
      University and former PA representative in Jerusalem, is repeating a
      ploy he attempted in the first intifada, when he suggested the de
      jure annexation of the Occupied Territories to Israel, so as to show
      the Israelis that Israel could not include the West Bank and Gaza
      within its borders and still be at once Jewish and democratic. He now
      hopes to expose Israel's unwillingness to evict the settlements. The
      Ayalon-Nusseibeh plan has so far failed to impress the Israelis, but
      it did depress the refugee communities and I wonder whether it was
      worth it. Ami Ayalon, the head of Shin Bet from 1996 to 2000, lives
      in the former village of Ijzim, from which the Palestinian population
      was expelled in 1948.

      And now we have the Geneva bubble: an impressive production both as a
      document and as a Hollywood-style ceremony. It will probably never
      become a reality, but it's worth taking a look at. Its basic features
      are described by David Grossman in the introduction to the Hebrew

      For the first time, there is full Palestinian recognition of the
      right of the Jewish people to a state in Israel and recognition of
      Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The document offers practical and
      detailed solutions to the refugee problem; a problem that has caused
      all efforts until now to fail. There is also in the document a
      promise that the majority of the Jews living beyond the Green Line
      will remain in their homes and become part of the state of Israel.
      There is also a Palestinian commitment to demilitarise the
      Palestinian state and allow no foreign troops to be stationed in it.

      What catches the eye, not only in this preface but in the document as
      a whole, is that while the refugees' right of return is an obstacle
      that has to be removed if peace and reconciliation are to be
      achieved, the Jewishness of Israel - i.e. the Jewishness of the
      original state with the annexed blocks of settlements in the Occupied
      Territories and greater Jerusalem - is not an obstacle at all. On the
      contrary, what is missing according to this logic is Palestinian
      recognition of the new greater Israel. And what is offered to
      encourage the Palestinians to recognise the state built on the land
      from which they were ethnically cleansed in 1948 and that was taken
      from them in 1967? What is the generous offer the Israeli peaceniks
      loudly urged their counterparts on the Geneva campaign not to pass
      up? A mini-state, built on 15 per cent of what used to be Palestine,
      with a capital near Jerusalem and no army. On close reading, the
      authority and power vested in the aforementioned state bear little
      relation to any notion of statehood we might derive from global
      reality or political science textbooks.

      Far more important, the Geneva project would leave the refugees in
      exile. The small print says that the Palestinian refugees would be
      able to choose either to return to what's left of their former
      country or stay in their camps. As they will probably choose to wait
      until the international community fulfils its commitment to allow
      their unconditional return under Resolution 194, they will remain
      refugees while their compatriots in Israel continue to be second-
      class citizens in the remaining 85 per cent of Palestine.

      There is no acknowledgment of the cause of this conflict, the 1948
      ethnic cleansing; there is no process of truth and reconciliation
      that will make Israel accountable for what it did either in 1948 or
      afterwards. Under these circumstances, neither the Palestinians nor
      the Arab world at large will feel able to accept a Jewish state.

      In a celebration in Tel Aviv, the architects of the Geneva Accord
      played over and over again a popular song called 'And Tel Aviv Will
      Be Geneva'. But Tel Aviv is not Geneva; it is built on the ruins of
      six Palestinian villages destroyed in 1948; and it shouldn't be
      Geneva: it should aspire to be Alexandria or Beirut, so that the Jews
      who invaded the Arab world by force could at last show a willingness
      to be part of the Middle East rather than remain an alien and
      alienated state within it.

      18 December 2003

      Ilan Pappe teaches political science at Haifa University and is chair
      of the Emil Touma Institute for Palestinian Studies.

      copyright © LRB Ltd, 1997-2003




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