Israeli Tactics Shut Out Palestinians, and Peace
AT a raucous session of Israel's parliament last year, Haim Ramon, a rising star in the Labor Party who is currently minister of interior, declared that those who promised to end terror were at best liars, and at worst simply stupid.
Mr. Ramon's judgment needs to be kept in mind, particularly today, when the government of Shimon Peres, reeling from four quickly paced Palestinian attacks that have killed more than 50 Israelis and Palestinians, has embarked on a policy with fateful implications for Israeli-Palestinian relations - a policy which long experience has shown does not prevent terror.
As part of its "war against Hamas," Israel has implemented a harsh regimen of collective punishment on the 2.5 million Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hundreds of suspects have been swept up by both Israel and Palestinian security agencies. Travel between the West Bank and Gaza has been prohibited, and East Jerusalem and Israel proper have been placed off limits to all residents of the occupied territories.
This "closure" of the occupied territories has put 70,000 Palestinians employed in Israel out of work, along with countless others who have suffered as the Palestinian economy has ground to a halt.
Israel has declared that all residents of the Gaza Strip living or studying in the West Bank - residents who are nominally under the control of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority - must return to the Gaza Strip.
Two schools of higher education have been closed completely by Israeli military order, while many other educational institutions have had to shut down because of travel restrictions.
In another return to the harsh policies of the intifadah - the Palestinian uprising of 1987-93 - houses of suspected perpetrators of the suicide bombings have been blown up or bulldozed. Prime Minister Shimon Peres is now weighing another "deterrent" measure - deportation - last used by Israel in December 1992 when 415 Palestinians, most affiliated with Hamas, were expelled to Lebanon. Those said to be on a list of deportees include already imprisoned members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad; political leaders of Hamas, including its spokesmen; and, opening a new, cruel page in the use of this punishment, even the immediate relatives of the suicide bombers.
The United States has exerted an extraordinary, and commendable, effort to demonstrate US identification with the Israeli victims of terror. US Ambassador Martin Indyk has declared the US "partners in agony" with Israel.
Yet in its desire to solidify the political fortunes of both Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the Clinton administration has given Israel carte blanche to pursue a policy of retribution against the entire Palestinian community. The shared US-Israeli goal of eliminating Hamas as both a military and political challenge has led Washington to endorse, and encourage, actions decried by international law and at odds with the vision of a democratic Palestinian entity at peace with its neighbor Israel.
The white-hot pitch of revulsion and anger at the Hamas reign of terror is entirely understandable. But as heinous as Hamas's crimes are, they should not still the voice of American opposition to the punishment of an entire nation.
It is not the least of ironies that for most of Israel's occupation, people and goods moved almost freely across the pre-1967 border. Now, when the parties are supposed to be well along the road to peace, there has been an exponential increase in restrictions on Palestinian access, not only to Israel, but also between and within the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Such restrictions, however, are essentially operating in one direction only. Israel, by embracing the idea of separation, may have decided to detach Palestinians from Israel, but it is not separating Israel from the occupied territories. The IDF is actually expanding its operations in the West Bank, and returning to the use of counterinsurgency tactics last used before the Oslo process began. Nor has Israel modified its insistence that its military remain in complete strategic, military control of the area west of the Jordan River and north of El Arish in Egypt's Sinai peninsula. Nor does separation mean that Israel is abandoning its 150,000 West Bank and Gaza settlers, whose numbers continue to increase.
Arab and European efforts at the "Summit of the Peacemakers" to call attention to the disastrous consequences for Palestinians of the policy of closure received a determined rebuff from both Israel and the US. At the follow-up conference in Washington, a halfhearted effort was announced to increase aid to the Palestinians to compensate for the loss of income resulting from the Israeli crackdown.
Yet simply throwing money at the Palestinians will not create the kind of conditions required to build a solid economic foundation for peace - a foundation that the US, by its support for closure and the extrajudicial polices of both Palestinian and Israeli security forces, is undermining.