As is noted by The Australian newspaper, this article was written well
before Israel’s attack on Gaza. It has now decided to publish it. The
conditions suffered by the Palestinian population are only more shocking
today as Israel’s sophisticated weaponry blasts the people and
infrastructure in Gaza. - SK
Disaster of Israel’s making
by Sonja Karkar
3 January 2008
THE illegal settlement movement supported by every Israeli administration to
date has burgeoned until it is out of control and its right-wing leaders are
vehemently opposed to negotiating land for peace. Probably we will see
Foreign Minister and Kadima party leader Tzipi Livni use the same stalling
tactics with the Palestinian Authority that, up until now, have allowed land
grabs from the Palestinians for the Zionist dream of a Greater Israel, if
she forms the next government and takes over from Ehud Olmert, who remains
Prime Minister on an interim basis after standing down as party leader over
corruption allegations. After all, Livni was nurtured on that dream. Her
main rival, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, has vowed to allow expansion of
the settlements if he wins early elections on February 10. A 15-year-old
peace process is ominously poised for failure, not just politically but
economically as well.
The 1993 Oslo peace accords were supposed to offer the Palestinians the
political freedom and economic independence to which they always have been
entitled. Since then, Palestinian society has been taken on a roller-coaster
ride of promises, lies, provocations and chaos without a single benefit to
show for its painful concessions.
So much has been made of Oslo’s promise of new beginnings when in fact the
real historic moment of peace occurred when Palestinian chairman Yasser
Arafat agreed to a two-state solution at the UN General Assembly in 1988,
accepting on behalf of his people Israel’s right to exist on 78 per cent of
the land stolen from them.
That was the hard-won chance for resolving the conflict that Israel should
have grasped with both hands.
However, Israel was never going to relinquish its dreams of taking all of
the land, and the Oslo accords and every renewed peace process since then
have simply paid lip-service to Palestinian aspirations while Israel has
pursued its own objectives in defiance of international law.
Powerful Israeli interests, not Arafat’s intransigence or Palestinian
terrorism, have caused Oslo’s failures. From the beginning, Israel and the
World Bank violated the economic clauses of the accords supposedly designed
to improve and stimulate recovery from the disastrous circumstances that had
been visited on the Palestinians by Israel’s military assaults and
occupation in the previous decades. As Harvard University political
economist Sara Roy points out, “Decades of expropriation and
deinstitutionalisation had long ago robbed Palestine of its potential for
development, ensuring that no viable economic (and hence political
structure) could emerge.”
A viable Palestinian economy is essential for the functioning of an
independent Palestinian state.
No sooner had control of Oslo’s economic development programs shifted to the
World Bank than the basic infrastructure that was supposed to have been
built was reported as repairs to infrastructure when none existed, and the
building of a casino in Jericho took precedence over essential ports, roads
and canals. As Arutz Sheva Israel News reported recently, “the casino was
one of the most corruption-laden aspects of the Oslo accords”. The list of
those who allegedly were involved reads like a who’s who of the Israeli
political establishment: Olmert, former prime ministers Netanyahu and Ariel
Sharon, minister Avigdor Lieberman and Sharon’s adviser Dov Weissglas in
concert with Austrian-Jewish businessman Martin Schlaff, who is being
investigated for allegedly giving millions of dollars in bribes to Lieberman
and Sharon. Netanyahu could emerge as prime minister again if early
elections are held.
The “Gaza and Jericho First” stage of the Oslo accords provided the perfect
opportunity for gambling tycoons to bypass Israel, where gambling is
illegal. The casino took in about $1 million a day from Israelis streaming
into occupied Jericho for the pleasure of gambling while the Palestinians
were barely able to put food on the table.
When the Gaza airport and seaport were finally built due to European Union
efforts, along with roads, waterways and the Palestinian broadcasting
station, Israel destroyed each of them, citing security reasons.
Conservatively, Israel’s destruction of infrastructure from 1994 to 1999 has
been estimated at $3.5 billion in damages, while lost potential income for
the Palestinian economy has been estimated at about $6.4 billion, the total
loss far exceeding the overall international assistance received by the
Palestinian people from 1994 to 1999.
The pauperisation of the Palestinian economy was further exacerbated by the
punitive closure of Palestinian society. A complicated system of checkpoints
and roadblocks severely restricted the movement of Palestinians and goods
and prevented Palestinians from travelling to Israel for work. Unemployment
hit record highs, going from less than 7 per cent before 1993 to 25 per cent
in the West Bank and 39 per cent in Gaza in the first quarter of 1996.
Israel had created a Palestinian economy deeply dependent on its own during
the previous 30 years, which meant that closure was far more devastating
than it would have been otherwise.
As the living standards plummeted and destitution pervaded every level of
Palestinian society, Palestinians reacted angrily. But Palestinian violence
was not wholesale. Subjected to a barrage of provocations, minority groups
and traumatised individuals committed most of the violence with homemade
weapons. One of those early provocations was the terrorist attack and
killing of 50 praying Palestinians at a Hebron mosque by right-wing
extremist Baruch Goldstein, who today is venerated by the Kach settler
movement to which he belonged.
Nevertheless, Israel launched reprisals each time against the entire
Palestinian population — almost half under the age of 15 — using the
powerful force of its military arsenal in defiance of international law,
which prohibits collective punishment.
Even so, international public opinion has not been swayed then or now by the
non-violent efforts of Palestinian resistance carried out weekly by
community groups in towns and villages across the West Bank.
Instead, it remains fixated on Palestinian armed attacks and suicide
bombings without any regard for the disintegration of Palestinian society
under Israel’s humiliating control and human rights abuses.
By 2000, the Palestinians were highly charged, especially after Arafat was
derided for refusing to negotiate peace when he walked away from then prime
minister Ehud Barak’s much-lauded, ostensibly generous offer at Camp David.
Concessions on Jerusalem and the Palestinian right of return were not his to
make and Barak knew it. To bolster his political ambitions, Barak, now
Defence Minister, was able to persuade the public that Arafat had
pre-planned an intifada while negotiating peace and had sought to destroy
Israel through the return of millions of refugees. Israeli researchers,
though, have shown that the heads of Israel’s military intelligence and the
Shin Bet security service dismissed the existence of any such plan.
At the same time, Israel increased its settlement expansion in the occupied
Palestinian territories despite the Oslo accords prohibiting “any change in
the status of the West Bank”. Throughout the past 15 years, successive
Israeli governments have continued to build these illegal housing estates
for waves of Jewish settlers from abroad while the Palestinians are being
pushed into arid areas, creating a series of disconnected Bantustans much
like what was created in apartheid South Africa. Despite Israeli-only roads,
concrete walls, electric fencing and military zones separating the two
peoples, Israel promotes these modern housing estates as normal
developments. In effect, it has forced the Palestinians into a system of
complete dependency where Israel controls all borders, Gaza’s territorial
waters and 80 per cent of all the water resources.
Prevented from producing and competing with Israel’s economy, the
Palestinians became forced consumers and this is perpetuated by foreign aid.
Effectively international donors foot the bill while Israeli companies reap
the profits out of the desperate need of an entire population under Israel’s
occupation. Foreign aid has done nothing to revitalise the economy and has
only made the Palestinians one of the most aid-dependent populations in the
world. According to the latest World Bank report, “aid and reform are
unlikely to revive the Palestinian economy unless Israel removes economic
restrictions at the same time”.
Even so, with a staggering 97 per cent of Gaza’s industry inactive due to
Israel’s punitive sanctions, removing those restrictions will not bring
about economic recovery any time soon, if at all.
The magnitude of social destruction is incomprehensible as 1.4 million
people grapple with failing sewers, sewage-polluted water, rationed food,
practically no electricity or fuel and a crumbling infrastructure of roads,
schools, hospitals, transport system and other normal municipal services.
This systematic “de-development” is spiralling into an unprecedented
humanitarian crisis likely to have grave political consequences.
Today, Israel will cite the demographic problem it faces with a Palestinian
population fast catching up in size to the Israeli population. It is a
problem of Israel’s making and one that it could solve tomorrow if it were
not moving systematically and determinedly to expand its territory and
fulfil its colonial ambitions for a Greater Israel.
It will not be long before the four million Palestinians being herded into
reservations will be as much a problem for Israel to police as the
reservations will be for the Palestinians to endure.
Sonja Karkar is the founder and president of Women for Palestine and one
of the founders and co-conveners of Australians for Palestine in
Melbourne. This article was written before the Gaza siege began. Email: