Reviving the phoney 'peace process'

Now that the dust has settled from the US-backed coup carried out by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party against the Hamas-led "national unity" government, Abbas and unelected PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad have revealed that they've nothing to offer the Palestinian people except a rerun of the failed post-1993 "Oslo peace process".

In the 1990s, Abbas was the key Palestinian negotiator in the "peace process" initiated by the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). At the time, many Palestinians hoped that the negotiations would lead to end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip — as was promised in the accords.

However, from the very beginning, the process was doomed to failure because the Israeli rulers had no intention of ending the occupation or the Zionist colonisation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Their goal, as subsequent events demonstrated, was to end Palestinian resistance to the occupation and to try to turn the PLO leadership, headed by Yasser Arafat, into an instrument for policing the Palestinian population.

As British Guardian reporter David Hirst noted in December 2001, "for the Israelis, security — theirs, not the Palestinians' — was the be-all and end-all of Oslo. [Arafat's] job was to supply it on their behalf. But he could only sustain the collaborator's role if he won the political quid pro quo which, through a series of 'interim agreements' leading to 'final status', was supposedly to come his way."

Writing in 1994, Israeli academic Tanya Reinhart noted that for the Israeli rulers there were two conceptions that underwrote the Oslo peace process. "One is that this will enable [Israel] to reduce the cost of the occupation, using a Palestinian patronage regime, with Arafat as the senior cop responsible for the security of Israel.

"The other is that the process should lead to the collapse of Arafat and the PLO. The humiliation of Arafat, and the amplification of his surrender, will gradually lead to loss of popular support. Consequently, the PLO will collapse, or enter power conflicts.

"Thus, the Palestinian society will loose its secular leadership and institutions. In the power-driven mind of those eager to maintain the Israeli occupation, the collapse of the secular leadership is interpreted as an achievement, because it would take a long while for the Palestinian people to get organized again, and, in any case, it is easier to justify even the worst acts of oppression, when the enemy is a fanatic Muslim organization."

During Arafat's lifetime, however, the collapse of the PA was staved off. This was because of what the Palestinians called "sumoud" or steadfastness — a refusal to accept the Israeli occupation or to turn on one another.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel had agreed not take any unilateral steps to alter the situation in OPT. In addition, it promised not to expand the already established illegal Israeli settlements. However, Israel continued to build and expand the settlements, establishing more than 75 new ones.

Israel continued to steal Palestinian land and to deepen the occupation — arresting and jailing thousands of Palestinians, setting up checkpoints, roadblocks, demolishing houses and imposing illegally, collective punishment on more than 4 million Palestinians living in the OPT.

The Al Aqsa intifada, sparked by Ariel Sharon's deliberately provocative visit to the Temple Mount in 2000, grew out of the Palestinian people's frustration at the failure of the Oslo peace process.

Since then, it has become clear to the great majority of Palestinians that Israel was never interested in negotiating a genuine peace with the Palestinian people. As one of the architects of Oslo, however, Abbas has clung to the illusion that the Oslo process can work.

In attempting to restart Oslo process, Abbas and a small coterie of Fatah leaders around him have carried out the job that Israel wanted, but failed to get, Arafat to accomplish. As a result, Israel been able to foment what it could not during Arafat's lifetime — a near civil war between the Palestinians.

This manufactured "power conflict" has now made it easier for the Zionist state to justify, as Reinhart noted, even worse acts of oppression against the Palestinian people, supposedly in the name of fighting a "fanatic Muslim organisation" (Hamas).

Since the dismissal of the Hamas-led "unity" government by Abbas on June 14, Israel has stepped up its military-police assault on the Palestinian people. Between July 5 and August 8, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that Israel had killed at least 33 Palestinians, including several children, and wounded 94 others. During the same period, the Israel military carried out 144 invasions of Palestinian communities (the majority in the West Bank), and abducted and arrested 254 Palestinian civilians (the majority from the West Bank).

Israel has also imposed a total siege on 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip. In early August, UN Relief and Works Agency official Filippo Grandi warned that this was leading to a complete collapse of economic life in Gaza.

The Western corporate media however, has ignored these facts. Instead, its focus has been US President George Bush's announcement that he will convene of an international peace conference later this year in an attempt to bolster Abbas.

Despite holding out a resumption of the "peace process" leading to an independent Palestinian state, both Bush and Israeli PM Ehud Olmert have refused to set a deadline for final status discussions on issues such as Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, borders, Israel settlements and security. According to the July 20 Tel Aviv Haaretz, "the demands Bush presented to Israel were mild, almost imperceptible, compared to the challenge he gave the Palestinians".

As with the previous Oslo process, the Palestinians are required to "dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism" — meaning any capacity for Palestinian resistance to Israel's occupation and colonisation of their land — before Israel will enter into "final settlement" negotiations,

Abbas knows that Oslo Mark II will be a hard sell to Palestinians and an even harder sell if Gaza remains outside his control. This is because the Palestinians don't want to have to deal as a divided nation with Israel. Recent opinion polls have reaffirmed this, with one poll by a Norwegian NGO revealing that 85% of Palestinians want national reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

Abbas, in a race against time and desperate to see the US-dictated "peace process" resume, is now openly collaborating with Washington and Tel Aviv against Palestinian resistance fighters, including those in his own Fatah movement.

Abbas has also backed the Israeli siege of Gaza. On July 30, a UN resolution, drafted by Qatar, which merely expressed concern over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was lobbied against by the PA's UN delegation.

In an August 19 post on the Electronic Intifada website, Ali Abunimah cited an anonymous source in Fayyad government in Ramallah as saying that "Abbas has explicitly ordered the Rafah border [crossing between Gaza and Egypt] to close and remain closed with the purpose of strangling Hamas". The source added that, while Abbas's official public relations pronouncements are that the border is to be opened at once, "what is going on in the meetings is the opposite".

At the same time, Abbas has attempted to placate Palestinian public opinion by feigning to offer "reconciliation" with Hamas. The August 14 Jerusalem Post, for example, reported that "after a meeting in Ramallah with Japanese foreign minister Taro Aso, Abbas — for the first time since Hamas's takeover of Gaza in June — seemed to soften his stance toward the Islamist movement, calling on it to 'return to national unity'. Abbas's remarks were interpreted by Palestinians as an appeal to Hamas to resume talks with his Fatah faction.

"Hamas immediately welcomed Abbas's statements and invited him to talk to the movement's leaders in the Gaza Strip."

Olmert immediately issued a statement warning that any Fatah-Hamas reconciliation would lead to a breakdown of the "diplomatic process", and that Abbas was "well aware" of this position.

[Kim Bullimore is currently living and working in the West Bank of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. She has a blog at <www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com>.]

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