Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Palestinian Unity in Defense

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Palestinian Unity in Defense

Article excerpt

A statesman without a state, well-known Palestinian activist Dr. Haidar Abdel Shafi addressed an overflow house at the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine Aug. 5. As a physician and chair of both the Red Crescent Society for the Gaza Strip and the United Palestinian Appeal, Dr. Abdel Shafi was scheduled to speak on the mounting humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, after a brief background talk on the origins of world indifference to the Palestinian crisis, Dr. Abdel Shafi chose to describe his views of the Oslo peace process and the current intifada.

Abdel Shafi noted that the Western world hailed former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's initiative, which culminated in a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, effectively ending the regional blockade and isolation in which Israel had existed. According to Abdel Shafi, Palestinians saw it as an achievement so great for Israel, they hoped it would satisfy Israeli ambition enough to prepare them to negotiate a just peace. Contrary to expectations, however, Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank accelerated and Israel ultimately began a war on the PLO in Lebanon that led to the tragedy of the massacre at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.

Having made the point that world democracy had ignored Palestinian rights and aspirations in 1948, Abdel Shafi indicated that Palestinians still had expectations that the justice of their cause would win them backing in world opinion. To that end, when the U.S. made a clear statement (by means of Desert Storm) that it would not tolerate Iraq's several-months-long occupation of Kuwait, Palestinians thought surely the U.S. would not tolerate Israel's decades-long occupation of Palestine. After all, Dr. Abdel Shafi pointed out, President Dwight Eisenhower had threatened sanctions against Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion's government when it was slow to retreat from Gaza in 1956, prompting an overnight end to the occupation.

In such a frame of mind, Abdel Shafi contended, the Palestinians agreed to attend the U.S.-instigated peace process, despite their experience with the Israeli form of occupation. As a member of the negotiating team, Abdel Shafi put forth the first Palestinian requirement, that Israel stop all settlement activity, vis a vis U.N. Resolution 242--the socalled land-for-peace settlement. After much waffling on the subject, the Israeli team finally responded in plain language that they were settling in their own land. To give credit where it was due, Abdel Shafi said, then-Secretary of State James Baker did try to talk to the Israelis, but finally gave up and instead asked the Palestinians why that demand was so important at the moment, urging them to come back to it later.

Abdel Shafi said he knew then that there would be no meaningful negotiations, and recommended that the Palestinian team withdraw. However, he was not aware of the secret negotiations that resulted in the Oslo accords.

Abdel Shafi reminded the audience that he had stated publicly from the outset that the Oslo agreement was not a good one, largely because it did not even mention settlements. Now, of course, he pointed out, the world knows that settlements have doubled during the so-called peace process. Abdel Shafi expressed disillusion with and failure to understand why the U.S., as the party calling for negotiations, did not insist that Israel adhere to U. …

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