Date: Fri, 16 May 97 14:05:34 CDT
Subject: MER: Edward Said - Uncensored, Unconfiscated

On the realities of the Hebron Agreement and the "peace process."

Arafat loathed and has brought Palestinians to lowest point in their history

By Edward Said. 15 May, 1997

[MER - Edward Said is among the most distinguished Palestinian personalities alive. He has been honored at Universities throughout the world and is considered one of the leading literary and politic essayists and critics of our era. Possibly a testament to the importance of his views and analysis, Said's books and essays are now banned by the "Palestinian Authority" of Yasser Arafat! And though he has devoted a lifetime to the Palestinian cause nothing that he says can now be found in Palestinian newspapers, TV or radio. As Said wrote last summer in THE LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS after visiting the "autonomous" territories, " order of the Minister of Information. . .security men appeared in all Gaza and West Bank bookshops and confiscated every one of my books. I am now banned in Palestine for having dared to speak against our own Papa Doc."

These excerpts from a recent Said article* are of crucial importance to those trying to understand the realities of the situation in the occupied territories of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem. For all of these areas, whether under direct Israeli army control, or indirect control through the "Palestinian police", today's situation is actually the low point in Palestinian history according to Said.

"The world must be told by us what our people under occupation are still going through", Said pleads. "If every one of us first took it upon him or herself to be informed, and then attempted somehow to break through the official snd media silence - with a letter to the editor, a call to a radio or TV station, the setting-up of groups to do this kind of work systematically and collectively -- then we will be beginning our attempt at liberation, a laughably modest attempt it is true, but surely a great deal better than passivity and silence."

"The present situation cannot last," Said concludes. "There are too many inequities and injustices right at the heart of Palestinian life. Who is preparing for the next, post-Hebron phase?"

*These excerpts were sent unsourced and may have come from an article or a lecture -- source will be provided at our Web site when available.

...When I visited Hebron last July, I paid a call on an old friend, Mayor Mustafa Natshe, to find out what he saw as the future of his town. He told me that he had pleaded with Yosser Arafat and his men during the 1995 negotiations that led up to Oslo "not to sign an agreement that would give a Palestinian seal of approval to the 450 illegal settlers - most of them fanatics squatting with such offensive, even murderous, insistence in the centre of an Arab town.

'It isn't just the principle of the thing that is so galling,' he said, 'but the fact that giving them this foothold in our midst by partitioning the town makes it possible for them to use Hebron as a precedent for staying in all their other settlements, extending their reach further all over the West Bank.'

Natshe's pleas went unheard, as Arafat and his team pressed ahead with their Israeli peace 'partners' who consolidated their gains with, I suspect, a sense of disbelief. How else could even the most hardened Israeli explain that the Palestinians had accepted a formula for 'coexistence' in Hebron which gave 450 people (with the Israeli army guarding them) the choicest 20 per cent of the town's commercial centre, whereas the 160,000 resident Palestinians were expected to be happy that they got 80 per cent, so bogged down with conditions as to make it a peripheral part of the Israeli enclave.

What sort of 'strategic' calculation by the Palestinian leadership produced acquiescence in the Israeli settler population being allowed to carry arms, abetted by Israeli patrols given virtually the run of the surrounding hills, while the Palestinian police were limited to a few poorly armed men, theoretically subject to Israeli restraints?

Nevertheless, there seemed to be genuine euphoria among Hebronites, for whom the presence of Israeli settlers and soldiers has been so unpleasant an ordeal; just seeing some of them leave in the hope of not having them come back on quite the same basis as before supplied a good day's worth of celebration.

But much of the jubilation will be as short-lived as it was when Ramallah and Nablus went through the same happy catharsis 18 months ago. Hebron was not liberated: 80 per cent of it was given the right to administer municipal affairs - sanitation, health, postal delivery, education, local security and traffic - under the Palestinian Authority's jurisdiction, with israel still in charge of security, access, water and overall sovereignty.

The ambiguities are evident in reports from Hebron in the press. On the first day, there were reports citing Netanyahu and Sharansky as to how Hebron is still Israeli, backed up by statistics showing continued Israeli control over the city. The next day, editorials and stories predicted a Palestinian state emerging soon from the messy Palestinian 'archipelago' that has left the West Bank and Gaza divided into lots of little parts without territorial continuity or sovereignty.

On American TV, the de riguer scene of Arafat and Netanyahu shaking hands with American mediator Dennis Ross between them showed a grim-faced Arafat anxious to speed away into the night. As the New York Times coyly put it in its jubilant report of how well things went, the actual amounts of land to be ceded to the Palestinians were left entirely to "Israel's discretion".

Now this is precisely how things were left in the Oslo 2 documents, since just before the Washington signing the Israelis calmly removed the specific areas of re-deployment already agreed with the Palestinians and left the timetable. Apparently, Arafat demurred at this, but under American pressure was made to sign. His latest heroics during the Hebron negotiations were meant to make up for what had happened earlier; but he failed again. No wonder he didn't want to answer any questions.

It has been no secret that America, which has sub-contracted out its Middle Eastern policy to Dennis Ross and his coterie of experts, placed Arafat under pressure. Israel's political concerns and its exaggerated obsessions with security and terror were adopted by the American middlemen, who were acting as anything but honest brokers. There was also an important confluence of strategic aims that united Netanyahu and Ross: that there should never be anything resembling real Palestinian self-determination.

And three-and-a-half years after Oslo began, 'autonomy' for Palestinians is all that has been achieved, in tiny enclaves on the West Bank whose roads and access are controlled by israel. An important town like Ramallah now has settlements on three sides. Sovereignty in the true sense of the word remains in Israel's hands, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Why do so many Israelis seem upset by this agreement, which keeps them firmly in charge throughout the still-Occupied Territories ?

The reason is an ideological fanaticism so deep and all-encompassing that most western and even Arab readers do not have an adequate sense of its imperatives. Despite the millions of Palestinians in Palestine, they have always been considered aliens, to be tolerated at most or to be driven out or treated either as non-existent or as juridical inferiors.

Palestine is considered to be the land of the Jewish people entrusted to Israel; no non-Jews are doctrinally allowed to use or have this land. That is why Netanyahu, more honest than Peres, has always refused to accept the formula 'land for peace', and why sovereignty accorded to non-Jews has not, and will not be, an admissible oncept in negotiations.

I believe these positions are also shared, by the 'acceptable' Israelis whose views are aired in western media as representative of the peace camp, and who brilliantly conceal their real views of Palestinians beneath conscience-rending, anguished prose. They never bring up sovereignty for Palestinians. Many of them (including the egregious Henry Kissenger) speak of a Palestinian state, which they say they would accept, but none of them has specified sovereignty and real self-determination for Palestinians.

Trying to put myself in the shoes of the PLO men who continue to produce such disadvantageous agreements that do nothing to change the course of Israeli policy, I keep asking what our leader must be thinking. They certainly do not do very much talking, and share very little with their people beyond the usual triumphalist nonsense.

All I come up with is a series of unflattering rationales for going on as before, with equally bad results and equally tragic consequences for the whole people. One is that as long as the peace process guarantees the centrality of the PLO and its leader, then anything goes. Another is that being so out-gunned and out-smarted by Israel, you feel you have no choice but to go on, trying to brazen it out vis-a-vis your own people with hopeful but ultimately misleading speeches and promises; meanwhile, you surround yourself with supporters who tell you what you want to hear, and are anxious to help you set up feel-good things like a bag-pipe bend, a few luxurious cars and houses, and postage stamps with your face on them. The best thing is to go on as many state visits (none of them necessary) as possible, one day Stockholm, another Paris, another Cairo.

A third rationale is to make more concessions, accepting all the humiliating Israeli concessions in the wishful fantasy that some day you'll either stop having to make concessions or the Israelis will give you a few things back.

Fourthly, you can say that this is politics, a dirty business, and so we proceed with the Israelis like partners in crime; never mind that they get all the advantages, a lot of commercial deals have come our way.

There may be one or two more possibilities, but none explains the Palestinian streets' acceptance of this appalling situation, which seems to worsen daily. Many of Arafat's adviser are intelligent men and women, quite a few with long histories in progressive politics. Why are they so silent? And why do the most gifted so willingly accept a few material advantages (a car, an office, a VIP designation) in return for continuing to work with a man whose tactics they loathe and whose mistakes over the past few years they known - and say openly - has brought as Palestinians and as Arabs to one of the lowest points in our history?

Why silence, and why co-operation ? Do they feel no obligation towards the truth and to the misery of a people whose continuing dispossession could have been alleviated a thousand times better than the PLO has done ?

In the meantime, most people in America and in Europe genuinely believe that peace has improved things for the 'area', and that for the first time in 30 years the Palestinians are getting their freedom.

This is the cruelty of the Palestinian dilemma. We want to show that we desire peace, yet because of that 'peace', the daily lives of all but a tiny handful of wealthy businessmen, security chiefs and PA employees have become a good deal worse.

For at least six months, the mainstream media in the US and Europe have been filled with stories about the diplomatic front, the negotiations, the impasses and the final breakthroughs, and completely void of anything that shows real Palestinian lives on the ground.

There has been no coverage of the thousands of students in Gaza who cannot go back to their schools and universities on the West Bank (forbidden by Israel); nothing about the large number of Palestinians prisoners still festering (and in some cases being tortured to death) in Israeli prisons; nothing about the horrors that a large family in Gaza with unemployed father must go through to survive; nothing about the systematic, almost daily reprisals against Palestinians who try to prevent their own dispossession by Israeli settlers and army; nothing about what it means for a Palestinian to try to get in and out of Gaza (or about all West Bankers who have been forbidden entry into Jerusalem for a year); nothing about the checkpoints that make the little West Bank enclaves seem like stifling ghettos; nothing about life under Craft's dreadful regime, with books, newspapers and magazines censored or banned, the security services threatening average people, and corruption killing the possibility of regular daily business.

And nothing, above all, about the total absence of law or the rule of law in the Palestinian autonomy areas.

Given all this, plus the sense of frustration and hopelessness felt by every Palestinian at the cruel farce our leaders are forced to enact,it becomes an absolute duty to describe the actualities of quotidian life under the peace process - unadorned and in the greatest detail possible.

The world must be told by us what our people under occupation are still going through. This is not a matter of money, but of discipline and will. If every one of us first took it upon him or herself to be informed, and then attempted somehow to break through the official snd media silence - with a letter to the editor, a call to a radio or TV station, the setting-up of groups to do this kind of work systematically and collectively - - then we will be beginning our attempt at liberation, a laughably modest attempt it is true, but surely a great deal better than passivity and silence.

The present situation cannot last. There are too many inequities and injustices right at the heart of Palestinian life. Who is preparing for the next, post-Hebron phase?


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