The Road Map to Nowhere - Israel/Palestine since 2003
The Road Map to Nowhere - Israel/Palestine since 2003
In the present political atmosphere in the
This book covers the history of the Israeli occupation of
The state of
This is not a process unfamiliar in history.
In Israel/Palestine, I described the period between 2000 and 2002 as the darkest period in the history of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. But in the period since, under the leadership of Ariel Sharon, it became even worse.
Nevertheless, as this book goes to press, in April 2006, the Western world seems still under the spell of the legend of Ariel Sharon and the supposed great change he brought about in Israeli policy - from expansion and occupation to moderation and concessions. Since the evacuation of the Gaza Strip settlements, the dominant Western narrative runs that
How did it happen that Sharon, the most brutal, cynical, racist and manipulative leader
As has become commonplace in the recent history of the occupation, the period covered here opened with a new peace initiative â€“ the road map. The Palestinians accepted the plan and declared a cease fire, but as we will see, while the Western world was celebrating the new era of peace, the Israeli army under
I argue that, contrary to the prevailing assumptions,
At the same time, what
As the book ends,
In Israel/Palestine I survey the role of the military in the Israeli democracy. I argue that the current escalation of hostilities that started at the end of September 2000 was not a spontaneous outburst of violence, but rather a calculated and well-prepared move by the Israeli military, which was at the time gaining enormous political power with the appointment of its former chief of staff, Ehud Barak, as prime minister. (The book surveys in detail the close relations of Barak and Sharon both before and during that period.) I contend that the Oslo accords in 1993, and the agreements that followed, were in effect the realization of Laborâ€™s long standing Alon plan, by which Israel would keep about 40 per cent of the West Bankâ€™s land and in the rest, the Palestinians would be allowed to have a functioning autonomy. But in the eyes of the military and the hawks in the Israeli political system even that was too much, because, from a longer-range perspective, it risked leading to the loss of
On the eve of
The military is the most stable - and most dangerous - political factor in
In contrast to this military stability, the Israeli political system is in a gradual process of disintegration. In a World Bank report of April 2005,
The Labor party has not been able to offer an alternative. In the last two Israeli elections, Labor elected dovish prime-ministerial candidates: Amram Mitzna in 2003 and Amir Peretz in 2006. Both were initially received with enormous enthusiasm, but were immediately silenced by their party and campaign advisors and by self-imposed censorship, aiming to situate themselves â€œat the center of the political mapâ€. Soon, their programs became indistinguishable from that of Sharon. Peretz even declared that on â€œforeign and securityâ€ matters he will do exactly as Sharon, or later Olmert, do, differing from them only on social matters. Thus, these candidates helped convince the Israeli voters that Sharonâ€™s way is the right way. In recent years, there has been no substantial left-wing opposition to the rule of Sharon and the generals, since after the elections, Labor would always join the government, providing the dovish image that the generals need for the international show.
A prevailing explanation as to why Israeli political leadership has made no progress on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that in Israeli society there exists no majority backing for sweeping concessions. Hence, even the most well-intended and dovish of Israeli leaders have to restrain themselves and offer only what the majority can swallow. This may have been true in the past, but since at least the early 1990 this claim has no basis in reality. In fact, there is a wide consensus in Israeli society that peace with the Palestinians and other Arab neighbours requires withdrawal from the occupied territories and the evacuation of settlements. The first Palestinian uprising or intifada (1987â€“1993) brought about a substantial change in Israeli public opinion. Israeli society discovered that its military occupation of Palestinian land came with a heavy price attached. Many could no longer accept the occupation on moral grounds; others were just unwilling to pay its economic and human cost. This shift of view was reinforced by a parallel change in Palestinian society. Since the first intifada, the Palestinian struggle for independence was also based on explicit recognition of Israelâ€™s right to exist in its pre-1967 borders. The intifada meeting of the Palestine National Council in Algiers in 1988 called, for the first time, for the partition of the historical Palestine into two independent states.
Since the early 1990s, Israeli public-opinion has formed a clear pattern. About one third is firmly against the occupation and the settlements on moral and ideological grounds; another third believes in Israelâ€™s right over the whole land and supports the settlements; the middle third is people with no fixed ideological view on the matter - people whose sole concern is their ability to lead a normal life. At the time of the Oslo accords, the middle third joined the end-the-occupation camp: two-thirds of Israelis supported Oslo in all polls, though it was conceived as leading to an eventual Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and the evacuation of the settlements. This pattern has remained essentially unchanged in the years since, with all polls showing that close to two thirds of the Israelis support withdrawal and evacuation of West Bank settlements. Nevertheless, this majority has not been able to enforce its will. Since 1999, all Israeli leaders (including Sharon, as we shall see) have promised huge concessions for peace in their election campaigns, only to do the opposite when elected.
With the collapse of the political system, the army remains the body that shapes and executes Israelâ€™s policies and, as is already obvious in the few months since Sharon left office, is determined to implement his legacy, together with Sharonâ€™s successor Ehud Olmert. This legacy, as it unfolds in the period covered in this book, is eternal war, not just with the Palestinians, but with what the Israeli army views as their potential network of support, be it Iran now, or Syria tomorrow. The book ends close to where it started, with a new â€œpeace planâ€ promoted by Olmert. As we will see in chapter 7, the goal is to obtain international approval for Israel to annex unilaterally 40 per cent of the West Bank. But Olmert is Israelâ€™s new man of peace.
Nevertheless, the period covered here was not just a chronology of victories for the politics of power and the manufacturing of consciousness. From the perspective of maintaining Israelâ€™s occupation of the Palestinian territories, evacuating the Gaza settlements was a defeat, forced on Israel by international pressure. In chapter 5, I argue that the reason the US exerted pressure on Israel for the first time in recent history, was because at that time it was impossible to ignore the widespread global discontent over Israel's policies and unswerving US support of them. For example, despite the apparent success of pro-Israel lobbies in silencing any criticism of Israel in Europe, in a comprehensive European poll the majority viewed Israel as the country most threatening to world peace. The US had to yield to public opinion.
This turn of events shows the limits of propaganda â€“ it appears possible to manufacture silence or consent, but it may be impossible to manufacture consciousness. Basic concepts like justice, international law, solidarity with the oppressed, have disappeared from mainstream political discourse, but they are present in peopleâ€™s minds. Chapter 8 is devoted to some of the history of the struggle to keep these concepts alive.
The story of the Gaza evacuation also shows that international pressure can lead Israel to concessions. I believe that this provides hope both to the Palestinians and to the Israelis. Israelâ€™s policies threaten not just the Palestinians but also the Israelis themselves. In the long run, this war over land is suicidal. A small Jewish state of 7 million residents (5.5 million Jews), surrounded by two hundred million Arabs, is making itself the enemy of the whole Muslim world. There is no guarantee that such a state can survive. Saving the Palestinians also means saving Israel.
My major source of information in constructing the history of this period is the Israeli media. In the Israeli newspapers much more information is available about what is happening and what is being planned than appears in any foreign coverage. One often hears statements interpreting this as signifying that the Israeli media is more liberal and critical of Israelâ€™s policies than other Western media. This, however, is not the explanation. With the notable exception of courageous and conscientious journalists like Amira Hass, Gideon Levi and a few others, the Israeli press is as compliant as elsewhere, and it faithfully recycles military and governmental messages. But part of the reason it is more revealing is its lack of inhibition. Things that would look outrageous in the Western world are in Israel considered natural daily routine.
While the Israeli media remains the best source for government and military plans, a change I have noted since the writing of Israel/Palestine is that its reporting of the Israeli armyâ€™s actions in the territories has substantially shrunk. Often, daily atrocities are either ignored, or pushed to the back pages with minimal coverage. A reliable alternative source of information during this period has been the British Guardian. But to get a full picture of the daily reality of the occupation one also needs to read the Palestinian internet media.
Of the Israeli Hebrew papers, only Ha'aretz has an Internet English version, which I have used for most quotes from Haâ€™aretz in this book. For the other Israeli papers, the quotes are my translation of the original Hebrew. In a few cases, where I could not find the English version of a piece that appeared in Haâ€™aretz in Hebrew, the quote is marked as â€˜authorâ€™s translation.â€™ I try to bring as much of the story as possible in the direct voice of the media sources I use, because often the tone is no less revealing than the content. I also try to give some of the stage to alternative critical voices in Israeli and international media.
 An earlier version of this book appeared in French in April 2006 as Lâ€™HÃ©ritage de Sharon, DÃ©truire La Palestine, Suite, La Fabrique,
 Tanya Reinhart, Israel/Palestine â€“How to end the war of 1948, Seven Stories Press,
 Israel/Palestine, Introduction, pp. 7-8.
 In 1982, then defense minister Ariel Sharon led Israel into war in Lebanon with the ambitious goals of creating a â€œnew orderâ€ in the Middle East, destroying the Palestinian Liberation Organization - which had developed in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon - and gaining permanent control over Southern Lebanon, which borders with Israel. The attack left over 11,000 Lebanese and Palestinians dead (Robert Fisk, Pity the Nationâ€“Lebanon at War, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990, p. 323). Even though Israeli society perceived the war with
 Israel/Palestine, Chapter 2, pp. 21-60.
 Amir Oren, Haâ€™aretz, October 19 2001.
 Ora Coren, â€œ
 On March 28 2004 Israelâ€™s chief prosecutor officially recommended Sharonâ€™s indictment for allegedly taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes when he was foreign minister, in a case known as the Greek Island affair. However, on June 14 2004,
 Gil Hoffman, 'National Responsibility' name of PM's new party, Jerusalem Post ,November 23, 2005.
 For a survey of the
 For a survey of the polls till 2002, see Israel/Palestine, chapter 10, pp. 223-6. More recent polls will be mentioned in this book. The real will of the majority was exposed at the time of the
 For example, on April 12 2002, following