The Bleak Situation Today and the Road Ahead
If any further proof was needed of the true intentions of the Israeli government, Prime Minister Sharon provided it in an interview that was published on 6 September in an Israeli daily newspaper, when he stated that the Oslo Agreements do not exist anymore. That was an extreme and dangerous statement, legally and politically, even from an Israeli point of view. Yet, such a statement accurately and concisely reflects the thinking of Mr. Sharon and the goals he has pursued from the very beginning of his government.
The goals of Mr. Sharon have clearly been to take the situation back to a pre-Oslo era and to prevent the conclusion of any final settlement between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, thus allowing the continuation of the Israeli occupation and settler colonialism. To achieve that, Mr. Sharon, his government and his army have destroyed most of the institutions of the Palestinian Authority, including the security apparatus, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, and have preempted any efforts to end the confrontation on the ground and return to negotiations. This has included preemption of the Mitchell recommendations under the pretext of the need for seven days of quiet first.
At this point in time, the Palestinian people as a whole are being subjected to unprecedented, systematic oppression by the occupying Power. The Israeli occupying forces, which have reoccupied almost the entire area which is supposed to be under full Palestinian control, have been imposing round-the-clock curfews in addition to the constant military siege and closure being imposed and severe restrictions on the movement of persons and goods, including medical and humanitarian. The occupying forces have also continuously committed assassinations, killings of children, women and men, home demolitions, abductions and countless other war crimes and State terrorism. The Palestinian economy has been destroyed and a real humanitarian disaster is unfolding in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
All of these illegal and criminal actions have been coupled with serious efforts to get rid of the elected leader of the Palestinian people, President Yasser Arafat. It is obvious that such efforts are driven in large part by the desire to create a political vacuum and possibly anarchy. The greater aim, of course, is to have the Palestinian people kneel and submit to the Israeli will and accept long-term transitional arrangements that have nothing to do with achieving Palestinian national goals. This has been the repeatedly declared political goal of Mr. Sharon.
Indeed, just recently, statements made by Mr. Moshe Yaalon, the new Chief of Staff of the Israeli army - remarks that were supported by Mr. Sharon - attested to this policy of the Israeli government. Speaking of Israeli military actions against the Palestinian people, Mr. Yaalon repeatedly described the Palestinian threat to Israel as "cancerous" and repeatedly referred to such actions as part of the lesson to be "burned into the Palestinian consciousness" regarding Israelís military might that they cannot defeat.
It has been almost two years since the infamous visit by Mr. Sharon to Al-Haram Al-Sharif in Occupied East Jerusalem and the onset of the second Palestinian intifada against Israeli occupation and settler colonialism and in defense of Palestinian Islamic and Christian holy sites. Since 28 September 2000, more than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli occupying forces. This figure does not include the hundreds of Palestinians who have died as a result of other Israeli measures and practices, including the prevention of persons from reaching hospitals. In addition, thousands of Palestinians have been injured, many of them permanently disabled. During this same period, nearly 600 Israelis have been killed.
On another front, the international agenda on fighting global terrorism is becoming distorted and often seems to be heading in the wrong direction. First, in this regard, came Israelís effort, which has been at least partially successful, to link the atrocities it is committing as an occupying Power against the Palestinian people with what the U.S. is doing in its fight against international terrorism.
This has been followed by serious efforts to foment an anti-Arab and anti-Muslim environment, especially in the U.S., effectively leading to heightened confrontation and disillusionment and alienation and paving the way for what in essence could become a conflict among cultures. This is taking place instead of the needed reexamination of policies and instead of a serious process of dialogue and consultations. The most glaring example of such a mentality is the oft-heard slogan "they are against us because of what we are and not what we do". The "they" refers, of course, to Arabs and Muslims. This widely used slogan immediately erects cultural divides, prevents the examination of unjust policies that do engender anger and hatred and directly leads to the erroneous conclusion that "we" - Arabs and Muslims Ė are sick and need to be changed and fixed. Today, the scary beating of war drums against Iraq can only be understood, at least in the Middle East region, in that context.
The above-described bleak situation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the region as a whole is the result of a variety of factors. The serious damage wrought by Mr. Sharon and the Israeli right in general, with the perplexing cover of Mr. Shimon Peres for unclear reasons, is first and foremost. The current situation, however, is also the result of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israeli cities that have provided the pretext for those looking for one to beat down the Palestinian people.
In the U.S. there is no doubt that the crime that was committed on 11 September 2001 has been an important factor affecting U.S. policy towards the region, with the extreme right and fundamentalists zeroing in on it and the resultant strange alliance between them and the friends of Israel growing. The question that must be asked at this stage is: what kind of a role has the U.S. administration been playing in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Has it only been trying to avoid confrontation with Mr. Sharon, thus providing cover for his policies or has it played a more negative role in a more active manner, contributing to the deterioration of the situation? The answer is not yet clear, but the latter is becoming increasingly probable.
With the existence of such a bleak situation and the possibility of things deteriorating even further, it is hard to imagine a breakthrough or even partial successes in fields such as Palestinian reconstruction and reform - a lofty goal that can in reality only be achieved with the end of the current Israeli reoccupation, at the minimum. Other partial efforts, such as the so-called Gaza-Bethlehem First Agreement definitely will not succeed while the current Israeli policies continue.
If we are in fact to get out of the current situation in which we are mired towards the achievement of a final settlement and a durable peace, the only way is to follow a comprehensive approach. By this, it is meant that we should not only deal with the political, security and economic aspects together, but that there is a prerequisite need for agreement on the final outcome of the peace settlement up front, with a clear road map to take us from here to there. The parameters of this settlement are known and the road map can, of course, include stages and other necessary steps.
To ensure success, an international presence is undoubtedly needed, whether in the form of observers or in the form of the bolder and definitely more useful approach of a multinational force. The U.N. Security Council must play a role in this process in addition to the continuous engagement of the Quartet (U.S., Russia, European Union, and the U.N.) and their efforts in this regard.
Under the current circumstances on the ground and in this stage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, all of this does not sound very likely. However, with Palestinian steadfastness and the help of the international community, anything is possible. After all, it is the Middle East.