Olmert curbs Palestinian rights
Oslo has entered its final, tragic-comic stage. The onus now is to ensure Olmert's planned dénouement does not become a reality, writes Mustafa Barghouti*
Anyone who followed the Annapolis talks won't be surprised by the features of Olmert's current project. It seeks to set in stone the two- pronged strategy Israel has been pursuing since Oslo: to divide and procrastinate final status issues until they are made redundant by time and de facto realities, and to invoke security as a pretext for refusing to abide by commitments. Any mention of security refers exclusively to Israel's security, the idea being to formalise the peculiar principle that holds that those under occupation are responsible for ensuring the security of their occupiers.
Olmert's proposal is a shelf agreement. It could be put into effect immediately and would cost Israel nothing, not even a halt in settlement expansion. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, would have to prove two things: that it is a capable proxy policeman for the occupation and that it can resume control of Gaza. Unless it can prove this, the shelf agreement will remain on the shelf and Israel will have killed two birds with one stone. It will have deferred core issues yet again, gaining time to build further settlements, and it will be able to cast the blame on the Palestinians for failing to live up to the agreement and realise the peace that the Israeli government claims it desires.
According to a prophetic hadith, "the believer is not stung twice from the same hole". After 15 years experience of the Oslo agreement the Palestinians hardly need to be told what will happen with its Annapolis equivalent.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the Olmert project is that it seeks to make a partial fulfilment of Palestinian national rights contingent upon the security performance of the PA. This is doomed from the start since it sets the PA against its own people and their national cause and makes it blatantly apparent that the true ruler is Israel. Yet it will still accomplish Israel's primary objective which is to deepen and solidify internal Palestinian divisions.
The project claims that the PA has agreed to defer the question of the status of Jerusalem. Really? Until when?
Given the intensification of settlement building and the continued Judaisation of Jerusalem deferring can mean only one thing -- relinquishing any Palestinian claim to the city. Yet no honourable Palestinian or Arab could possibly agree to a settlement that does not provide for Arab Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. We must remember that every bid to postpone the question of Jerusalem is a bid to separate this issue from the body of Palestinian rights preparatory to eliminating it.
The Olmert project pits the bulk of its energy into legitimising the annexation of major settlements in the West Bank. These settlements make up only seven per cent of the West Bank, Olmert claims. That figure is very deceptive. It means sanctioning the apartheid wall, condemned by the International Court of Justice, as Israel's official border. It also means annexing 80 per cent of the West Bank's water resources. And in exchange for what? A patch of arid desert next to the borders of Gaza, and that only if the political situation in Gaza changes with the PA's assertion of control there. Not only will agreeing to the land swap sanction the annexation of the land on the other side of the wall and of the wall itself. It will also sanction the entire Israeli system of apartheid.
As for the settlers, they will remain in their settlements -- all their settlements -- until the PA proves its good will by getting rid of anyone that Israel doesn't like. In the interval the expansion of Maliya Adomim, Ariel, Gush Atsiyun and all the settlements around Jerusalem will pick up speed, ostensibly to make room for settlers who agree to move there. How to explain the silence on the part of the advocates of the Annapolis process on the fact that settlement construction has increased 20-fold since Annapolis, and the insistence that negotiations continue despite this fevered expansion?
What Olmert has kept under his hat until now is that Israel will continue to control the borders, the Jordan River valley and what's left of subterranean water resources under the pretext of security arrangements. All this, quite clearly, adds up to considerably more than seven per cent of the land. There was no mention in that seven per cent of the Jordan River valley, the Dead Sea, the villages of Latroun.
The Israelis are preparing, with US support, to take any agreement they reach to the UN for its blessing, thereby cancelling all previous international resolutions and laws in support of Palestinian national rights. The price Israel is exacting, alongside removing Jerusalem from the equation of Palestinian rights, is to put an end to the demands of Palestinian refugees once and for all.
In essence, the plan Olmert has placed on the negotiating tables is nothing less than a project to end Palestinian national principles and undermine once and for all the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. It marks the end of the tragicomedy of Oslo and the triumph of all those who believe that realism means surrender. It is an attempt to circumvent four final status issues -- Jerusalem and refugees, settlements and the annexation of large tracts of the West Bank -- by eliminating them, and postponing everything else until realities on the ground render any Palestinian claims equally redundant. In short, it is an attempt to turn any idea of an independent state into isolated cantons administered by a non-sovereign authority that is captive within an apartheid regime.
It is time for the Palestinians to stop their retreat and their disintegration. It is time for them to do more than utter timed reservations on this or that idea of Olmert. They must reject all partial and interim solutions and expose the Israeli policy of imposing de facto realities beneath the guise of negotiations that were never meant to succeed.
The real answer to Olmert and the racist ruling establishment in Israel is to restore national unity, create a unified national leadership and forge a collective strategy for managing the struggle against the occupation, not to accommodate to it. Such a strategy must combine forms of mass grassroots resistance to the occupation and apartheid system with social and economic policies that support the people and meet their concerns. It must also build a powerful movement of international solidarity with the Palestinian cause and revive the common national bond between Palestinians inside Palestine and abroad.
* The writer is secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative.