BY REEM HALAWANI
While touted as the new solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Mitchell report, tabled in June, is yet another example of the myths and lies peddled about the Palestinian cause since the inception of Israel 53 years ago.
The report, written by a committee headed by former US Senator George Mitchell, was originally designed to investigate the events surrounding the outbreak of violence in Jerusalem in September after now-Prime Minister, and then opposition leader, Ariel Sharon visited the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
But the report and investigation lengthened as the conflict between the Israeli government and the Palestinian people intensified.
More than simply "fact-finding", the committee's main purpose was to get the "peace process" back on track by healing the rift between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Its final recommendations fall under three categories — "end the violence", "confidence building measures" and "resume negotiations" — have formed the basis for renewed discussions between the PA and the Israeli government, talks which have been brokered by the US Central Intelligence Agency.
What hasn't been publicised is the detail of the report, nor the premises on which the recommendations are based. But a finer study of its contents reveals implicit assumptions that clearly tilt the report in the Israeli government's favour, at the expense of a just solution for the Palestinian people.
From the outset, the report clearly states that its purpose is not to apportion blame but to be even-handed, presenting "both sides" of the conflict.
Its introduction, for example, states, "Despite their long history and close proximity, some Israelis and Palestinians seem not to fully appreciate each other's problems and concerns.
"Some Israelis appear not to comprehend the humiliation and frustration that Palestinians must endure every day as a result of living with the continuing effects of occupation, sustained by the presence of Israeli military forces and settlements in their midst, or the determination of the Palestinians to achieve independence and genuine self-determination.
"Some Palestinians appear not to comprehend the extent to which terrorism creates fear among the Israeli people and undermines their belief in the possibility of co-existence, or the determination of the [government of Israel] to do whatever is necessary to protect its people."
But the conflict between the Israeli government and the Palestinian people is a highly unequal one. To foster "even-handedness" means also to apportion blame for the violence even-handedly — and therefore to fail to acknowledge the historic injustice committed against the Palestinians and the just nature of their cause.
The report does document Palestinian concerns: settlement construction, the siege of Palestinian towns, the effect of Israel's military occupation, the razing of crops and the demolition of homes.
But for every one of these, an Israeli grievance is also cited, giving the impression that both sides have suffered at the expense of the other and both must compromise to solve the conflict.
Yet the facts on the ground reveal a stark disparity between the Israeli and Palestinian experience, even if only the last eight months are considered:
- Since September, over 500 Palestinians (mainly civilians) have been killed. Twenty-three thousand Palestinians have been injured, half of them children. Over the same period around 100 Israelis (mainly soldiers or settlers) have been killed; only 30 Israeli civilians have been killed in "terrorist" attacks.
- Hundreds of Palestinian homes have been demolished, leaving thousands homeless or living in camp-like conditions. No Israeli homes have been demolished.
- The West Bank and Gaza have both been blockaded, in Gaza to the extent that no movement in or out is allowed, including food, fuel and medical supplies. The Gaza airport and port have been closed. No Israeli towns or cities have been placed under siege.
- Thousands of hectares of Palestinian crops, such as olives and wheat, have been bulldozed, undermining the economic independence of the Palestinian people and destroying the livelihood of Palestinian farmers. No Israeli crops have been destroyed.
- One hundred and thirty thousand Palestinian workers have not been able to work for nearly eight months, because they are not allowed into Israel to do so. No Israelis have been denied work.
- The Israeli government has used state-of-the-art weapons technology against the Palestinian people, including Apache helicopters, tanks, missiles and F16 fighter jets. For most of the intifada (uprising), the Palestinians have used stones; more recently, they have used guns and human bombs.
Rather than the "equal" conflict assumed in the report, a violent suppression is taking place of a people fighting for their land, freedom and dignity.
Because the Mitchell report is primarily focussed on what has occurred between the Israeli government and Palestinians over the last eight months, it fails to examine the historical causes of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. While the authors would probably claim that was not the report's intent, without examining this history there can be no solution and no peace.
The report's bias is also reflected in its assumption of the legitimacy of the Israeli state and thus its right to defend itself against any threat ("terrorism") — a right which is not accorded to the Palestinian people.
While the report urges the PA to take strong action against "terrorists", nowhere does it make reference to the state-sponsored terrorism being carried out by the Israeli government.
Such actions by Israel are instead referred to euphemistically, as "security measures" and, as such, are recognised and sanctioned. The report merely calls for the Israeli military to end its shoot-to-kill policy and employ more internationally acceptable "crowd-control methods".
The other major assumption of the report is that the Israeli government will honour any agreement that it is party to, despite the fact that Israel has continued to flout international law and United Nations conventions for 52 years.
Since the tabling of the Mitchell report, the Israeli cabinet has approved the construction of a ring road around East Jerusalem that will divide the prospective capital of the new Palestinian state from the rest of the West Bank.
Sharon has also made it clear that the Israeli government does not support ending Jewish settlements; more construction has been approved.
The issue facing the Palestinians now is how the report will be implemented. The major imperialist governments, particularly the United States, view the Mitchell report as the vehicle to steer Israel out of impending crisis — by ending the Palestinian intifada.
The intifada has plunged the Israeli economy into turmoil. Western companies, even airlines, are pulling out, because of the worsening security situation.
The political crisis in Israel is also deepening, because of Ariel Sharon's failed promise to "halt the violence" and a loss of patience for his tactics amongst Israel's Arab neighbours.
The measures of the Mitchell report which are being implemented are those which seek to bolster the security of the Israeli state.
While Israel claims it has implemented a "ceasefire", as recommended by the report, Palestinian territories are still blockaded, the military still occupies Palestinian land, houses continue to be demolished and crops destroyed. Daily, Palestinians are still killed or injured.
At the first "security meeting" recommended by the report, the PA was handed a list of hundreds of "terrorists" (many of them intifada activists) to imprison.
According to some sources, the Israeli government had initially included Fatah members on the list, but the US government warned against this as it would undermine PA President Yasser Arafat's support base.
Following Israel's demand, the PA attempted to arrest the leader of the Islamic Jihad group, but were foiled by villagers who prevented the seizure by blockading the man's residence.
At the initial security meeting, the Israeli government and the CIA also argued for a permanent buffer zone between the occupied territories and Israel — buffers which the Palestinians see as just yet more areas of stolen land.
For its part, the Israeli government has refused to acquiesce to any "confidence-building measures" and has indicated that no Israeli concessions will be granted before the intifada ceases and "threats to Israel's security" are eliminated.
Yet the Palestinian people have never received anything from Israeli without fighting for it and many believe that an end to the intifada would merely return them to exactly where they were before it began, an intolerable outcome.
The recommendations of the Mitchell report have not resulted in any major improvements for the Palestinian people. Rather, the report has been a public relations exercise for the Israeli government, whose repressive policies continue but now under the guise of a "ceasefire" and "peace".