Defeating the Palestinians
Date: 12/10/2001 1:21:55 PM Pacific Standard Time

(I wrote this as an analytical piece to put the current violence in the
Middle East in a wider political perspective. What is missing is a call to
action, a mobilization of all international forces - governments, the UN,
NGOs, faith-based organizations, media, academics, concerned individuals -
to bring about an immediate cessation of hostilities. But this is not
enough. Such a call MUST be based upon a commitment of the United States
and Europe that negotiations aimed explicitly at completely ending Israeli
occupation and ensuring the emergence of a viable and truly sovereign
Palestinian state are inaugurated within a defined period of time. This is
our only agenda at this fateful moment, and it is impossible to
overemphasize the urgency of our efforts. Unless we act now and
effectively, this Human Rights Day of 2001, we will witness in the next few
weeks or months the victory of occupation over the fight for independence
and the emergence of yet another apartheid situation.)


By Jeff Halper

The whirlwind unleashed on the Palestinians by the Israeli government
following the Ze'evi assassination in October and now, in early December,
on the heels of the suicide attacks in Jerusalem, Haifa, Afula and
elsewhere, goes far beyond mere retaliation against terrorism. Viewed in
the context of Bush's attempts to build a "coalition against terror," it is
a last desperate effort to bring "industrial quiet" to what's been called
the Second Front, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a precondition for
building any sustained coalition that includes Arab and Muslim countries.
This can be accomplished in one of two ways. Either a satisfactory
political solution can be imposed on the parties with a lot of arm-twisting
and sweetening, or the Palestinians can be made to submit to
Israeli-American dictates.

The first, preferred by the Americans as a resolution of the conflict, have
met fundamental obstacles on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. The
Israelis steadfastly refuse to dismantle their occupation and relinquish
control to a degree that would permit a viable and truly sovereign
Palestinian state to emerge. For his part, Arafat has failed to produce a
coherent program for negotiations, and has squandered the opportunity given
him by the Intifada to reframe the negotiations in a more equitable way.
Faced with a unfocused resistance movement with no political program and
fueled by ever more violent attacks against Israeli civilian targets, the
American government seems to have been persuaded by Sharon and Peres to
choose the second option: defeating the Palestinians outright.

Given their tight time-line for coalition-building and military actions,
the Americans are looking for a quick fix, a reasonable period of
industrial quiet in the Middle East. Allowing themselves to be persuaded
that Israel can bring the Palestinian Authority to its knees within a
matter of weeks, thereby reopening the "peace process" on terms favorable
to Israel, has its attractions. It is in keeping with the long-standing
American bias strongly in favor of Israel, it avoids conflicts with a
solidly pro-Israeli Congress (89 senators issued a letter recently warning
Bush against compromising Israel's interests), and it can be "sold" as
legitimate retaliation against "Palestinian terrorism" - thus legitimizing
Sharon's attempts to link Arafat and the Palestinians integrally with Bin
Laden and anti-American/anti-"civilization" world terrorism. Given the
weak, almost incoherent, political position of the Palestinians, this
option seems the most workable in the short run.

Sharon, then, has received a "green light" from Bush to bring quiet to the
region through military means, to be followed (no hurry here) by
negotiations that will give the Palestinians a mini-state while leaving
Israel in control of the area between the Jordan River and the
Mediteranean. (It was reported on the Channel One news on Friday night,
December 7, that Sharon promised Bush not to kill or harm Arafat, to which
Bush replied: "Just promise me you won't kill him.")

The strategy of Sharon, Peres and the others of the "National Unity"
government has five main elements:
1. Massive military actions. Besiegement, military strikes against the
fragile Palestinian infrastructure and assassinations of key political and
resistance figures - the kind of attacks employing heavy American weapons
we are witnessing now (early December) -- are fundamental to browbeating
the Palestinians into submissiveness. But overt military actions must be
carefully framed in order to maintain Israel's image as a mere
peace-seeking "victim" and to avert attention from its ongoing, deepening
and ever more brutal Occupation. Following violent acts against Israel,
they are cast as part of a "war against terrorism," indeed as part of
Israel's "natural right" to defend its people. Having removed the response
from its political context - a struggle against an illegal occupation -
Israel is then free to unleash its entire arsenal (nuclear aside) against
whatever targets it wishes for as prolonged a period as it desires.
Whatever we may think of Palestinian terrorism as a legitimate political
and military tool, casting its military strikes as "retaliatory,"
justifying its massive destruction as part of a "war" with the Palestinians
and concealing its Occupation allows Israel to engage in both political
repression and state terrorism without being held accountable. Indeed, the
entire chain of cause-and-effect is lost as Israel presents each
Palestinian attack as a new and separate incident, divorced from the
Occupation or previous Israel actions. The disproportionality of the
attacks in October and December show clearly how specific incidents are
used for far-reaching political and military gains.

2. A campaign of attrition. Certainly military attacks are part of an
Israeli campaign of attrition designed to wear down Palestinian resistance
over time. But long-term policies, less visible and less dramatic, are no
less effective. House demolitions, land expropriation, permanent closure
and prolonged curfews, restrictions on freedom of movement, induced
impoverishment, economic warfare of various kinds (such as clearing
agricultural fields, uprooting thousands of olive and fruit trees,
prohibiting harvests, confiscating livestock and preventing the marketing
of produce), "quiet" bureaucratic deportations and a dirty war employing
collaborators - all these and more undermine the fabric of Palestinian
society and weaken its ability to withstand the Occupation. The campaign is
designed not only to break the will of the Palestinian people but to
undermine its support for the Palestinian Authority, hopefully giving rise
to a more compliant leadership.

3. Creating irreversible "facts" on the ground. The grand project of
expanding Israel's control over the Occupied Territories, systematically
pursued according to the "master plan" presented by Sharon to Begin in
1977, is nearing completion. The Mitchell Commission's recommendations that
settlement construction be frozen, which the Palestinians and others seem
to think will be effective in halting the Occupation, is already
irrelevant. Israel has enough land and settlements already: 60% of the West
Bank and another 60% of Gaza are firmly under its control. 400,000 settlers
live in some 200 settlements across the "Green Line. Now its efforts are
dedicated to completing the infrastructural work needed to consolidate its
hold on the Territories. Almost unnoticed is the construction of 450
kilometers of highways and "by-pass" roads which link the settlements but
create massive barriers to Palestinian movement. Since these major
infrastructure projects have been agreed to - and funded -- by the
Americans, they fall outside the Mitchell Committee's "freeze." They
constitute the last key element in the Matrix of Control Israel has laid
over the Occupied Territories, and bulldozers are working ceaselessly to
complete the system.

4. Delaying tactics. Sharon's demand for "seven days of quiet" before
implementing the Mitchell Report has already delayed the resumption of
negotiations by months. Time and again "crises" are manufactured (often
following unprovoked assassinations, house demolitions or other acts on the
part of Israel), which that provide a pretext for not implementing
agreements or restarting negotiations. Broad hints by Israeli political
leaders that they will seek only long-term "interim agreements" rather than
a final status settlement will leave Israel in de facto control of the
Occupied Territories - or at least in control long enough to complete its
irreversible Matrix of Control.

5. Delegitimizing the Palestinian Authority. Since September 11 the Israeli
government has worked tirelessly to cast the Palestinian Authority as an
integral part of "world terrorism." Sharon has called Arafat "our Bin
Laden," and following the attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa the Israeli
government officially labeled the Palestinian Authority as a
"terror-sponsoring entity" - obviously hoping to impart to the Palestinians
the same international delegitimacy attached to other recognized terrorist

This is the program that unites the broad coalition of Israel's National
Unity government, from the Labor party on the "left" through the Likud, the
religious and the parties of the extreme right. At its base lies the
rock-bottom refusal to truly share the country with the Palestinians, in
either one state or in two. Yet - and this is the catch -- Israel needs a
Palestinian state to "relieve it" of the three and a half million
Palestinians of the Occupied Territories it can neither absorb (giving
citizenship to this population would nullify a Jewish-dominated state) nor
control forever by force. While the Palestinians strive for political
independence in a viable state alongside Israel, Israel is striving for
what is calls "autonomy-plus/independence-minus," a kind of
occupation-by-consent that leaves in it in control of the entire country
yet rids it of the Palestinian population. This, in a nutshell, describes
what the Oslo "peace process" was all about.

Since occupation-by-consent will not be willingly accepted by the
Palestinians, but a just peace based on true Palestinian independence is
unacceptable to Israel, Israel must force it upon the Palestinians. For
Israel, too, the time-line is tight. Bush's
green light" is good for a couple weeks - perhaps somewhat longer if
"justified" by further attacks on Israeli civilians - but it will
eventually run into major obstacles: the recommendations of the Mitchell
Committee and CIA chief Tenet which await implementation, General Zinni's
mission to achieve a cease-fire, and the overarching need to sustain a
coalition including the Arab and Muslim countries. Hence the ferocity of
Israel's attacks, the final push to defeat the Palestinians once and for all.

It is one minute to midnight. Already Israel has largely completed its
physical incorporation of the West Bank into Israel proper, foreclosing any
possibility of a viable Palestinian state. If the current campaign of
repression succeeds, occupation will be followed by the creation of a
dependent Palestinian mini-state - a permanent occupation-by-consent not of
the Palestinians, but of the US and a compliant Europe. These are the
fateful days of reckoning: a just peace based on two viable and sovereign
states, or the emergence of a Palestinian bantustan under Israeli control,
a new apartheid.

(Jeff Halper is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House
Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at <>.)