Every year or so the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas confounds the Western policymakers who have worked to deny it power since its electoral triumph in January 2006. If the goal of Western policy is to keep the Islamists out of sight, out of mind, then Hamas is like a jack-in-the-box, periodically jumping out of its confines to general surprise and consternation.
It would be easy to describe the residents of the outpost of Amona as radicals. In February 2006 they led protests of 4,000 settler activists, some of them armed, against 3,000 Israeli police who were amassed to make sure that nine unauthorized structures in the West Bank were bulldozed as ordered. In the ensuing clashes, 80 security personnel and 120 settlers were wounded, more than the entirety of the casualties during the 2005 “disengagement” from settlements in Gaza, in a showdown that became the symbol of the West Bank settlers’ resolve to resist the state’s efforts to tear down encampments, like their own, that were erected without the state’s permission.
Three weeks after the war on Gaza, Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire but refused to terminate its so-called defensive operations. In response, Hamas declared a ceasefire for one week, until the withdrawal of Israeli troops has been completed. For many in the West, the ceasefire might seem like an occasion to celebrate, for the cessation of military hostilities on both sides will perhaps renew the peace process. But there are reasons to be critical of this ceasefire, since it continues the situation in which Israel acts unilaterally. What we are actually witnessing is a new phase of the catastrophe in Gaza. While the characteristics of this phase are not yet known, Israel’s violence has become ever more evident.
At an intersection in front of Nablus city hall, a pair of women threaded a knot of waiting pedestrians, glanced left, then dashed across the street. “What’s this?” an onlooker chastised them. “Can’t you see the red light?” Not long after, his patience exhausted, the self-appointed traffic cop himself stepped off the curb and made his way to the other side of the boulevard. Such is life in the West Bank on the eve of the meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, where the Bush administration intends to create the semblance of a “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians for the first time since it assumed office.
In 1967 Israel’s government was headed by Levi Eshkol, a politician said to be easygoing, weak and indecisive, who four years earlier had replaced the country’s founder, David Ben-Gurion, as prime minister. The Israeli public, tired of Ben-Gurion’s authoritarianism and constant exhortations to greater and greater sacrifice, had greeted Eshkol’s appointment with a sigh of relief. Israel’s chief Arab adversary at the time, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, sought to take advantage of the Eshkol government’s reputed lassitude in order to annul Israel’s achievements in the 1956 Suez campaign: the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula and the opening of the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping.
The Palestinians have long sought, and Israel has long resisted, the internationalization of efforts to construct a process that would lead to a durable and comprehensive peace. Independent advocates for a just peace have echoed this call out of the realization that the near monopoly of Washington on stewardship of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy has hindered — and even obstructed — meaningful progress. Never has this fact been more glaring than during the two administrations of President George W. Bush.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concluded her second trip to the Middle East in a month with little to show for her efforts. The meeting she hosted between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was undermined the day before it began. Olmert announced that Israel and the United States had agreed that they would boycott the Palestinian government of national unity which will be formed on the basis of the accords reached in Mecca unless it recognizes “the right of the State of Israel to exist,” stops “terrorism” and agrees to fulfill the agreements signed by the PLO.
The two successive strokes and the cerebral hemorrhage that struck down Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon came just a few weeks after the somber ceremonies marking the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. The causes of the two occurrences were very different, and so was the actual physical outcome, for Rabin died within minutes of sustaining his wounds, while doctors still hold out glimmers of hope for Sharon’s survival, albeit with grave handicaps.
Renewed, if somewhat less euphoric talk of a historic opportunity for Middle East peace accompanied Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas both heading to and returning from his May 26, 2005 summit with President George W. Bush at the White House. Yet the opportunity, of which much has been written since Abbas’ victory in a presidential poll in January, is primarily remarkable for the absence of any plan for exploiting it.
Within hours of the November 2 announcement that PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and the Israeli Minister of Regional Cooperation, Shimon Peres, had agreed to implement the understandings reached between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) at the October Sharm al-Sheikh summit, Israeli soldiers shot and killed teenage Palestinian demonstrator Khalid Rezaq in the village of Hizma near Jerusalem. Another Palestinian, Adli Abeid, succumbed to wounds sustained a day earlier at the Mintar/Karni crossing on the eastern border of the Gaza Strip.
Televised images of Israeli combat soldiers killing unarmed Palestinian children and helicopters strafing Palestinian neighborhoods have publicly exposed the Israeli military force that undergirds and shapes the Oslo process.
Only a decade after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, after we all thought we had seen the end of that hateful system, we are witnessing the emergence of another apartheid-style regime, that of Israel over the incipient Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and parts of Jerusalem. This, at least, seems the likely outcome of the “peace process” begun in Oslo and continued, if haltingly, at the July Camp David summit. Whether a Palestinian state actually emerges from the Oslo process or Israel’s occupation becomes permanent, the essential elements of apartheid — exclusivity, inequality, separation, control, dependency, violations of human rights and suffering — are likely to deﬁne the relationship between Israel and the Occupied Territories/Palestine.