Troubling Questions from the Heart of the Hurricane

Jeff Halper

Troubling Questions from the Heart of the Hurricane

[EDITOR'S NOTE: What follows is not the same kind of peace-making analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian situation that The Shalom Center (and before it existed, since 1969 I individually) have both drawn on and helped to create for the past generation. Yet it seems important to read.

[Its author, Jeff Halper, has been one of the major forces in creating the Israeli opposition to demolitions of Palestinian homes. (These demolitions are not the kind, conducted years ago, that focused on homes of fthe families of alleged terrorists. These demolitions have been focused on houses where growing Palestinian families have added new rooms even when they have been denied building permits by Israeli authorities. Such permits have been very rarely given to Palestinian families.)

[In this article, Halper raises much more difficult questions about involving the whole international community in the negotiations between Israel and Palestine that he thinks will have to be reexamined from scratch before justice, and therefore peace, can be achieved in the region.

[Concerning one important assertion, I think Halper is not correct: I do not think the Palestinian uprising of the last several weeks is benefitting Palestine. It is creating deep long-range problems for Israel — especially since Israeli officials have responded to it by worsening the "internal" problem of the deep chasm between Israeli Jews & Israeli citizens of Palestinian culture — but greater problems for Israel are not the same as greater benefits to the Palestinians. This is a MINUS-SUM GAME, not a zero-sum game: Both sides can end up worse off than before.

[But Halper's assertion on that score can be distinguished from the questions he raises about involving the UN, the Geneva Conventions, etc. Though these questions are difficult, we may need to face them — even if we end up deciding differently from Halper — before we can decide whether the paths that most Middle East peace activists have folllowed for the last 30 years can be restored, or if we will have to follow others, much more difficult.


For all the pain, suffering and anger we cannot lose sight of the fact that we are engaged in a POLITICAL struggle whose conclusion must be a just, viable and lasting peace for all the peoples of our region. Calls for a Committee of Inquiry are understandable but they cannot replace proactive political strategies. If all the gains achieved by the Palestinian uprising at such tragic human and material cost are reduced merely to assigning blame the pain and effort will have been betrayed.

The popular uprising was crucial for breaking out of the Oslo trap. Oslo. based as it was purely on power-politics negotiations between parties of unequal strength and openly one-sided American "mediation" would have led to nothing but a bantustan state under Israeli aegis — a reality keenly felt by the Palestinians living the interminable occupation.

In my humble opinion the struggle now is to formulate a new framework of negotiations that will lead to true Palestinian sovereignty. Barak and Clinton are using all their political and military muscle to reimpose the Oslo/Camp David framework which ensures Israel's continued control of any Palestinian state while leaving the settlements largely untouched. To allow this to happen to neglect the next political steps would reduce the popular uprising merely to pointless violence and suffering.

Certainly Palestinian appreciate this even if the people in the street do not articulate it in so many terms. Many in the Israel public — intellectuals, commentators, the "critical left" and even liberals — recognize the futility of Oslo and would also support a coherent effective and just alternative. And the international community must be mobilized to create the structures upon which a just and viable peace can be created.

As I have written before, we are faced with three immediate tasks: to provide protection to the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories in the event that Israel embarks on a campaign of punishment and intimidation designed to reassert the Oslo framework — with or without Sharon in the government; to freeze the expansion of the Israeli occupation likely to be redoubled as Israel attempts to reassert its control and domination; and to help create a new framework for a just peace based on international law and UN resolutions rather than on power-politics and negotiations between sides of unequal power.


We are standing now at a perilous political crossroads. If Israel and the US succeed in resuscitating the Oslo process we are facing renewed demands that the Palestinians agree more or less to the terms of the Camp David Summit — that is to a non-viable mini-state truncated by massive Israeli settlement blocs. That is what the code-words "ending the violence and returning to the negotiating table" mean.

It is my belief that Israel will use the full weight of its military to reimpose Oslo including massive attacks on Palestinians that dare to defy its fiat and will take major steps to annex — outright or de facto — key parts of the West Bank. If the Palestinian Street has succeeded in opening an escape route from the Oslo trap through resistance and just saying "No!" it will need the active support of all of us in forcing new terms of reference on the parties.

One of the greatest achievements of the uprising was its internationalization of the conflict. By forcing the intervention of the Europeans, the Arab world, the UN and perhaps even Russia, the Palestinian Street took control of the negotiating process out of the exclusive hands of the Americans. This cannot be allowed to fade. A major part of our efforts must be dedicated to ensuring an active role for the international community.

The uprising has also given us a one-time opportunity to reformulate the framework of negotiations. Oslo must be replaced by terms of reference rooted in international law, human rights covenants and UN resolutions. Only this will give the Palestinians a "level playing field" for pursuing their national goals. I have seen no indication of where Arafat stands on this issue. Some see him as a willing partner in the Oslo process which has given him and his entourage considerable privileges. Others believe he appreciates the political opening granted him by the uprising but are unsure whether he has a formulated plan of action. Whatever the case, progressive forces in the international community should support those Palestinians who seek to articulate a political process that will lead to true sovereignty to a just and viable peace — and to implement it.


During the weeks and months until a new negotiating framework is formulated there exists a real and immediate danger that Israel will exploit the vacuum to fundamentally alter the status of the West Bank. Just in the past day or two Barak has announced a program of "unilateral separation" from the Pale stinians. No one knows exactly what Barak's plans are; he refuses to divulge them even to Sharon. They do include however the construction of a massive system of bunkers, walls, "security crossings" and other fortifications to "protect" those parts of the West Bank which according to a military source "we want and need to defend." Strategic parts of the West Bank around the major settlement "blocs" together with the Jordan Valley are likely to be annexed outright.

Tellingly, the plan, known as the "Sneh Plan" after its architect Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh incorporates all the settlements.

When things "return to normal" then we can expect a return to Israeli policies of "creating facts on the ground" — and with a vengeance. After Oslo Israel's occupation expanded quantitatively. Tens of thousands of acres of land were expropriated mainly from Palestinian farmers who were then turned into dependent casual laborers in Israel. Small discreet settlements were consolidated into massive settlement "blocs" controlling strategic areas of the Occupied Territories. House demolitions became a regularized policy. Construction began of hundreds of miles of highway and "by-pass roads" that carved the Occupied Territories into small and disconnected enclaves destroying Palestinian society, economy and environment.

And an all-encompassing closure was introduced, further impoverishing the population and undermining the nascent Palestinian economy, in violation of the 1995 Interim Agreement which states that "Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations. (This demonstrates how meaningless and one-sided such an "agreement" is.)

We now face an additional strengthening and extending of the Occupation a "unilateral separation" cast in massive concrete installations.

The fact is that the Fourth Geneva Convention had it been incorporated into the Oslo framework would have prevented these actions which make a mockery of "good faith" negotiations. The fact that the United States, Oslo's only watchdog, did nothing to stop Israel from fundamentally changing the status of the West Bank and Gaza, must disqualify it as an "impartial mediator."

The only way to halt Israel's attempts to expand its occupation and make it permanent is to ensure that the Fourth Geneva Convention is enforced. The American position that adhering to international law would "compromise" the negotiations must be firmly rejected. Once the international community acts unanimously to freeze Israeli expansion in the Occupied Territories, an international monitoring force based perhaps on the UN's Temporary International Presence in Hebron, should be established to ensure that Article 3 of Oslo, together with the Geneva Conventions and UN resolutions be scrupulously respected. Such a force should also be empowered to protect civilians in times of conflict as surely will come.

These, it seems to me, constitute the next urgent steps in redeeming the political opportunity to achieve a just peace presented to all of us by the Palestinian people. Israeli peace organizations such as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and others stand ready to help formulate and participate in international campaigns addressing the issues discussed above. I am sure that Palestinian organizations as well as joint Palestinian-Israeli groups such as the Alternative Information Center will also lend their support. Let us all — Palestinians, Israelis, and members of the international community — join forces to ensure that the current conflict, suffering, and injustice give rise in the end to justice, peace, and prosperity. It is up to us, the grassroots diplomats, to initiate these campaigns.

In Peace

Jeff Halper
Israeli Committee Against House Demolition
Alternative Information Center