Editorial: Who Remembers the Intifada?
In early December U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave Netanyahu & Co. a deadline for specific commitments toward redeployment in the West Bank. This spurred the Israeli government into a flurry of activity. For the first time since coming to power, in fact, Netanyahu had to sit down and crack his own and other ministerial heads about what exactly the final arrangement should be. As of this writing there are still big question marks: What powers will the Palestinians have? Which Israeli settlements (if any) will be included in the Palestinian territory, and what will their status be? Nevertheless, from the various maps that have come up for discussion – those made by the defense establishment and another by Ariel Sharon – a picture has emerged, and it bodes no good for the Palestinians.
1 Israel intends to keep between 55% and 60% of the West Bank for security purposes. It is significant that one of these maps (that keeping 55%) came from the army. This institution stands outside the political debate in Israel. In its deliberations both the right and the left, coalition and opposition, find common ground. When the army presents such a map, therefore, the strong implication is that the Labor Party too accepts the concept behind it.
2Occasional flashes of anger notwithstanding, the American position remains soft on Israel. In a telephone conference with fifty or so Jewish leaders on December 19, Albright reaffirmed that the US will not itself define the areas that Israel needs for its security. Nor will the administration, at this stage, put forth positions of its own about the lines of the final arrangement. (Ha'aretz, Dec. 21, 1997.)
What may we conclude from these two points? The Palestinian gamble – that they could trust in the good will of the Labor Party, or as a last resort, in the assurances of the Americans – has come to nothing. First, Israel's army favors a map much like what the late Yitzhak Rabin had in mind. Now that the army has spoken, Labor will find it very hard to move left of it. Second, the Americans have not suddenly developed big hearts for the Palestinians. Their recent toughness with Netanyahu derives from their need to push the process forward, not from any central conviction about where it should go. The various plans, all of which would leave the Palestinians less than half the West Bank, are far removed from the 90% which Arafat promised his people. Bibi & Co. are wrangling about much smaller percentages, but from the palaces of the PA in Gaza one hears not a whimper. For all anyone there seems to care, the Israelis might be debating the future dimensions of Timbuktu. The Palestinian silence may witness to something that many have long suspected: to the denizens of those palaces, the figure 40% is nothing new.
And behold! Instead of raising Cain and canceling their meetings with the Israeli side, the Palestinians increase their cooperation on security issues. Arafat has found the salt to kosher this. He works through the CIA. Thus there are now three major security apparatuses: the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the CIA meet, converse, plan, and issue papers as if they constituted an independent body entirely separate from the many political entanglements. That is exactly what Israel wants. "Security cooperation" - a friendlier term than "squelching the Palestinian opposition" - has to pass through a well-oiled machine that will operate independently of what Israel commits or omits. This is precisely what we now see emerging. Netanyahu's entry into office was first marked by friction with the Palestinian side (remember the tunnel? Hebron? Har Homa?). Lately, however, the Palestinian position has been swallowed up in the policies of the American administration. This weakness receives uncanny embodiment in the present condition of Arafat himself, who appears too ill to speak.
Weakly and quietly too, the tenth anniversary of the Intifada slipped by. No wonder. What's to celebrate? Dashed hopes? Pervasive corruption? A regime that tortures its own people? How then did they mark that tenth anniversary? Not by mass gatherings, not by demonstrations! No, in the gray, sober, foot-slogging manner that befits a bloated bureaucracy: they took a census. The UN and the Europeans contributed millions of dollars to the Palestine Bureau of Statistics in order to prepare this mighty deed. Here was sovereignty in action. The Palestinians, whose number has been known only to God, will continue to be registered in heaven alone, because no one is out there counting the millions that Oslo left out. It is important, nonetheless, to find out how many of them there are in the Territories. Planning is essential, because in twenty years their number will double, and they will have to make do with 40% of the land. One side makes maps, the other counts heads to fit into them.
The Palestinian opposition, one would hope, is made of sterner stuff! But no, 'tis a blight that stoppeth not at strains. Hamas agreed to defer the tenth anniversary of the Intifada for a week in order not to embarrass Arafat, who was traveling in Europe. Luckily for all it rained cats and dogs on the appointed day. Thus the powers of Nature came to their aid, covering what in brighter days – and plainer language –would appear to be mere cowardice. Cowardice does not build states! There is no doubt any longer but that the Palestinians have lost again, lost big. But as long as the feeling of wrong continues to rankle, the war is not over. A true leadership will know this, and it will arise, for the situation demands it. This the Intifada taught. If for no other reason, we should commemorate it - with tumult and shouting. In the meantime, Happy New Year.