Israel's Doomed PeaceBy ALLEGRA PACHECO, THe New York Times, 10/05/2000
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - In the last few years I have watched a curly-haired, wide- eyed Palestinian girl named Balqis, the child of a family I am close to, grow into a cheerful kindergartener in a refugee camp in Bethlehem. Four days ago, Israeli soldiers entered the area and suddenly fired near her school. Three children in the schoolyard were injured. Balqis was shot in the chest and now lies in the hospital in stable condition. Palestinians blame the Israelis; the Israelis blame Yasir Arafat; everyone blames Ariel Sharon for his decision to visit the site in Jerusalem that Muslims call Noble Sanctuary.
But pointing the finger solely at Mr. Sharon for the violence in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza simply masks the painful truth that many supporters of the Middle East peace agreement signed in Oslo in 1993 do not want to admit: The Oslo process cannot succeed. The proponents of the agreement, including the Clinton administration, never fully informed the Palestinian people that the accord did not offer any guarantee of Palestinian self-determination, full equality and an end to the military occupation. In reality, "Oslo" wears no clothes at all.
In 1994, the interim phase of the peace process began with Palestinians widely believing that by May 1999, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza would be over. In reality, this stage of the accord provided only for the establishment of a Palestinian legislature and Palestinian Authority while keeping control of overall security and resources and commerce in the hands of the Israeli military occupation. The transition to greater Palestinian autonomy - not independence - was left to be negotiated, with the goal of moving to the next stage by May 1999 - a deadline that was not met.
The agreement formally authorized the Israeli military to dictate the movement of Palestinians, their immigration to the West Bank and Gaza, and the location of the borders of their land. Even new legislation issued by the Palestinian Authority had to bear an Israeli seal of approval.
During this period of limited "self- rule," the Palestinian Authority has become corrupt and oppressive, with officials embezzling millions of dollars and arresting those who attempted to criticize their acts. The Palestinian legislature became powerless, its members concerned chiefly with amenities of office like V.I.P. treatment and new cars. When the terms of the legislators and other officials expired at the end of the interim period, no new elections were called. Instead, Palestinian officials unilaterally renewed their own terms in office. Notably, no call for new elections came from the democracies of the West.
On the harsh ground of everyday reality in Gaza and the West Bank, the false optimism of Oslo quickly faded when the Palestinians realized that the interim agreement had not significantly changed the conditions of the Israeli occupation. Since 1994, Palestinians have seen the influx of 50,000 new Jewish settlers into the West Bank and Gaza, the paving of more than 400 kilometers of roads on confiscated land, demolition of more than 800 Palestinian homes, a threefold increase in unemployment in the territories and a 21 percent decline in their gross domestic product, the arrest of 13,000 Palestinians, and complete curtailment of freedom of movement.
Last month, I was part of a group of 60 Israeli peace activists issuing a warning that resonates today.
"We believe that the negotiations currently being conducted between representatives of the State of Israel and Palestinian representatives under the supervision of the United States will likely frame the basis for future war," our warning said. "The establishment of a Palestinian state truncated by a massive system of bypass roads, encircled by Israeli settlement blocs, subject to closures and restrictions on freedom of movement and commerce, with no control of its borders or natural resources, will only create a reality of apartheid; a Palestinian state as a Bantustan."
Ariel Sharon's provocative visit was merely the spark that lit a mountain of frustration and anger built over seven years. Without justice and full equality, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, the Oslo process cannot bring about any semblance of viable peace. Palestinians know this now, and Balqis is just one of the many thousands who are paying and will continue to pay the awful price.