In the toxic rhetoric of the peace process, Palestinians have frequently been accused of “missing opportunities” for peace. This hackneyed cliche was dragged out last week in Bahrain, when Palestinian political leaders boycotted a US-sponsored workshop where Jared Kushner and Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan was unveiled. The plan suggested investing $50-billion in the infrastructure of the West Bank and Gaza and promises to transform the Palestinian economy through better governance, career counselling and training. In Manama, everyone talked about Palestinian economic development without mentioning what actually prevented it for more than 50 years: Israel’s occupation.
If the Trump administration was serious about economic prosperity for Palestinians, it would send its envoys not to Bahrain, but rather to Jerusalem, to ask its closest ally in the Middle East to end the occupation of Palestinian land and life.
In fact, the word “occupation” does not appear at all in Kushner and Trump’s document.
Palestinians rejected what Ismail Khalidi calls an attempt by “two infamous slumlords (and sons of slumlords)” to sell Palestinians a refurbishing of their bantustans. Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas boycotted the Manama workshop not because they don’t want peace or prosperity, but because this, along with every other “peace deal” over the past 25 years, is simply an attempt to buy a Palestinian surrender of rights.
One of the most enduring myths about the 25-year-old peace process is that Palestinians have repeatedly rejected the “generous” offers of Israel and its allies in Europe and the Middle East. Palestinian demands have always been based on international law: A fully sovereign, independent state in all of the West Bank and Gaza based on 1967 borders, the removal of all illegal Israeli settlements, East Jerusalem as its capital and the return of Palestinian refugees. In return, Israel has offered Palestinians a bantustan.
At Camp David in 2000, Ehud Barak’s proposal for a Palestinian state based on 91% of the West Bank sounded substantive, but a closer look at Barak’s map showed the West Bank carved into three chunks, surrounded by Israeli troops and settlers without direct access to its own international borders.
A land-swap that was supposed to compensate the Palestinians for the loss of prime agricultural land in the West Bank merely added insult to injury. The only territory offered to Palestinian negotiators consisted of stretches of desert adjacent to the Gaza Strip that Israel uses for toxic waste dumping. Israel’s proposals on East Jerusalem permitted the Palestinians control of a few scattered fragments of what had been theirs before 1967. Israel also insisted that it would retain absolute control over the land connecting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It could sever the link between the two main parts of a future Palestinian state whenever it chose to.
Palestinians were being offered a bantustan, and rightly rejected it.
Yasser Arafat’s rejection of the Camp David Accords is often identified as the cause of the second intifada. The intifada had little to do with Camp David. Ongoing land expropriation, settlement construction, unfair water allocation, Palestinian frustration at seven years of fruitless negotiations, combined with Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the sacred Al-Aqsa Mosque on 28 September 2000, sparked the second intifada.
In what has often been described as “the most generous offer made by an Israeli leader”, Ehud Olmert privately offered Mahmoud Abbas 93% of the West Bank and the whole of the Gaza Strip, with road access connecting the two areas that would make up the Palestinian “state”. According to the 2008 offer, there was to be a 6.6% land swap of Israeli land. The Palestinian capital could be in East Jerusalem, and holy sites in Jerusalem would come under international control. Five thousand Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return – just 0.6% of the 750,000 Palestinians displaced after Israel’s creation in 1948.
Olmert outlined the borders of the agreement on a serviette, according to the Palestine Papers reported by Al Jazeera. Abbas said that he couldn’t decide immediately and that he needed time to consult with his leadership. Olmert then issued an ultimatum to Abbas: Sign the agreement now, or the deal would be called off. Olmert did not allow Abbas to keep a copy of the map, neither was he allowed to show the map to the rest of the Palestinian negotiating team. Olmert never formally released the map to the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams. Abbas refused to sign Olmert’s agreement without consulting his leadership first.
In 2008, Ehud Olmert was a deeply unpopular prime minister after a police investigation revealed his involvement in corruption, for which he was expected to serve a prison sentence. The Winograd Commission had just released its report, and found that Olmert’s poor decisions during Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah was the main reason for the Israeli military’s humiliating defeat in southern Lebanon. Politically, Olmert had achieved “lame-duck” status, and his secret negotiations with Abbas were merely an attempt to deflect public opinion from the corruption charges. Olmert was using the peace process as his insurance policy against criminal proceedings, and to secure a positive place in history.
Addressing the media after meeting President FW De Klerk in the early 1990s, Nelson Mandela said:
“If you are negotiating you must do so in a spirit of reconciliation, not from the point of view of issuing ultimatums.” Israel, however, has ignored Mandela’s advice, and has never gone into any peace talks in the past two decades to actually negotiate with the Palestinians.
Diana Buttu, the former adviser to the negotiating team of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, says that the peace talks have been futile. “Palestinian delegates needed permits to enter Israel to participate in talks, and were routinely held up at Israeli checkpoints. When we spoke of international law and the illegality of settlements, Israeli negotiators laughed in our faces. Power is everything, they would say, and you have none,” says Buttu.
So, let’s not fool ourselves into believing that Israel or its allies are engaging in sincere negotiations on an equal footing with the Palestinians. There is no balance of power. Israel is demanding that Palestinians surrender their rights. When Palestinians refuse to do so, they are accused of rejecting peace.
What have Palestinians obtained in return for 25 years of negotiations? Public assurances from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other high-ranking government officials that there will never be a Palestinian state, and that Palestinians will never achieve self-determination. Far from making generous offers or painful concessions, Israel has offered Palestinians a “mini-state” with its major cities cut off from each other, its government unable to control its own water resources, develop its agriculture or manage its trade with neighbouring states. A gilded cage is still a cage.
Palestinians have not been rejecting peace, they are demanding justice. DM