Wye Agreement sharpens contradictions


By Adam Hanieh

RAMALLAH — The signing of the Wye Agreement between the PLO and the Israeli government has brought to the surface all of the contradictions inherent in the Oslo Accords, the Israeli political establishment and Palestinian society. If events of the last few days are any indication, the next few weeks will be the most significant in this area over the last five years.

Wye was in essence an agreement on Israeli "security" and the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. The bulk of the agreement concerns measures that the PA promises to implement against the Palestinian opposition in return for a small withdrawal of Israeli troops from areas in the West Bank.

Israel promises to transfer 1% of Area C in the West Bank (where Israel has full civilian and security control) to Area A (Palestinian autonomous area), and 12% of Area C to Area B (where Israel retains security control and Palestinians have control over civilian matters).

However, 3% of this Area B will be designated a nature reserve in which no new building or construction can take place. In addition, 14.2% of the current Area B will become Area A.

In total figures, at the end of the process, 18.2% of the West Bank will be Area A and 24.8% Area B (with 3% of this designated as the nature reserve area).

Long-standing plan

This may look like a considerable increase in Area A, which currently stands at 3% (Area B is currently 27%). But the crucial point is that Israel has always envisaged a transfer of some lands to Palestinian autonomy since the 1967 occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

The map currently taking shape in the West Bank is almost identical to plans drawn up by the Israeli military and governments following 1967.

In fact, the Netanyahu administration is implementing the vision of the West Bank first drawn up the Israeli Labour administration in 1967.

Since 1967, Israel has been attempting to find a way to control the maximum amount of land with the minimum number of Palestinians. The reasons are obvious: direct military occupation is expensive, the situation is unstable and threatens at any time to spill over into a wider conflict, and it is very difficult for Israeli capital to invest in and integrate with neighbouring Arab markets.

The "autonomy solution" fits Israeli needs perfectly. Palestinians are gathered in isolated enclaves — the map envisages three main areas in the north, centre and south of the West Bank. Travel between these areas is very difficult, and at any time Israel can shut these roads and prevent all movement.

Israel controls the vast majority of aquifers in the West Bank; thus Palestinians rely on the discretion of Israel for their water supply. The impact of this was indicated this summer, when Palestinians in the south of the West Bank were forced to buy water from mobile Israeli water trucks when their supply ran out.

Israel also controls all of the resources under the ground and in the air space of the West Bank — including under and over Area A.

In addition, Israel has control over all borders and residency rights in Area A. Israel determines who can enter and leave, and who can live in Area A.

Within Israeli society, there is very broad support for the agreement. Figures from the right and left of the political spectrum support the process, usually on the basis that separation is the best solution for Zionism. Shimon Peres, one of the architects of Oslo, said a few months ago, "The only alternative to Oslo is a bi-national tragedy".

The settlers are most opposed to the agreement, and over the last few days they have been staging demonstrations within the West Bank and outside government buildings. However, most observers agree that these demonstrations have been small and without focus.

Security for whom?

Such a situation is disastrous for the Palestinian economy, particularly given the overcrowding produced by lack of space and the high Palestinian birth rate.

This, however, is good for the Israeli side, because it produces a pool of cheap Palestinian labour for the industrial zones to be located next to the Palestinian autonomous areas.

It is not by accident that the Wye Agreement announced, "The Israeli and Palestinian sides have agreed on arrangements which will permit the timely opening of the Gaza Industrial Estate".

Who will control a Palestinian population faced with such dire circumstances? The Oslo Accords always allowed the Israelis to enter Area A if they deemed it necessary for their "security". In practice, this has not been necessary often (although there have been several cases of the Israeli military entering Area A and arresting Palestinians).

The Wye Agreement codifies a long-standing Israeli aim, to have Palestinians police themselves and prevent any struggle against Israeli designs for the West Bank.

The openness of this aim as agreed upon at Wye shocked many Palestinians. The rapidity with which it has been implemented has caused significant anger within the Palestinian population.

Wye calls for the establishment of a joint US-Israeli-Palestinian "anti-incitement committee". The committee will meet regularly and monitor cases of incitement.

Although the agreement doesn't define what is meant by incitement, the fact that the committee will include "educational and media specialists" indicates that the term could quite easily include any written or spoken word against the "peace".

Perhaps the most shocking admission is the close collaboration the CIA will have with the PA. It had been announced a few weeks earlier that the CIA was going to open secret offices in Area A. The agreement and subsequent comments by the US, Israel and the PA indicate that the CIA will have a daily hand in monitoring and investigating the Palestinian population.

Arrests and protests

The implications of this security arrangement have become obvious. More than 50 Palestinians were arrested by the PA in the two days following the signing of the agreement.

Included in this number were 20 students from An Najah University in the city of Nablus, and Sheikh Hamed al-Bitawi, an Islamic preacher aged in his 60s who is the head of the highest Islamic court in the West Bank, and the head of the union of Palestinian Islamic clerics.

On the night the agreement was signed, 11 journalists were detained and had their film and recording equipment confiscated by the Palestinian Police in Gaza following a meeting with Sheik Ahmad Yassin, the head of the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.

Yassin's house is now surrounded with checkpoints, and people who wish to visit him require a special permit from the PA. Yassin has been put under house arrest.

Violent clashes took place in Ramallah, where, on October 25, a 16-year-old boy was shot and killed by the Palestinian Istaqbarat (military intelligence) during a demonstration by the Ramallah Fatah branch against the PA.

The ensuing clashes resembled the intifada — burning tyres and upturned rubbish bins littered the streets of downtown Ramallah, every shop in the city was closed in protest against the killing, and masses of Palestinian youth gathered in the centre of Ramallah.

The demonstration was organised following a raid the previous night on the Fatah offices in Ramallah, carried out by the Istaqbarat, who were reportedly looking for two Fatah activists wanted by Israel. Speaking to Green Left Weekly, one Fatah activist described the reasons for the demonstration with one word, "Wye".

After the killing, Ramallah fell silent in mourning. Every shop, school and university was closed, and no member of the Palestinian security forces dared to be seen in the street.

The following day, two demonstrations were organised by students from Birzeit University and the local Fatah branch.

Movement depoliticised

However, the evolution of the protest movement against the killing demonstrates the two most important factors influencing the current situation: the lack of a mass organisation willing and able to mobilise people against the agreement; and the corrupting and demobilising effect of the PA.

Following the raid on the Fatah offices which triggered the demonstrations, the demands raised by the protest movement aimed squarely at the agreement. People were outraged at the planned role for the CIA, and called for the resignation of the head of the Istaqbarat, Musa Arafat, a relative of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

The following day, however, a flurry of PA representatives and high-ranking members of Fatah joined the outcry against the killing. One of the demonstrations was led by a representative from the Ministry of Youth and other PA members who linked arms at the head of the march.

The demands also began to change, focused on finding the individuals responsible for the killing rather than the agreement, the initial raid and the security system as a whole.

A PA representative who attended a march in Bethlehem pointedly declared, "This is not a demonstration against the Wye Agreement".

Even worse, the movement has now adopted the demand that the individuals responsible should be charged in a secret military court — and then executed.

The PA managed to individualise the blame for the killing and depoliticise the movement. It can be predicted with some certainty, though, that similar situations will arise as the Wye agreement is implemented.