Wednesday, January 10

MCC Palestine Update #8

MCC Palestine Update #8

10 January 2001

New Year's Greetings from Jerusalem! This past Sunday marked Orthodox Christmas in Bethlehem--as with Western Christmas, the city saw few tourists, and the mood about local Orthodox Christians was severely dampened by the tanks poised around the Bethlehem district.

The past 10 days have been rife with speculation and rumor concerning the possibility of some form of Palestinian-Israeli agreement during Bill Clinton's final days in office. MCC's Palestinian partners, like Palestinians in general, do not have much idea about whether or not Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will sign an agreement; all, however, worry that any U.S. "mediated"/imposed document will not lead to the realization of internationally-guaranteed rights for the Palestinians.

The Palestinian predicament, then, becomes how to reject an agreement which fails to secure basic rights without being portrayed yet again as the nay-sayers who spurn a "generous" Israeli offer. Included in this update are two items: first, a brief note concerning a new MCC project; and second, an opinion piece by Prof. Rashid Khalidi of the University of Chicago which appeared in the New York Times and which provides a cogent analysis of the Israeli "peace" on offer.

MCC project update

In cooperation with The Center for Agricultural Services, MCC will be providing 40 families in the heart of Israeli-controlled Hebron with rabbits and chickens for breeding and sale. Palestinians in the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron have been under daily curfew for well over 50 days, allowed out only for part of the daylight hours. The curfew has been devastating economically for residents of the area.

This project will not only help provide a source of food for those under curfew, it will also provide a small source of supplemental income. The Center for Agricultural Services will be responsible not only for distributing the animals and materials to the recipients, but will also do training in animal husbandry and provide extension services.

1. The New Parameters of Reconciliation
Rashid I. Khalidi
New York Times, 27 December 2000

President Clinton has now presented the Israelis and the Palestinians with a set of proposals relating to Jerusalem, refugees and sovereignty over territory in hopes of achieving a peace accord in the next three weeks. Regardless of whether agreement can be reached in this short time, it's clear that much has changed among both Palestinians and Israelis as a result of the Al Aqsa intifada, which is now three months old.

This popular uprising broke out because Palestinian willingness to tolerate the suffocating restrictions imposed by Israel since Oslo accords was exhausted. Palestinians associate Oslo with the expansion of Jewish settlements on land that had been Palestinian, the building of settler- only bypass roads on Arab land, myriad restrictions on movement, the doubling since 1991 of the number of settlers, and the containment of Palestinian communities to a fraction of the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian tolerance will not be extended to another unsatisfactory agreement, or to those who negotiate it. The limits that public opinion places on compromises made by the Palestinian leadership -- limits brushed aside by some at the time of the Camp David meetings last summer -- should now be apparent.

This is particularly true regarding the right of return for Palestinian refugees who fled or were driven out in 1948. Israelis who ignored the humiliating restrictions their government imposed on the Palestinians after 1993, and who failed to listen to Palestinian complaints, may have been shocked by the intensity of the resistance.

Some Israelis have fallen for the canard that the Palestinians do not want peace. In fact, most want simply to live in dignity, and to end the situation in which 15 Palestinian cantons in 17.2 percent of the West Bank and 60 percent of the Gaza Strip (themselves only 22 percent of pre-1948 Palestine) are surrounded by a sea of Israeli occupation and settlement.

The recent Intifada itself has had a profound impact on Palestinians. They have been deeply affected by the nearly 350 killed (in a 10-to-1 Palestinian-to-Israeli ratio), the 10,000 wounded in the past three months, according to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, and Israel's sniper assassinations of nearly 20 Palestinians. They have been traumatized by Israel's helicopter and tank fire into Palestinian communities, and suffered collective punishment in the form of a 13- week economic stranglehold on 3 million people under the pretext of security.

These acts of war, mainly inside Palestinian cities, towns and villages, have scarred the psyche of a whole people and have reinforced their unwillingness to compromise on their basic demands. The latest Intifada may have had an effect in Israel as well. It has surely shattered the belief that Palestinians would accept Israeli sovereignty over the Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem and over nearby Arab neighborhoods.

The Israeli discourse of the past 33 years about exclusive sovereignty over Jerusalem may be giving way to a realization that Israel cannot rule over an Arab city of nearly a quarter million (350,000 with outlying suburbs) -- the largest in Palestine and the country's capital -- while expecting Palestinians and Arabs to accept this situation passively.

Similarly, the Israeli belief (embodied in Prime Minister Ehud Barak's proposal at Camp David in July) that the Palestinians would accept a "state" encompassing several disconnected islands, and without land connections to Egypt and Jordan, may be disappearing under the weight of the intifada's low-grade war against the settlements.

Large numbers of Israelis are beginning to understand that they can have settlements or peace, but not both. Finally, the hope that the Palestinians would be satisfied with third-party compensation for the refugees, with no Israeli apology for the harm done to the Palestinians in 1948, no restitution of their property and little or no return of refugees, is losing force.

Dealing with this traumatic event in the Palestinian national memory -- one that is associated with the founding of Israel -- will require a courageous look at history as well as farsightedness and a spirit of equity.

The two sides may not be ready for this. Nevertheless, this history is the root of the conflict. And however difficult it may be for Israelis to accept, they have a profound responsibility for the refugee problem, which must be fully borne if ever there is to be a reconciliation between the two peoples. Whether Israel can accept these realities, and deal decisively with the settlements established by Labor and Likud in Gaza and the West Bank over the past 33 years, is an open question. But they must be confronted.

Both peoples will also have to accept the need to share Jerusalem as the capital of two states, and to arrive at a just and mutually acceptable settlement of a refugee problem that has festered for over five decades. This is a tall order for even the most courageous leaders on both sides. We may soon see whether those in place today are up to it.

Rashid I. Khalidi, director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago. He advised the Palestinian delegation to the Mideast peace talks from 1991 to 1993.

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