Editorial: Kiss of Submission

A month after the suicide bombings in Jerusalem’s open-air market, Israelis still don’t know who the bombers were or where they came from. Within minutes of the tragic event, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imposed a manifold closure on the Territories. There was a tightening of the basic blockade which has been in effect since 1993: Palestinians were shut out of Israel. In addition, the Jordanian border was shut for ten days. The border between Gaza and Egypt was closed to both people and goods for two weeks. (Here an odd situation arose. Travelers have to pass three checkpoints: Egyptian, Israeli, and Palestinian. Having just passed through Egypt, 207 people found themselves trapped for two days in the Israeli station.) Netanyahu also imposed what is called "internal closure": Israeli soldiers stood on the roads leading to each of the towns, preventing anyone from going in or out. This went on in most places for sixteen days. In Bethlehem it lasted a month. Not even pilgrims were allowed in, while Israel waited for Arafat to arrest the opponents of Oslo. Bulldozers heaped up earth on all secondary roads. People tried to sneak through (and often succeeded) by clambering over piles of rubble, carrying their goods. Patients, doctors, nurses, technicians could not get to hospitals. On August 11 Zahya Harb, nineteen years old, gave birth in her car at a checkpoint. The soldiers would not let her leave Beitunya, her village in Area C, for the hospital in Ramallah a mile away. It was quintessential Oslo: divide and control. At the stroke of a pen, four years after the upbeat ceremony on the White House lawn, an Israeli premier once again paralyzed the life of an entire people.

Closure has a high economic cost. When the Palestinians were shut out in 1993, 120,000 found themselves suddenly jobless. The income of Gaza dropped by half, that of the West Bank by a third. Since then, in good times, Israel has allowed in 45,000 at most. Nowadays, when the word "closure" is used without qualifiers, it refers to the shutting out of this smaller group. According to The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights (LAW), the Palestinian economy loses about $6 million a day under this sort of blockade. Since Oslo was signed four years ago, Palestinians have spent 318 days (almost a year) under closure. That means a loss of about $1.8 billion. That is $300 million more than the total amount which the PA has received from donor nations since the start of the Oslo agreement.

There is another little matter of money. In line with the Paris economic accords (a part of "Oslo"), Israel collects taxes from the Palestinians who work in its domain; it is supposed to transfer this money to the Palestinian Authority (PA). After the market bombing Israel withheld $145 million – a sum amounting to about an eighth of the PA’s budget. Without it Arafat cannot meet his payroll. To date, under international pressure, Israel has released a third of this. But the implications are stark. The Paris accord has been violated, the plowshare forged into a sword.

Apart from closure and monetary pressure, Netanyahu has unleashed the bulldozers, tearing down Arab houses in Area C (the major part of the West Bank still under Israeli control). This too is a change. After deciding to build on Jebel Abu Ghneim (Har Homa), Netanyahu attempted to ease public pressure by stopping the demolition of unlicensed houses. (Please note: Palestinians have little choice but to build without licenses, since almost all applications are rejected.). Since August 3, according to LAW, more than forty houses have been demolished in fifteen villages.

Netanyahu’s punitive measures, taken without a shred of evidence against the PA, show that under the aegis of Oslo he can make life more miserable than it was under Israeli occupation. Then at least Palestinians did not have the burden of being responsible for Israel’s security. The Likud Prime Minister has carried the ramifications of the agreement to their grotesque extreme. It was Arafat who committed the Palestinians at Oslo – and got them into this mess. Strangely, the fact does not seem to ruffle the Palestinian opposition. Instead of demanding that Arafat step down, they throw him a lifeline. A meeting of reconciliation took place in Gaza on August 20. A few days later a second "performance" was put on for West Bankers in Ramallah. The opposition did not see fit to make demands, such as the release their political prisoners from PA prisons. Nor did they present an alternative to Oslo, a way out for their people. Rather they came in response to Arafat’s call for unity. Hamas leader ??? provided the poignant photo-op with a kiss of submission. Arafat cannot be reformed. Nor can Oslo. Yet a solution to the anguish of the Palestinians must be found. It will require a critical, democratic leadership, free of corruption, drawing its strength from the people.