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The Palestinian Political Situation

In Arafat’s Aftermath

George E. Bisharat is a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law, and writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East.

By Professor George E. Bisharat
San Francisco Chronicle
November 12, 2004

“Salvation will be found only in a broad-based, international movement to bring equality to all people in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim.”

As Yasser Arafat has died, so die the hopes for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Contrary to the belief held in the United States and Israel, Arafat worked tirelessly toward the “peace of the brave” and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It was precisely because Arafat was such a dogged proponent of compromise with Israel that the Israeli government worked so hard to destroy him.

Here are the concrete realities Arafat and his people have faced over the last five decades: In 1948, Israel expelled more than 700,000 Christian and Muslim Palestinians so that Jews would be a majority in the new Jewish state. Hundreds of Palestinian villages were razed so that Jewish-only towns could be established. Israeli forces seized 78 percent of British Mandate Palestine, and with it, Palestinian homes, businesses, and lands, providing the rudiments of the new Israeli economy. Rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes or receive compensation and support for resettlement, reaffirmed annually since 1948 by the United Nations, have been consistently denied by Israel. Palestinian refugees and their offspring now number around 4 million people.

Today, a Jew from anywhere in the world can become an Israeli citizen, while Palestinian refugees who still hold the keys to their stolen homes cannot so much as visit. Palestinians who remained in Israel in 1948, and who now number 1.2 million, face daily discrimination in all walks of life, including housing, education and allocation of government services.

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, 3.5 million Palestinians live under a harsh Israeli military occupation now in its 38th year. With no control over their daily lives, Palestinians have witnessed the emergence of what a recent U.N. report describes as “an apartheid regime” that is “worse than the one that existed in South Africa.” Palestinian land is routinely confiscated to allow Jewish-only settlements to grow. Jewish settlers – whose numbers doubled during the so-called Oslo “peace process” to 430,000 – enjoy ample water supplies while Palestinian crops parch in the sun. Seven hundred Israeli army checkpoints choke movements of people, separating Palestinian kids from school, pregnant mothers from hospitals and relatives from their families.

In the face of all this, Arafat reconciled his people to historic compromises: By officially recognizing Israel in 1988, Arafat tacitly abandoned the rights of the Palestinians of Israel, consigning them to permanent third-class citizenship in a state defined as one “for the Jews.”

By accepting the possibility of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – 22 percent of British Mandate Palestine – Arafat abandoned more logical and equitable territorial divisions, such as an equal share for each people, or one proportionally based on population size. By repeatedly signaling that Palestinian refugees’ rights of return need only be to the new Palestinian state, Arafat gave up their truest remedy: return to the homes and communities from which they had fled or been expelled.

Still, Israel wanted more: further territorial concessions in the West Bank, near-total control of Jerusalem and terms that would have rendered the Palestinian “sovereignty” a fiction. Even Arafat’s legendary skills of persuasion could not disguise the truth from his followers: This was surrender, not peace. That is why he could not accept U.S. and Israeli dictates in Camp David. That is why Israel since has so determinedly set about destroying Arafat and the institutions of the Palestinian Authority.

Political uncertainty, even turmoil, may now ensue among Palestinians, although early signs suggest an orderly transition of power. Soon, new leaders, wary of the mistakes of their predecessor, will emerge. If truly representative of the interests of all Palestinians, they will be far less yielding than Arafat. They would be, moreover, properly suspicious of any negotiations brokered by the United States, which has abandoned any pretense of neutrality and openly aligned itself with Israel.

Palestinians will ultimately face the reality that, in the face of Israeli determination to permanently control much of the West Bank, true peace is not forthcoming at any time in the near future. Israel will continue to evolve toward an acute form of neo-apartheid, enabled by virtually unlimited U. S. military and diplomatic support. Salvation will be found only in a broad-based, international movement to bring equality to all people in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim. That may be a struggle of generations.

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More Articles on the Peace Process

Additional Resources

Website – Dr. Mustapha Barghouthi’s Campaign

Mahmoud Abbas’ biography on PA Website

Camp David and After: An Exchange in The New York Review of Books

Book – The Truth About Camp David

Book – Perceptions of Palestine

Palestinian Nonviolent Resistance

Charter of the United Nations

Organizations

Palestinian Central Elections Commission

Palestinian Liberation Organization

The Palestinian Initiative

Fateh Organization

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

PLO Negotiations Affairs Department

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs


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