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Why Palestinians could not accept Barak`s proposal

23. May 2001

by Dr Mustafa Barghouti

Time and again Palestinians are accused by the Israeli government of bringing the conflict of the past six months upon themselves by refusing to accept the “generous offers” made by Barak at Camp David. For some people, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak`s offer at Camp David of 94 percent of the West Bank sounded more than generous, revolutionary even, and Palestinians were castigated and called “inflexible,” and “unreasonable” for refusing to go that extra step and make a compromise.

The fact that Barak offered more than any previous Israeli leader is unimportant but if we examine what was offered and what the reality of these offers was on the ground, a clear picture begins to emerge. The offers proposed by Barak made the possibility of a viable Palestinian state an impossibility.

The first issue we have to examine is that of the generous territorial offer. It was said that Palestinians were offered eventual control of 95-96% of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS). However, after analysis it becomes obvious that this is far from the reality. For example if the actual territory offered was calculated, it transpires that the Palestinians would have control of much less than the claimed percentages. This difference arises because Israel`s “total” does not include Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley or settlements in its computations.

Furthermore, the discussion about `this percent` versus `that percent` does not address the main issues for the Palestinians. Most importantly, it ignores international law and the rights conferred upon the Palestinians, and effectively serves to push these legal frameworks aside. Without a commitment to these frameworks any settlement will be an Israeli dictated agreement.

The second issue overlooked in the discussion of why Palestinians rejected the Camp David proposals, can be referred to as “compromising the compromise”.

The 1947 United Nations General Assembly resolution 181, from which Israel derives its legitimacy, provided 45% of historical Palestine for the Palestinian state. The demands of UN Resolution 242 for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders means a Palestinian state would be founded on 22% of the area of historic Palestine. In their acceptance of Oslo, Palestinians accepted a 2 state solution. This is a compromise of over half of the area that was originally assigned to them.

As Kofi Anan asked – is it acceptable by international standards to appropriate land by force? UN resolution 242 stipulates that Israel has to withdraw from the lands it occupied, clearly indicating that no land can be illegally occupied. UN resolution 338 reaffirms this.

For the sake of peace and in hope of building a state, Palestinians are accepting this initial compromise, but any further compromise would undermine the “continuing and unqualified Palestinian right to self-determination” that the European Union, Berlin declaration of March 1999 affirmed, as well as the restricting the potential for the establishment of a sovereign, viable, prosperous, contiguous and democratic state.

The third reason for the rejection by the Palestinian negotiators to of the less than “generous” offer from Barak stems from the continued illegal occupation, confiscation and expropriation of Palestinian land.

Israel has already confiscated a large portion of the West Bank for its ever-growing illegal settlement blocks. This violation of international law restricts the viability of a Palestinian state. The settlements, the system of highways and by-pass roads linking the illegal settlements to Israel proper, industrial parks, the web of closed military areas, army bases and internal checkpoints all occupy large tracts of land. Passages from one area to the other are also controlled by Israel. The West Bank and Gaza Strip have been transformed into 64 clusters of townships that imprison over three million Palestinians, a people held hostage for the sake of 450,000 illegal settlers.

The confiscation of Palestinian land has been a systematic pattern of Barak, Sharon and other Israeli leaders, in order to increase the number of Jewish citizens in the Occupies Territories. Unable to successfully transfer the native Palestinian population from these areas, Israel has restricted them to tiny enclaves through a series of measures designed to restrict Arab growth. Israel has exploited Palestinian land, water, and natural resources and continues to have sovereignty over them in addition to the concerted effort made to separate the Palestinian people from their land and thereby denying Palestinians a viable state.

The illegal annexation of East Jerusalem is a perfect example of Israeli policy towards Palestinians. Instead of permitting Palestinians sovereignty over the 1967 areas, with Israel maintaining control over West Jerusalem, Israel has used various administrative measures including denial and removal of residency rights and house demolitions to once more transfer people from the area. As experts point out, “63.5 square kilometres — 90 percent of the land annexed by Israel as “East Jerusalem” — in fact belonged to 28 Palestinian West bank villages, which suddenly found themselves part of an “indivisible,” “historic” and “sacred” Jewish city”. Israeli settlements cut East Jerusalem into clusters, huge areas land have been annexed to serve the needs of settlers and settlements, and only some civil affairs are under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Accepting any Israeli control of the occupied territories negatively affects the quality of the Palestinian state and would transform areas of Palestinian Authority into clusters of Bantustans, as well as legitimize and reward Israel for illegally occupying and annexing land, and changing facts on the ground in violation of international law, in fact under international law these actions can be regarded as war crimes.

The fourth and equally important reason for the rejection of the Camp David offer can be attributed to the lack of settlement of the refugee issue. Most Palestinians are realistic about the possibility of a compromise. Nonetheless, the fate of over 3.7 million Palestinian refugees registered by the United Nations and about 2 million others unregistered is of utmost concern to Palestinians.

The issue at stake is the acknowledgement of the right of return, as well as Israel`s culpability in the creation of the refugee problem, and the application of the United Nations Resolution 194. Paragraph 11 states: “…the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date… compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return.”

The right of every human who has been dispossessed of land and forced to flee was not even mentioned in Camp David. They did not accept to discuss the return of refugees at the level of interim agreement – they chose instead to force a full and complete acceptance of a final solution without any right of future discussion and obliterate any right these millions of Palestinians have.

The Israeli government tried to bargain away the right of refugees as well as sovereignty of Jerusalem and the Muslim Holy site of Al Aqsa mosque for an entity that is not even a feasible state. Israel wanted to achieve the termination of the conflict without tangible compromises or resolving the basic issues. Their intransigence at the negotiating table has led to the rejection of the Camp David settlement and now they accuse the Palestinians of not wanting peace.

Israel must be ready to accept and acknowledge that it is illegally occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip and must withdraw after 34 years of a long and terrible military occupation and that the settlements, illegal in international law and viewed as such by the world, must be removed. Israel must accept international legitimacy and the application of international standards.

What we have witnessed in the past 6-months is the culmination of violations of international law and human rights. When one looks at the West Bank and Gaza Strip, even without indulging in conspiracy theories, one gets the impression that Labour and Likud were alternating to practically implement a process of Judaization through the systematic transfer of an Israeli civilian population into the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Through illegal settlement, the continuing expropriation and confiscation of Palestinian land, and Bantustanisation of a peoples homeland, Israel is destroying the potential for peace, a peace that is based on international law, – a compromise, that Israel is unwilling to make.

April 16, 2001