How to Stop Hamas: First, End the Occupation
Sara Roy
Daily Star (Lebanon)
June 20, 2003

Also posted here

The "road map" that President George W. Bush is committed to will not end the cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Like the Oslo process before it, the road map will fail for one fundamental reason: the continuation of Israel's ongoing and brutal occupation of the Palestinian people.

It is impossible to stop the violence if the primary condition that produces it - the occupation and the oppressive policies that define it - remain unchanged, intact and in force. In fact, in response to the December 2002 draft of the road map, the Israeli government stated: "The purpose of the road map should be an end to the conflict rather than an end to the occupation."

During the Oslo period (1993-2000), the occupation was not only maintained, it was strengthened. Because of this, Palestinians saw the real decline of their economy across all sectors, accelerated by Israel's confiscation of at least 40,000 more acres of Arab land, much of it viable agricultural land worth over $1 billion. During this time, the settler population nearly doubled, from 110,000 to 200,000 people, and, as settlements mushroomed, 250 miles of bypass roads were built on confiscated Palestinian land to connect Israeli settlements and bypass and isolate Palestinian localities. The fragmentation and cantonization of the West Bank and Gaza transformed the West Bank into a series of disconnected, noncontiguous territorial enclaves with movement totally controlled by the Israeli military. Economic sieges known as "closure," resulted in unprecedented levels of unemployment, impoverishment, and child labor.

Since the Al-Aqsa uprising, the already acute conditions in the Occupied Territories worsened rapidly. In the almost three years since the uprising began, the restrictions of occupation have grown more severe. At least 50 percent of Palestinians are now unemployed (compared with an average of 11 percent before 2000), and the Palestinian private sector, the engine of economic growth, has been largely destroyed. Palestinian infrastructure has also been severely damaged or destroyed by the Israeli Army, with losses reaching up to $800 million. Perhaps most alarming is that between 60-70 percent of Palestinians now live in poverty (up from 21 percent in 2000), and almost 25 percent of children under 5 suffer acute or chronic malnutrition - rates comparable to the Congo.

Without any protest from the United States, Israel has been building "the wall," designed to cement its occupation of the West Bank by containing the Palestinians in enclosed areas that will make any notion of a contiguous Palestinian state impossible. The wall, which is not mentioned at all in the road map, will be almost 347 kilometers long - twice the length of the Berlin Wall - and in some areas over six meters high. Some 120 kilometers of the wall have already been built in the northwestern part of the West Bank on territory taken from Palestinians, and in a manner that not only denies them access to their land, but to other West Bank towns and villages. According to World Bank projections, when completed, the wall could isolate as many as 250,000-300,000 Palestinians, mostly residents of East Jerusalem who comprise 12-14 percent of the West Bank population. Furthermore, the wall could annex as much as 10 percent of the West Bank to Israel.

The resulting context is one of oppression, desperation and suffocation, and one in which extremists thrive. Under such conditions, no Palestinian leader, including Abu Mazen, can bring an end to violence (something the Israelis could not do either). The only way to end the terrorism on the Palestinian side is through popular pressure on Hamas and other militant groups - and there are successful precedents for this. Such pressure will come when people feel they have a stake in a process that will bring them meaningful change over the long term. Change must be tied to, and be part of, a process that is seen as fair and real.

A complete end to Israeli occupation must be the first step. Only when occupation ends can one talk about what it entails, and what must follow from it. The Israeli Army must withdraw to the June 4, 1967 borders, and the Palestinians must declare and implement a unilateral cease-fire once the army withdraws. An international protection force should be introduced as the Israelis withdraw. This should soon be followed by a settlement freeze and the withdrawal of some settlers. It is essential to end the violence and calm tensions on both sides and restore some order and normalcy. This can only be done by separating the two sides and imposing an international buffer. Because so much damage has been done to relations between the two peoples, negotiations must follow, not precede, concrete changes on the ground. Then the specifics of political reform, economic recovery, state-building, etc. can begin.

Any attempt by the US and Israel to impose a political settlement on Palestinians while maintaining the occupation and Israel's matrix of control will fail. This is what doomed Oslo and will doom the road map. The violence insures the continuation of the conflict and fundamentally jeopardizes the interests of the US in resolving it. The end of occupation is a necessary condition for ending the bloodshed. Without it, nothing is possible.

Sara Roy is the author of The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development, and a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University. She wrote this commentary for The Daily Star.

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