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The Disintegration of Palestine

Nablus is a pleasing city, the most populous in the West Bank. A visitor is struck by the limestone dwellings on verdant mountainsides that surround the ancient town, first settled three millennia ago in the northern part of the West Bank. The city is now inhabited by nearly 200,000 Palestinians who are suffering badly from the Israeli occupation and the growing disintegration of their society.

Ghassan Shakah is the mayor of Nablus, a somewhat stout gentleman in his early sixties who studied law at the University of Alexandria and speaks perfect English. As a militant of the Palestine Liberation Organization, during the 1970s and 1980s he spent long periods in Israeli prisons where he lived on eggs. "Sometimes I was offered meat or fish, but it was rotten so I ate only eggs. For years after leaving jail I couldn't face an egg." Today as mayor he often meets with the Israeli commander of the Nablus district as he tries to relieve the misery of his people. The Israeli, he said, is "a colonel in a brown uniform but I don't even know his name. He's a nice guy, not at all arrogant, and he speaks perfect Arabic." The mayor reconstructed for me a recent conversation he had had with the colonel:

Mayor: Our people are suffering terribly. You destroy our electricity and water systems, we repair them with German and Norwegian money, and you destroy them again. We can't bear this collective punishment any longer.
Colonel: One third of the suicide bombings originate in Nablus. Yes, we're hurting you, but we've no other way to stop the terror.
Mayor: You've destroyed our police stations, and we have no police and no courts. You never mention the cause of all the trouble—your cruel occupation.
Colonel: Stop the terror.
Mayor: But I told you, we have no police in the streets. You've forbidden them to wear uniforms or to carry guns.
Colonel: Oh, that is a policy issue, so I have nothing to say. The occupation is a political decision, so I have nothing to say. As a soldier, I am here to obey orders.
Mayor: You are not only destroying our houses, but our economy and our culture.

The Israeli army originally entered Nablus in April 2002, and soon destroyed the muqata, headquarters of the district governor, and many other buildings. Since mid-December 2003, it has intensified its incursions, seeking suspected terrorists, militants of Hamas, and munitions makers. Using bulldozers, tanks, helicopters, and F-16 aircraft, the Israelis have destroyed or badly damaged two mosques, three churches, and hundreds of other buildings and homes.

Walking through and near the old city I saw pharmacists' shops, insecticide factories, and pharmaceutical factories, all turned into heaps of rubble because they were said to be factories for guns and munitions. An entire city block that housed a soap factory has been leveled. I saw the rubble of a house, which supposedly sheltered a militant, that collapsed on ten adults and children, killing eight of them, according to Amnesty International, when the Israelis bulldozed it. I visited an elderly woman whose house was largely destroyed; its remaining room was used by the Israelis to imprison thirty-five youths for two days as they awaited interrogation. Schools, Palestinians told me, have been turned into interrogation centers.

Of late, the Israelis have been targeting various quarters of the city very late at night, kicking in doors and taking prisoners, but they still occasionally enter during the day. Israeli sharpshooters can sometimes be seen at their posts on hills and rooftops. On a street in the Balata refugee camp, where I met many undernourished children, a boy of six was eating a sandwich on his doorstep when a soldier shot him dead for no reason. So his uncle and other residents told me when I talked to them separately: they could not all have agreed on the same story if it was false. The Israeli army promised to investigate the killing, but so far has issued no findings.

Thousands of young and old have been interrogated and hundreds of young men have been indefinitely detained, Mayor Shakah said. Nablus is sealed at several established exits from the city as well as at "mobile checkpoints" that are quickly set up by the Israeli soldiers; for citizens to pass in or out has become very difficult. Most businesses have ceased to function, unemployment exceeds 70 percent, and without police there is no enforcement of law and order.

Mayor Shakah's brother was recently murdered by a rogue faction of Fatah, and the gunmen narrowly missed the mayor himself. As repression by the Israeli army and security services continues, popular support for Hamas rises and the Palestinian Authority's control disintegrates. The mayor and governor have tried to resolve quarrels among different factions through unarmed citizens' committees; but many, possibly dozens, of suspected collaborators with the Israelis have been summarily killed by vigilantes. Such fragile security is similar throughout much of the West Bank as the Israeli army moves in and out and the Palestinian Authority becomes more and more impotent. Violence flares up sporadically, adding to the death toll already inflicted by the Israelis. In March, beset by the occupation, armed hoodlums in the streets, and pressures within the PA, Mayor Shakah was threatening to resign.

I left Nablus on the road to Qalandiya, about twenty miles to the south. At a junction soldiers at a mobile checkpoint suddenly appeared, and my shuttle taxi was ordered to stop. In it with me were the Palestinian driver, two other men, an adolescent boy, two elderly women in traditional dress, and a beautiful young woman without a head scarf. An Israeli soldier with a pistol advanced on us, ordering us out of the car, followed by another soldier with an assault rifle pointed at our heads, the first soldier shouting at us in Hebrew to bare our stomachs, backs, and chests.

The men obeyed instantly. The elderly women remained in the car; the young woman stepped fearfully aside, refusing to bare her stomach, a sacrilege for Islam, and though the soldiers shouted they did not touch her. The first soldier checked all our identity cards; he screamed at me to take off my Boston Red Sox cap, and then returned to his armored car to run my US passport through a computer. Two days before, a Palestinian woman had blown herself up in the Gaza Strip with explosives strapped around her waist, killing four Israelis and wounding several Arabs.

Suicide bombings have killed or wounded dozens of Israelis since January 2004. The recent pitched battles between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in which dozens of Arabs have died, and the suicide bombing in the Israeli port of Ashdod in mid-March, which killed ten Israelis, showed an alarming escalation of violence on both sides. Then, on March 22, an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City killed Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of the Islamist group Hamas, sending a torrent of anger through the Arab world and provoking condemnation by Britain, the European Union, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The milder reaction in Washington (the assassination was "deeply troubling," said the State Department) reinforced Palestinian suspicions that the Bush administration had acquiesced in the assassination and evoked demands from Hamas militants for more terror not only against Israel but now against the United States.

But when our group set out again for Qalandiya, the Palestinians with me were silent. Were they resigned to such humiliation, or was their anger so deep that they could no longer express it?

2.

Does the Geneva Accord signed last December still offer any hope for peace? The fifty-three-page document —negotiated for more than two years by two teams of dovish Israelis and Palestinians—incorporates many of the proposals made by President Clinton at Camp David and elaborated at Taba three years ago.

According to the Geneva Accord, the PLO would formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state and simultaneously create a demilitarized Palestinian state, each maintaining its capital in West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem respectively; with only small exceptions, Israel would withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, i.e., from all of the Gaza Strip and nearly 98 percent of the West Bank, compensating the Palestinians for the remaining 2 percent with a land grant abutting the Gaza Strip; Israel would cede sovereignty to the Palestinians over the Temple Mount–Noble Sanctuary in East Jerusalem, while retaining sovereignty over the Western (Wailing) Wall; Palestinian political prisoners would be released in stages. Palestinian refugees or their heirs would largely relinquish their "right of return" to their lost property inside Israel but could receive compensation for it. Any repatriations would be subject to "the sovereign discretion of Israel."[1]

The negotiating teams were headed by Yossi Beilin, a justice minister in the last Labor government, and by Yasser Abed Rabbo, a veteran Palestinian militant and cabinet minister, who has been close to President Yasser Arafat. But the details of the accord were worked out mostly by small groups that were expanded at various stages. The original drafts were written in Switzerland by Daniel Levy, an adviser to Beilin, and Ghaith al-Omari, an adviser to Rabbo, with occasional help from Robert Malley, a former assistant to President Clinton on the National Security Council staff.

Dr. Menachem Klein belonged to the inner negotiating circle. An eminent academic and adviser to Beilin and an expert on Jerusalem, he told me that "as legal experts, Daniel Levy and Ghaith al-Omari not only wrote the original drafts, they kept refining the language in the ongoing drafts that we other members finally approved...."

Security and territorial issues were negotiated on the Israeli side by retired Major General Amnon Shahak, a former army chief of staff, and on the Palestinian side by General Zuhair Manasra, former commander of the Preventive Security Service on the West Bank, and by other experts. David Kimche, former deputy head of Mossad (the Israeli CIA) and then director general of the foreign ministry, attended the last session and helped to refine the text. His participation, I was told, was crucial in persuading the Palestinians not to insist on any reference to the "right of return" of refugees to Israel in the final accord. Kimche came with the support of four former heads of the Shin Bet, the Israeli FBI, who believe that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza harms Israel. The hardest issues were territorial, the division of Jerusalem, and the Palestinian right of return. Dr. Klein said,

In any final peace agreement many details must be negotiated, but I predict that 90 percent of the final deal will duplicate the Geneva Accord. It's not a perfect document; it's a package of compromises. A unitary binational state, comprising Jews and Arabs, is a delusion. Most Israelis want a Jewish state. On the other hand, an apartheid regime—Prime Minister Sharon's unilateral project of withdrawing from some areas and enclosing the Palestinians behind walls and fences—will inevitably lead to more opposition from abroad, a Palestinian revolt, and failure. Sharon won't admit the limits of force, but Palestine can't digest his project, and eventually both he and Arafat will realize that the only choice is Geneva.

Abed Rabbo is less optimistic. "I don't know whether the initiative will succeed," he told me in Ramallah:

We'll keep trying. I want the United States to be involved under the "road map" and consider the Geneva Accord to be the embodiment of the third phase of the road map—a final Palestinian state. I'm against any provisional borders. We want to go straight to the final phase. We think that interim solutions cannot succeed. The chief virtue of our plan is its clarity—it's comprehensive and without ambiguity.
Nor do I know the chances of influencing Washington before the presidential election. The US is giving Sharon every opportunity to complete building the wall and to annex new areas in the West Bank. This compromises the alleged US aims in the Middle East—stability and democracy—and may create a new scenario of violence. Why wait? Let's engage in crisis prevention instead of crisis management.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has scornfully dismissed the Geneva Accord as a suicide pact for Israel and a "Swiss golden calf" for worship by the Israeli left. Abed Rabbo went to Geneva with President Arafat's unofficial encouragement. During the final stages Mohammed Hourani, a leader of Fatah Tanzim, the militant Palestinian activists, joined the negotiations; his participation was intended to legitimize the process for the broader Palestinian public and was crucial to the accord's being completed. In Ramallah, Ghaith al-Omari, Abed Rabbo's young chief adviser, who has law degrees from Georgetown and Oxford, told me, "We know that it's not possible to convince Sharon, who says that he has no Palestinian partner with whom to negotiate, but we want to prove to the Israeli public that they can have a Palestinian partner capable of practical solutions." Polls indicate that so far between a third and 40 percent of the Israeli public support the Geneva Accord.

Al-Omari and his associates argue that the accord signifies a new and realistic approach for the Palestinians to follow. Many Palestinians had clung to the old fantasy of liberating all of Palestine, eliminating Israel, and allowing a huge return of Palestinian refugees to their homeland. The new plan looks not backward but forward, relinquishing absolute justice (a large-scale return) in favor of self-determination and independence in a state that would constitute 22 percent of historic Palestine. Al-Omari said, "There is no going back to Haifa."

Polls suggest that most Palestinians would accept financial compensation for their lost property in Israel, but the "right of return" remains a matter of deep conviction to many Palestinians who cannot be described as radicals. For example, Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi is a widely respected secular physician in Ramallah, a political activist committed to peaceful tactics, and a harsh critic of Arafat. The head of a large organization concerned with public health, he aspires to be president of Palestine after democratic elections. He dismisses the Geneva Accord not only for its failure to address the refugee problem fairly but for failing to envision a real Palestinian republic. "The Geneva Accord offers us functional governance but not a sovereign nation," Barghouthi told me in Ramallah. He objects to the provisions for security by which "Israel would remain in control of our borders and airspace." He wants the Palestinian state to have an armed force sufficient for self-defense and to have command over its airspace.

It is clear from the text of the Geneva Accord that Israel would limit repatriated Palestinians to at most the tens of thousands, whereas many moderate Palestinians still aspire to repatriate hundreds of thousands. Palestinians such as Abed Rabbo respond that such dreams of return can be the subject of poetry, but not of politics. Menachem Klein told me in Jerusalem, "It's not our business what the Palestinians dream, but it is our business to prevent our demographic nightmares from coming true." The demographic nightmare is also clear. If Israel holds on to the Occupied Territories, Palestinians will outnumber Jewish Israelis within the next five years. One sees this prediction referred to often in the Israeli press.

3.

Shin Bet, the internal Israeli intelligence service, is generally considered more liberal than the army in its attitudes toward the Occupied Territories. Four former heads of Shin Bet—Ami Ayalon, Yaakov Perry, Avraham Shalom, and Carmi Gilon—complained publicly in November that by pursuing Sharon's hard line against the Palestinians, "Israelis are taking sure, steady steps to a place where Israel will no longer be a democracy and a home for the Jewish people." Ayalon added, "Many Israelis thought we could defeat the Palestinians by military means ...but this hasn't worked." Senior analysts of Shin Bet, familiar with the wretched conditions inside the territories, are known to share this view and to favor an easing or even an end to the occupation.

But Shin Bet officers working in the occupied towns continue to enforce Sharon's harsh policies. The agency runs an enormous network of Palestinian informers throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It hands out favors, money, and work permits in Israel, and uses threats and blackmail to collect information about suicide bombers and other real or perceived dangers to Israel's security. The Shin Bet computers are so sophisticated that even bits and pieces of intercepted cell phone conversations can be collated in a central database to suggest patterns of future terrorist activity and to identify the militants involved.

When Palestinians complain of torture, moreover, they mainly accuse the Shin Bet. At Bir Zeit University outside Ramallah, which has been periodically closed by the army and is now subjected to other forms of harassment, I met two Palestinian science students, both about twenty. With close-cropped hair and short black beards, they struck me as resembling the young Islamists I'd met on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. They had, they said, been interrogated and imprisoned by the "Shebbak," as they called the Shin Bet. "Mohammed" from Hebron told me, "I was arrested for no reason, not informed of the suspicions against me, and held by the Shebbak under 'administrative detention'":

I was first held at Ofer, the detention center near Ramallah. In the beginning, for two or three months, I was interrogated, kept in solitary confinement, deprived of sleep, and beaten. My hands were bound above my head and I was suspended from the ceiling; cold water, then hot water, was thrown on my naked body.... My genitals were beaten and they shook me strongly.... It was all torture. The interrogators asked me, "Why are you fighting the occupation? Do you belong to Hamas?" I answered, "I am only a student at Bir Zeit." I was held for twelve months and allowed no communication with my family.

"Mahmoud," the other student, said that his treatment under interrogation was similar to Mohammed's:

I wasn't informed of the accusations and never told my rights. After twelve days of detention I saw a lawyer for five minutes but he didn't even know my name. On no evidence, a judge in uniform ordered my detention for four months....
They interrogated me about the intifada, weapons, my computer. They said, "We know you went to Jordan at such and such a date." They asked me about my family, school, social issues, my mother, and my house. Like Mohammed here, I was shifted around—psychological pressure, being moved suddenly from one prison to another, each place worse and smellier than the last, made to get up in the middle of the night and sit on the ground to be counted, made to eat in the toilet, denied access to the toilet, crowded into a small cell with a dozen men, denied contact with my family. The prisons inside Israel, in the Negev desert, were the worst. We were fed only ful, crushed brown beans, causing terrible constipation. The rats were as big as cats. The medical care was a joke, and several men died there.

Jessica Montell, executive director of B'Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights group, estimated the current number of political or "security" prisoners at nearly six thousand. From her reports of recent treatment of prisoners, she questioned whether Mohammed and Mahmoud had been tortured in the ways they claimed. In 1999 the Israeli Supreme Court outlawed severe physical force, allowing torture only in "exceptional" cases. "Shin Bet is very disciplined in its interrogation procedures," Montell told me in Jerusalem. "There are limits to the number of times a prisoner can be shaken. Shaking is not standard. Beating is not standard." Still, aside from the claims of torture she found the accounts of Mohammed and Mahmoud to be "basically plausible."

Other liberal Israelis I spoke to who were familiar with the detention system dismissed her reservations. They insisted that since the current inti-fada started, the high court's ruling has not been enforced, no torturers have been punished, and the interrogations continue to be brutal. Palestinian human rights groups claim that torture of prisoners is common, and Amnesty International has made similar accusations.[2]

Article 15 of the Geneva Accord signed last December provides for the release of all political prisoners, some immediately upon the signature of a peace treaty, others within eighteen months, and "exceptional cases" within thirty months of Israel's final territorial withdrawals. "Obvious terrorists will be released within thirty months," one of Abed Rabbo's close associates told me in Ramallah:

The Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland is the most important precedent because its prisoner model is the most relevant to us. Israeli torturers will be absolved like Palestinian terrorists. We don't preclude civil lawsuits against individuals, but we want a clean slate—since the chief objective is to end the conflict and start a new narrative.

4.

The breakdown of civil order and social services I saw in Nablus is repeated in lesser or greater degree in Jenin, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Hebron, the Gaza Strip, and elsewhere. The Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid wrote recently in Haaretz of what he called "the reign of the thugs." He complained that Ahmed Qureia, the current Palestinian prime minister, and Hakam Balawi, the current interior minister, are ineffectual in providing even basic security to Palestinians. In Tulkarm, he said, "the Al Aqsa Brigades direct and manage the city's civil and security life. They threaten, beat, and kill." Both the security services and the civil administration of the Palestinian Authority seem impotent. When several of Arafat's ministers visited Jenin last spring but brought with them no supplies of food or offers of employment, the people threw stones at them.

More and more, control of the Palestinian streets is passing to Hamas, the radical Islamist group which is responsible for many suicide bombings but also has close ties to many Palestinians through its network of schools, clinics, and aid to the hungry. Where the PA is flabby, Hamas is robust; where the PA is disorganized, Hamas is disciplined; where the PA is corrupt, the leaders of Hamas live austerely.

Haaretz recently commented on the "vigorous election process" taking place in institutions maintained by the more educated Palestinians—universities, professional associations, and commercial agencies. These elections, the newspaper said, are the "sole barometer of the mood among Palestinians" and show clearly the rising power of Hamas not only in Gaza (where it has long been strong) but throughout the West Bank. At Bir Zeit University, a coalition of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad won twenty-five of fifty-one seats in elections for the student union; Arafat's Fatah got twenty seats. Hamas and the Jihad are now in complete control of the Polytechnic– Palestine University in Hebron and An-Najah University in Nablus. They dominate the engineers' association and other important groups throughout the territories.

Despite allegations of large amounts of money held by Arafat, some of it reportedly passed on to his wife in Paris, the Palestinian Authority is said to be nearly bankrupt, and I often heard from Palestinians that it may soon become insolvent. The election results I have cited, however, do not mean that many Palestinian professionals favor the adoption of the sharia law and other Islamic tenets of Hamas in a future government. What the elections imply is that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are losing control and many Palestinians are willing to recognize the political and social power of groups such as Hamas. The European Union, the United States, and other donor countries and agencies, weary of pouring money into what they perceive as the corrupt, bottomless treasury of the Palestinian Authority, are threatening to reduce or cut off their subsidies—about $430 million annually from the EU alone. Soon the PA may not even be able to pay the salaries of the 130,000 civil servants in its bloated bureaucracy.

Yet many such difficulties are also directly the result of Israel's punitive policies. Palestinian and Israeli economists alike attribute much of the PA's penury to the huge economic disruptions caused by Sharon's separation fence, which prevents many Palestinians from getting to their land and places of work, and to the closures, curfews, collective punishment, checkpoints, barricades, and the demolition of infrastructure inflicted on the population since the al-Aqsa Intifada began in September 2000.[3]

In Ramallah, one of the PA officials close to Arafat told me that although Arafat has unofficially endorsed the Geneva Accord, he has despaired of a political solution and a Palestinian state in his lifetime: "Yasser Abed Rabbo and the other Palestinians of Geneva are his men, but as usual, Arafat is thinking on both sides of the street. With the rise of Hamas and the disintegration of the PA, he now foresees a 'Lebanonization' of the conflict such as happened when the Druse forces of Walid Jumblat battled the Christian Phalange within Lebanon. Hamas will be fighting the PA and we will all be fighting Israel."

Strategically, Israel made a big mistake when it destroyed the PA's security forces and, with it, Arafat's capacity to move against Hamas. Now he can't send his police forces anywhere. He didn't order the suicide bombings but he didn't stop them. He didn't make use of security forces because he has no security forces. But he wasn't all that unhappy with the suicide bombings—it's now the only real form of resistance.

This well-known Palestinian went on to predict that the summer of 2004 will produce a major explosion in both Palestine and Iraq, with the possible support of Syria and Iran. "I don't say that it will be directly coordinated, but all these elements will work to defeat Bush in the elections. We might," he said, see something resembling what happened in Somalia happen in Iraq. And yet, if a peace deal with Israel is ever reached, "it will have to be with Arafat. Only he could do it. Only he could resolve the problem of the right of return"—by convincing the Palestinians that relatively few would ever go back to Israel and that compensation would be adequate.

No matter what the Palestinians do or the United States says, the Sharon government will continue to carry out its plan to complete the separation fence within eighteen months, seizing additional portions of the West Bank. Meanwhile the hopes of last summer for a negotiated settlement fade as the Bush White House, distracted by Iraq, and seeking votes at home, has put aside the road map in order to please American evangelicals and the Israeli lobby. Only Sharon's project moves forward.

It might seem that Sharon has been set back by the scandal in which he and his sons are accused of accepting bribes, in part to finance his political campaigns, but so far he has managed to delay an indictment. He has seemed to change his rhetoric by saying he intends to evacuate most of the Gaza Strip and to modify the fence to reduce Palestinian suffering. Some minor alterations of the fence are being made —for example, it has been shortened and moved closer to the "Green Line" (the 1967 border) in the area near Jenin. Sharon may be serious about evacuating Gaza eventually (although there is talk of the Gaza settlers being moved to the West Bank). His aides have undertaken complicated discussions with Washington about such a unilateral withdrawal. But he faces fierce opposition from Israeli settlers in Gaza and from members of his own government. Skeptical Israeli analysts suspect him of playing more tactical games in order to mislead the Israeli public and humor the United States.

Sharon's master plan, as revealed in many articles in the Israeli press, is to create three Palestinian cantons—to the north of Jerusalem, to the south of Jerusalem, and the third (very small) around Jericho near the Jordan River. Another fence, not yet approved by his cabinet or the Knesset, would cordon off for Israel a large swath of eastern Palestine mostly in the Jordan Valley. The Palestinians already call the cantons Bantustans; Sharon will call them a Palestinian state.

5.

As the Arab population throughout historical Palestine rises toward parity with Jews within several years, pressures in Israel may mount to "transfer" Palestinians to other countries, notably to Jordan. This is already the platform of Benny Alon of the National Union (settlers') Party, which Alon represents in Sharon's cabinet as minister of tourism. A policy of "soft" transfer already can be said to be in effect—internal displacement of thousands of Palestinians by the fence, deportations to Gaza, administrative pressure, and the imposition of sheer misery on West Bank Palestinians to make them leave the territories permanently. Some of the Israelis I talked to suspect—they have no solid evidence—that when the fence is finished, a policy of "hard" or forcible transfer might follow. The Jordanians, with whom Israel has a peace treaty, are alarmed by the fence because it might increase demographic pressure on Jordan; they fear that Sharon will eventually begin to dump Palestinians on the east bank of the Jordan River despite the peace treaty.

Indeed, according to Jane's Foreign Report, King Abdullah II of Jordan told Sharon at a recent meeting at Sharon's ranch in Israel that "he thought the Israeli prime minister was trying to make the Palestinians abandon their homes, cross the Jordan River and settle on its east bank—in Jordanian territory. Such an action, King Abdullah added, would seriously destabilize the Hashemite kingdom, where the majority of the four-million-strong population are Palestinians."[4]

Moreover, the recent interview of Benny Morris in Haaretz has alarmed many Palestinians, who fear that it foreshadows official Israeli policy. Morris, the leading Israeli revisionist historian, showed from documentary evidence that Israel expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 and that most of them did not (as Israel has alleged) leave voluntarily. He now justifies this "ethnic cleansing" as necessary to the establishment of a Jewish state and predicts that it may be necessary again.[5] Ilan Pappe, another prominent Israeli revisionist historian who teaches at Haifa University and has written extensively in books and articles about the expulsion of the Arabs in 1948, told me: "I know Benny Morris, and I'm not surprised. It's worrying that he thinks his views are now acceptable in Israel. In the past, people would never dare to express such views, but now they do. The idea of 'transfer' is moving from the extreme margins to the center."

Drawing on his reading of Israeli history, Pappe spelled out a possible future. The Israeli–Jordanian peace treaty, signed in 1994, would not stop a "hard" transfer into Jordan. Among the first victims might be the Palestinians pushed off their land by the fences—maybe 150,000 to 200,000 people. Pappe suspects that the government may already have a provisional plan for a systematic "ethnic cleansing." But, he said, it would need a pretext for carrying out such a policy—"a mega terror attack," for example. The government might make a declaration that warned Palestinians to move from the West Bank within a week or two; if they didn't, they'd be expelled. It's unlikely that the government would ask the US to acquiesce in such a policy, but aside from strong rhetoric what serious action would the US and the rest of the world undertake? "The transfer might be justified as necessary in 'the war on terror,'" Pappe said. "It's a risk, but the Israeli leaders would weigh the risk." Palestinians I talked to swore that should Israel try to expel them, they will not repeat their mistakes of 1948: "They will have to line us up against the walls and shoot us—we're not leaving."

It has been reported from Washington that President Bush (if reelected) will act more decisively to enforce his road map after the November polls. He may not have time. His mild reproaches of Sharon's policies have not worked; the Palestinian people may be veering toward a general revolt—a danger made perhaps more likely by the recent assassination of Sheikh Yassin. The only sensible course would be a vigorous American endorsement of the Geneva Accord as a supplement to the road map, to be negotiated between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, with refinements and improvements, within the next six months.

Is this suggestion realistic? Is it inconceivable to make real the language of the Geneva Accord—that Israelis and Palestinians will "establish relations based on cooperation and the commitment to live side by side as good neighbors, aiming both separately and jointly to contribute to the well being of their peoples"? Nearly everything one sees in the Occupied Territories casts doubt on this vision. Only the fact of the accord itself having been negotiated and signed offers a glimpse of hope.

—Jerusalem, March 31, 2004


Notes

[1] For the full text of the Geneva Accord, see www.monde-diplomatique.fr /cahier/proche-orient/a10414 or www.informationclearinghouse.info/article- 5019.hfm.

[2] See Amnesty International, Briefing for the Committee Against Torture, May 14, 2002, AI Index: MDE 15/075/ 2002, MDE 15/074/2002, and "Mass Arrests, Detention, and Torture or Ill-Treatment of Palestinians," AI Report 2003; and The Palestine Monitor at www.palestinemonitor.org. The US State Department's human rights reports have also sternly criticized Israel's detention policies and occupation policies generally. See the reports of March 2003 and February 2004 at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt. The 2004 report also said that the Palestinian Authority's overall human rights record "remained poor" and that it continued to commit "numerous, serious abuses."

[3] For further details on the PA's difficulties and the rise of Hamas, see Arnon Regular, "Paralyzed PA Looks Out on a Bitter Cold Street," Haaretz, January 1, 2004; and Danny Rubinstein, "The PA's Terrible Economic Plight Will Worsen," Haaretz, January 18, 2004.

[4] See "Jordan's King Doubts Sharon," Jane's Foreign Report, March 25, 2004, at www.foreignreport.com.

[5] For the Morris interview, the torrential response from readers, and Morris's counter-response, see Haaretz magazine for January 9, 16, and 25, 2004. See also the exchange between Morris and Henry Siegman in the April 8, 2004, issue of The New York Review, in reply to Siegman's article in the March 25 issue.

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