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Until the mortar shelling on Gush Katif yesterday and Monday, optimism in Israel was on the rise. Sharon talked about a historic breakthrough in relations with the Palestinians; Palestinian policemen once again deployed in the Gaza Strip with their weapons; Qassams didn't land in Sderot; there's talk of a meeting between Mahmoud Abbas and Sharon; the Israelis are talking about gestures and releasing 900 prisoners; Peres is talking about jump-starting the economy in Gaza; and Mofaz and Dahlan have met twice already. The general feeling is that despite several wrenches in the works and despite the gaps that emerged in talks between security officials, the sheer fact there are talks attest to the improvement.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to be optimistic, especially if that optimism can be construed as the sincere desire of many Israelis to get out of a state of warfare and enter into a state of political negotiations for peace. The problem arises when optimism acts as an anesthetic, and when the optimists make do with talk and take no interest in bulldozers. The policemen, bolstering the economy, making life easier, the endless meetings of various big shots - aside from the fact that the optimism level in 1994 was quite a bit highers, these are sights and sounds we saw and heard back then, when the Oslo Accords got going.

In essence, when you sort through the hundreds of pages of legalese, the deal with the Oslo Accords was simple: PLO organizations will immediately stop what has been termed acts of violence and terrorism, the Palestinian Authority will work against violence and terrorism by any Palestinian organization, and Israel will gradually reduce the occupation in return.

After all, the dictionaries of the victors and those possessing military superiority do not define their occupation as "terrorism and violence." The occupation - that is, control over another people's life, its land, free use of its water sources and natural resources, total control of its freedom of movement - is an arrangement, in the victors' dictionaries. The response to occupation is therefore the disturbance of the peace. The Palestinians were asked to restrain themselves and live with the slowly and gradually "reduced" occupation. A timetable was indeed set for this gradation, but it was not binding on Israel, and moreover, no clear boundaries were determined for the extent to which the occupation will be "reduced."

Thus, on the eve of the second intifada, the occupation was "reduced" in only some 40 percent of the West Bank, and that was not seen in Israel as a breach of the agreement. All of the features of domination mentioned above, and many others, remained as they were before 1994. Some were even exacerbated and accelerated, such as expanding settlements and nearly doubling the number of settlers, such as water quotas, such as restrictions on mobility. These were never considered in breach of the agreement. But every silly and ranting clip on Palestinian television was called a breach of the agreement, and that goes even more so for Hamas terrorist attacks that were aimed against the PA no less than at Israelis, and still more so for the rock throwing that heralded what is called "the second intifada." The victorious language of the dictionaries of military superpowers prepared the ground for the Israeli offensive ongoing since September 2000, and its calculated escalation, which called forth a Palestinian escalation.

The Palestinians came out of the first intifada with a certain sense of success at having forced a change in some rules of the game. In 1994 many wanted to believe - the Israeli peace camp too - that Israel understood that the occupation's elimination, not its "reduction," is the key to the solution. This time the defeat is very bitter. We dare not be tempted by Hamas' bragging that the famous withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of the settlements are a victory of the Palestinian armed struggle.

True, we should not downplay the importance of repatriating the thousands of Gaza Strip settlers, whose presence and the need to safeguard their safety continually torture the Palestinians. But the test remains what is happening in the West Bank, and what is happening in the West Bank is very close to being a colossal failure: of the Palestinian political and popular struggle, of the Palestinian armed struggle, of European nations who abide by international decisions, of those in the Israeli peace camp who had truly hoped for a two-state solution.

In the West Bank, it was not the occupation but the concept of "the occupation" that was reduced during the Oslo years: "Occupied" is whatever was defined as Area A and B. In other words, 40 percent of the West Bank, whereas Area C became cemented in Israeli consciousness as "controversial territory," not occupied. And Israel and its bulldozers are making it, nearly everywhere, every day, less controversial, more Israeli.

For the peace lovers among both peoples, the test for success was and has remained the ability of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as a single public, to build for themselves an independent and fair future, and not to live scattered among Indian reservations. Meanwhile, between a mass demonstration against the settlements and the optimists' talk in favor of the disengagement, the creation of the West Bank reservations continues undisturbed.