Most everyone knows that Osama bin Laden’s solicitude toward the miserable of the West Bank and Gaza is opportunism and propaganda, that he does not care much for the largely secular Palestinian national movement, and that no movement following his example would suffer a woman like Hanan Ashrawi, or any woman, to be one of its leaders. But the knowledge has also become general that U.S. support of the Israeli occupation has played into Al Qaeda’s hands and helped turn popular sentiment against the U.S. throughout the Arab and Muslim world. It has become plain that the chance to rectify a long-standing injustice—as Israel’s illegal occupation enters its 35th year—is also an opportunity to deprive an enemy of an important propaganda resource. Even the Bush administration appears to understand this, which goes to show that, if truth can be a casualty of war, war can also enforce a new honesty.
This is the changed scene onto which The New Intifada arrives. Editor Roane Carey has assembled an exemplary collection of essays on the uprising launched more than a year ago by Israel’s Palestinian subjects. The contents of the book have not been altered from the proof stage to publication, but if, six weeks ago, The New Intifada would have served best as an explanation of Palestinian rebellion, its particular value is now to suggest what the terms of a just and durable peace might be. The Bush administration has announced a new initiative of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and given its blessing to an eventual Palestinian state. That much is important and good, but it will come to nothing—or come to yet another brutal intifada and yet another brutal clampdown—unless Israelis, Americans, and Palestinians study and avoid the failures of the last “peace process.”
There is no way to do justice in a short space to the variety of legal, historical, economic, and existential accounts of Palestinian dispossession and resistance that make up The New Intifada. Here is the work of some 21 authors: Palestinians, Israelis both Arab and Jewish, several Americans, an Englishman, an Egyptian. The usual suspects—Noam Chomsky and Edward Said—are present, and Said’s essay “Palestinians Under Siege” is almost definitive on the inadequacy of Ehud Barak’s proposals at Camp David. But most of the writers are unknown in America, and their contributions are the dose of fact and humane passion that our public debate requires.
It is fair to say that the authors are united at least in their criticism of the “peace process”—not because it could have led to peace, but because it could not have. Israeli lawyer Allegra Pacheco notes that under the terms of Oslo the West Bank and Gaza are “a single territorial unit, the integrity and status of which shall be preserved.” But Israel regarded these and other clauses as sufficiently vague to allow it to double its settler population to 200,000 over seven years and to build hundreds of miles of Jewish-only roads all throughout Palestinian territory. Furthermore, according to Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, settlers are allocated 17 times more water than natives, and more electricity, too, so that Palestinian towns are often blacked out “while the settlements are lit up.” Israeli economic restrictions have been similarly cruel. Harvard’s Sara Roy explains how the siege has rendered Palestinians among the poorest people in the world. Until and unless the occupation ends, they will live under apartheid, strictly considered: the administration of people on the same territory by separate legal regimes, on the basis of race or ethnicity.
Ehud Barak, at Camp David, would hardly have changed any of this. His famous “generosity” was to offer Palestinians a noncontiguous statelet on a portion of their land—at most 80 percent—which would have bordered no country but Israel, been broken up by Israeli roads, and lacked many of the hallmarks of sovereignty, including control of water, airspace, and trade. The separation of peoples promised by Israel’s leadership—Barak’s campaign slogan was “Us Over Here, Them Over There”—was fatally compromised by the frenzied construction of “us”-only settlements and roads on land belonging, legally and morally, to “them.” As Israeli historian and former Barak supporter Tom Segev recently admitted, “It’s true: We didn’t offer them a good deal.” It’s past time that Americans realize as much.
It may be possible, with the aid of guns and hunger, to compel the Palestinians to accept a worse deal than Barak’s. If so, it will be perfectly possible to call the bad deal a state and fly flags over it. But that state will be a precarious entity, as will the Israeli state that surrounds and penetrates as well as neighbors it. One of the best essays in The New Intifada is Glenn Robinson’s “The Peace of the Powerful” (a rebuke to another of Barak’s slogans, “The Peace of the Brave”). Robinson argues that a peace satisfactory to only one contracting party is “quite unstable for both parties.” Strong internal dissent will tempt any future Palestinian government to suppress it, setting the stage for rebellion and even revolution. Israel will look on anxiously or intervene violently. There is no avoiding this scenario unless Palestinians, so inferior in strength to the Israelis, are acknowledged as possessing an equal complement of rights. If, instead, they are forced to ratify their subordination and live in isolated ethnic homelands at the pleasure of their conquerors, this latest intifada will not have been the last. And a deep fund of Arab resentment of the United States—broker of the bad deal—will remain to be tapped by whatever charismatic evil wishes to make a cheap rhetorical commitment to the next next intifada.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 23, 2001