Palestinians 'paralysed' by lack of vision


Peace activist Jeff Halper believes Israel thinks it has ‘won’ the struggle for Palestine, writes MICHAEL JANSENin Jerusalem

THE PROSPECTS for peace are poor in the Holy Land of Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Mahdi Abdul Hadi, head of an East Jerusalem think tank, has told The Irish Times that Palestinians are paralysed.

The society, he says, “is divided into four groups: the business elite, which has reached an accommodation” with Israel; the security establishment, which co-operates with and provides “100 per cent security” for Israel; the youth (15-40 years), which is 60 per cent of the populace and which is looking for an effective way to resist the occupation; and Muslim fundamentalists, who are “not sleeping but keep an open eye to fill the vacuum” when current ruling elites are ousted.

There is “no leadership and no consensus” on how to respond to the overwhelming Israeli challenge, says Abdul Hadi.

People struggle on an episodic basis under temporary leaders but there is no long-term strategy, no vision. In East Jerusalem “all the components of Israeli society – intelligence, army, police and settlers – combine to crush Palestinians”.

Israeli activist Jeff Halper agrees with Abdul Hadi’s analysis. “Israel thinks, ‘We’ve won’” the century-long struggle for Palestine, he says. He describes Israel as “one of the last colonial systems and the first one that ever won”.

Following last month’s visit to Washington by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Halper says, “his spokesman said the Palestinian issue was not even raised” in talks with US president Barack Obama. “We’re moving toward normalisation” of the situation, he adds. The issue of Palestine has slipped from the agenda. “We have pacified the Palestinians, there are no more attacks or terrorism.”

The “two-state solution”, involving the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, is finished. “The Israeli military has told the politicians that security-wise there is no space for a Palestinian state.”

Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, says Netanyahu took with him to the US settler leaders and staff members to “float a new Israeli plan” in Congress.

This plan is based on the 1993 Oslo Accords, which divided the West Bank, captured by Israel in 1967, into areas A, B, and C. In Area A, 17 per cent of the territory, Palestinians would have “autonomy-minus”; Area B, 23 per cent, would be “shared” by Israel and the Palestinians; and Area C, 60 per cent, where Israeli settlements are located, would be “annexed” by Israel, which could grant some of the residents full citizenship “without disturbing the demographic balance” between Palestinians and Israeli Jews. “Palestinians would become a permanent underclass. They will either leave or hunker down.” Halper says.

Palestinian enclaves would be isolated and “Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem split up by settlers”. East Jerusalem and its Palestinian inhabitants would be absorbed by Israel, while Gaza would be on its own and encouraged to establish ties to Egypt.

Halper believes the international community will accept the situation and “normalise relations”. However, Israel will not succeed in gaining “acceptance by the Muslim world”, he says. “Palestine is like a [fish] bone in the throat of Muslims” and “nothing will change unless the issue is resolved”.

In Halper’s view, the only development that could prevent Israel from succeeding is the collapse or dissolution of the Palestinian Authority. He is convinced that this will happen when the “situation becomes so intolerable for Palestinians that international community will act”.

A European analyst who has worked here for more than 20 years argues that the Israelis may succeed with their plan for the time being but in the long run the situation is untenable. The analyst believes that the international community cannot continue to behave as though the two-state solution remains on the table and to insist that the UN and international agencies operate on that basis. There has to be recognition of the transformation of the situation on the ground by the Israeli settlement enterprise and new thinking.