[L-I] Edward Said on the Palestinian uprising

Johannes Schneider Johannes.Schneider at SPAMgmx.net
Thu Oct 12 03:54:08 MDT 2000

>From todays Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung


Nothing Left to Offer

By Edward W. Said

NEW YORK. Misreported and hopelessly flawed from the start, the Oslo peace
process has entered its terminal phase -- one of violent confrontation,
disproportionate Israeli repression, widespread Palestinian rebellion and
great loss of life, the vast majority of it Palestinian.

The Sept. 28 visit to Haram al Sharif (the Temple Mount for Jews) by the
leader of the Israeli opposition, Ariel Sharon, could not have occurred
without Prime Minister Ehud Barak's concurrence. How else could the paunchy
old war criminal have appeared there with a thousand soldiers guarding him?
Barak's approval rating rose from 20 percent to 50 percent after the visit,
and the stage seems set for a national unity government ready to be still
more violent and repressive.

The portents of this disarray, however, were there from the start, as duly
noted in the Winter 1993 issue of Lettre International. Labor and Likud
leaders alike made it no secret that Oslo was designed to segregate the
Palestinians in noncontiguous enclaves surrounded by Israeli-controlled
borders, with settlements and settlement roads punctuating and essentially
violating the territories' integrity; with expropriations and house
demolitions proceeding inexorably through the administrations of Yitzhak
Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak along with the
expansion and multiplication of settlements (200,000 Israeli Jews added to
Jerusalem, 200,000 more in Gaza and the West Bank); with continued military
occupation; and with every tiny step taken toward Palestinian sovereignty --
including agreements to withdraw in miniscule, agreed-upon phases --
stymied, delayed, canceled at Israel's will.

This method was politically and strategically absurd, even suicidal.
Occupied East Jerusalem was placed out of bounds by a bellicose Israeli
campaign to decree the intractably divided city off limits to Palestinians
and to claim it as Israel's "eternal, undivided capital." The 4 million
Palestinian refugees -- now the largest and longest existing such population
anywhere -- were told that they could forget about any idea of return or

With his own corrupt and stupidly repressive regime supported both by
Israeli intelligence and the CIA, Yasser Arafat continued to rely on U.S.
mediation, even though the U.S. peace team was dominated by former Israeli
lobby officials and a president whose ideas about the Middle East were those
of a Christian fundamentalist Zionist with no exposure to or understanding
of the Arab-Islamic world.

Compliant, but isolated and unpopular Arab chiefs (especially Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak) were compelled humiliatingly to toe the American
line, thereby further diminishing their eroded credibility at home. Israel's
priorities were always put first, as was its bottomless insecurity and its
preposterous demands. No attempt was made to address the fundamental
injustice done when Palestinians as a people were dispossessed in 1948.

Behind the peace process were two unchanging Israeli and American
presuppositions, both of them derived from a startling incomprehension of
reality. The first was that Palestinians, given enough punishment and
beating over the years since 1948, would ultimately give up, accept the
compromised compromises Arafat accepted and call the whole Palestinian cause
off, thereby excusing Israel for everything it has done.

Thus, for example, the peace process gave no considered attention to immense
Palestinian loss of land and goods, none to the links between past
dislocation and present statelessness, while Israel, a nuclear power with a
formidable military, nevertheless continued to claim the status of victim
and demand restitution for genocidal anti-semitism in Europe. Incongruously
then, there has still been no official acknowledgement of Israel's (now
amply documented) responsibility for the tragedy of 1948, even though the
United States went to war in Iraq and Kosovo on behalf of other refugees.
One can't force people to forget, especially when the daily reality was seen
by all Arabs as endlessly reproducing the original injustice.

Second, after seven years of steadily worsening economic and social
conditions for Palestinians everywhere, Israeli and U.S. policymakers
persisted (stupidly, I think) in trumpeting their successes, excluding the
UN and other interested parties, bending the disgracefully partisan media to
their wills, distorting the actuality into ephemeral victories for "peace."
With the entire Arab world up in arms over Israeli helicopter gunships and
heavy artillery demolishing Palestinian civilian buildings, with almost 100
fatalities and almost 2,000 wounded including many children, and with
Palestinian Israelis up in arms against their treatment as third class
non-Jewish citizens, the misaligned and skewed status quo is falling apart.
Isolated in the UN and unloved everywhere in the Arab world as Israel's
unconditional champion, the United States and its lame duck president have
little to contribute any more. Neither do Arab and Israeli leaders, even
though they are likely to cobble together another interim agreement. Most
shocking has been the total silence of the Zionist peace camp, in the United
States, Europe and Israel. The slaughter of Palestinian youths goes on, and
this band of supposed peace-lovers either backs Israeli brutality or
expresses disappointment at Palestinian ingratitude.

Worst of all is the U.S. media, completely cowed by the Israeli lobby, with
commentators and anchors spinning distorted reports about "crossfire" and
"Palestinian violence" that eliminate the fact that Israel is in military
occupation, and that Palestinians are fighting it, not "laying siege to
Israel," as the ghastly U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it.
While the United States celebrates the Serbian people's victory over their
former president, Slobodan Milosevic. U.S. President Bill Clinton and his
minions refuse to see the Palestinian insurgency as the same kind of
struggle against injustice.

My guess is that some of the new Palestinian Intifada is directed at Arafat
who has led his people astray with phony promises, and maintained a battery
of corrupt officials holding down commercial monopolies even as they
negotiate incompetently and weakly on his behalf. Sixty percent of the
public budget is disbursed by Arafat to bureaucracy and security, only 2
percent to the infrastructure. Three years ago, his own accountants admitted
to an annual $400 million in disappeared funds. His international patrons
accept this in the name of the "peace process," certainly the most hated
phrase in the Palestinian lexicon today.

An alternative peace plan and leadership is slowly emerging among Israeli,
West Bank, Gaza and diaspora Palestinians: It includes no return to the Oslo
framework; no compromise on the original UN Resolutions (242, 338 and 194)
mandating the Madrid Conference in 1991; removal of all settlements and
military roads; evacuation of all the territories annexed or occupied in
1967; and a boycott of Israeli goods and services. A new sense may actually
be dawning that only a mass movement against Israeli apartheid (similar to
the South African variety) will work.

Certainly it is sheer idiocy for Barak and Albright to hold Arafat
responsible for what he no longer fully controls. Rather than dismissing the
new framework being proposed, Israel's supporters would be wise to remember
that the question of Palestine concerns an entire people, not an aging and
discredited leader. Besides, peace in Palestine-Israel can only be made
between equals once the military occupation has ended. No Palestinian, not
even Arafat, can really accept anything less.

Edward W. Said teaches theory of literature at Columbia University.

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