Bishara: Palestine/Israel: Peace or Apartheid? Prospects for Resolving the Conflict
Marwan Bishara is a young scholar-journalist from Nazareth who is based in Paris, where he lectures at the American University and holds a research fellowship at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. His book demonstrates that the Oslo “peace process” is contrary to genuine peace. Rather, it is an attempt to “defuse the Palestine question without resolving it” (p. 129) as well as an instrument to ensure Israeli economic power over the Palestinians and to achieve through “peace” what it could not achieve through war--“regional domination” (p. 109). Bishara reveals the horrendous economic consequences of Oslo for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza: the distortion of the social structure by creating parasitic classes that developed a vested interest in the social, economic, political, and security aspects of the “peace process.” Together with Israel’s determination not to decolonize, not to concede any sovereignty over the occupied territories, and not to dismantle the apartheid system, this process ensured the outbreak of the second intifada. The uprising was directed not only against the occupation regime but also against the Palestinian Authority (PA), acting as Israel’s enforcer, an aspect that leads the author to conclude that returning to the security-laden “peace process” is bound to fail.
Bishara’s discussion of the intifada and Israel’s excessive use of force, not only against the Palestinians in the occupied territories but also against its own Arab citizens, makes this book one of the few that are not restricted to the territories occupied in 1967. In fact, he devotes an entire chapter to the “million forgotten Palestinians . . . the enemy within” (pp. 28-40). He presents the Palestine question, now consisting of three fragmented elements--refugees, citizens, and captives under occupation--as one whole. He perceives the destiny of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and that of the Palestinian citizens of Israel as being more interdependent than at any previous time: “Israel has failed to segment and compartmentalize the Palestinian issue, which reemerged in October  as the cause of a whole people, and as the existential challenge facing Israel” (p. 38). In his coverage of the impasse in the diplomatic process and the U.S. role in it, Bishara correctly places major responsibility for the failure on former president Bill Clinton, who for seven years “manipulated and coerced the Palestinians to follow Israeli diktats” by taking Israel’s side (p. 6). Washington and Tel Aviv cynically blackmailed the Palestinians by manipulating other Arab actors, particularly Syria, during former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak’s rule, to the detriment of peace.
Bishara devotes two chapters to Jerusalem and the refugees, both of which were designated as “final status issues,” and analyzes their role in the Camp David II talks. His keen knowledge of Israeli domestic politics enriches the discussion of the diplomatic impasse and the Camp David deception. For example, he states that the Israeli army, which had been radicalized during the past two decades, “played a role in torpedoing the process” (p. 52). Chapters 7 and 9 are particularly lucid and insightful. The former, entitled “Seven Fat Years for Israel, Seven Lean Years for Palestine,” delineates the economic imperatives for Oslo in conceptual terms and at the micro level, supplying important economic data. Oslo facilitated entry for Israel into the emerging global markets that brought it lucrative economic investments. Moreover, in order to globalize, “Israel had to restructure its colonial economic ties” in the occupied territories (p. 99). The chapter demonstrates how Oslo was, in fact, primarily “an economic document.” But while the benefits went to Israel, the Palestinian economy began to deteriorate even further, as the Palestinians suffered greater unemployment and reduced access to education and health care.
The draconian measures that were imposed on the Palestinians despite “peace” disrupted the day-to-day lives of the people. The PA budget went largely for “security” and salaries; only a negligible amount was spent on health, social services, and education. Bishara demonstrates Washington’s total disregard for the plight of the people as it now suddenly awakes to the necessity of what President George W. Bush calls reform and transparency. He further demonstrates how Oslo divided the West Bank and Gaza into fragmented cantons and islands of poverty that had functioned as a single unit before Oslo. Yet he observes, “Israeli Jews felt ghettoized by their own cantonization of the Palestinians” (p. 130).
In the end, apartheid and peace are not possible, and the way out of the malaise is for the two people to live together in equality or else “let their divorce be a fair one” (p. 138). This penetrating analysis of the Oslo period is insightful, lucid, and well-written. The reader will certainly appreciate the critique of Oslo, which casts considerable light on one of the most vexing problems of our time.
Naseer Aruri is Chancellor Professor (emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and the author of Dishonest Broker: America’s Role in Israel and Palestine (South End Press, forthcoming).