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"But for all the failings of the Arafat administration, the central responsibility for the Palestinians' problems rests with Israel's failure to abide by the Oslo and Wye agreements over free movement of people within the Palestinian Territories, and its failure to curb settlement building that continues to deepen already appalling social and economic problems. These disappointments at the lack of the fruits of peace were the backdrop to attempts to settle the final status for a putative Palestinian State. It was the stalled issue of the future of Arab east Jerusalem as capital of that state that sparked the latest wave of violence and which remains non-negotiable for Barak."
— Peter Beaumont, How hatred sank the slim hopes for peace, the Guardian Newspaper (UK), October 15, 2000
The Israeli leadership blames Arafat for the current violence, and claims that they are defending their territory. However, as a small set of examples:
- It is the Palestinians that have been under military occupation since 1967.
- Settlement programs have continued, contrary to the accords.
- The Israelis have delayed their military withdrawals from or redeployments in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza, as required by those accords.
- They still have 60 per cent of the former and 20 per cent of the latter.
- Jerusalem, a most crucial aspect of this latest conflict, is now off limits to those Palestinians who are not residents of Jerusalem.
- There have been additional concessions demanded by Israel, counter to international laws and agreements including dropping the entire case against Israel by Palestinians, as the following quote will describe.
As Tim Llewellyn, former BBC correspondent, in the Guardian reports (October 15, 2000), "The Palestinians found out this summer that Israel wanted yet more concessions: their legal rights to proper, effective self-determination traded for a clean bill of health for Israel. For an ephemeral state, Arafat was to sign up to dropping the whole Palestinian case against Israel. For the administration of a sticking plaster, a deep and angry wound was to be forgotten: the exodus from Palestine; the horrors of massacre and exile; the right of return; all recognised by and enshrined in international law and United Nations resolutions."
So could Arafat have "controlled" his people? Yes, if he had been offered a decent peace, something that really answered the aspirations of a people who want a state - a real state, not an American-Israeli subject nation.
But the real question was not asked. Why couldn't Barak control the Israeli "security forces" who shot and killed more than 100 Palestinians, including children as young as nine, who fired missiles into a Palestinian apartment block and who then - according to an uncritical BBC reporter - threatened to use machine-guns? Couldn't Barak control the Israelis who - just like their Palestinian neighbours - went on an ethnic burning campaign in Nazareth?
— Robert Fisk, We get the Arab leaders we deserve, New Statesman, October 16, 2000.
As Israeli leadership changed and Ariel Sharon came to power, the fear of an increased hard-line approach unfortunately came true, with targeted assasinations of key Palestinian members, more land grabs. Retaliation by Palestinian groups with acts of suicide and terrorism has been horrific as well. Even some 400 Israelis have refused service in the occupied territories saying in a petition that "We will not take part in the war for the peace of the settlements. We will not continue to fight beyond the green line [Israel's pre-1967 border with the West Bank and Gaza] in order to rule, expel, destroy, blockade, assassinate, starve and humiliate an entire people".
B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization has described the Israeli settlements in the West Bank as being illegal:
International humanitarian law prohibits an occupying power from transferring citizens from its own territory to the occupied territory. An occupying power is also prohibited from undertaking permanent changes in the occupied area, unless they are undertaken for the benefit of the local population or are for urgent military needs. Israel's settlement policy violates these regulations.
... while the built-up areas of the settlements constitute only 1.7% of the land in the West Bank, the municipal boundaries are over three times as large: 6.8%. Regional councils constitute an additional 35.1%. Thus, a total of 41.9% of the area in the West Bank is controlled by the settlements.
— Land Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank, 13 May 2002
Ze'ev Sternhell, in the Ha'aretz (March 8, 2002) even suggests that Israeli policies are colonial and in that context, regard for life on both sides is taking a different meaning as the violence continues:
"In colonial Israel, and more especially the Israel in which advocates of "transfer" sit in the government, human life is cheap - and therein lies the most serious danger to our future. A society in which dozens of children are killed as a result of army operations can easily lose its last remaining moral inhibitions. The fact that the Palestinians are also killing indiscriminately cannot absolve us of responsibility for what is going on in the territories. The killing of innocent people is gradually becoming a norm, and that norm is being implemented in the service of a goal that seeks to deprive another people of its freedom and its human rights: The Sharon government is turning the territories into one huge jailhouse, and is turning its citizens in warders who are called upon to suppress a prisoner uprising. That was not quite the purpose of Zionism."
— Ze'ev Sternhell, Balata has fallen, Ha'aretz Daily, March 8 2002
Robert Malley, director of the International Crisis Group's Middle East program makes an interesting observation that can summarize events of much of 2001, as appeared in the New York Times:
To hear the Israeli government tell it, the reason behind the enduring conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people is one man - Yasir Arafat. Hence, Israel's approach to the problem is confining the Palestinian leader to his Ramallah headquarters, destroying the symbols of the Palestinian Authority he leads and gradually reoccupying its territory.
The United States also says the onus is on Mr. Arafat and passively looks on - occasionally dispatching its special envoy when the situation looks better, keeping him home as soon as events take a turn for the worse. Today, this is what passes for policy. But one has only to consider the growing number of victims on both sides to realize that far from being a path to peace, this approach is an almost certain recipe for catastrophe.
— Robert Malley, Playing Into Sharon's Hands, New York Times, January 25, 2002
Malley has also criticized the U.S. here as well, which we look at on the next page.
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