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The South Atlantic Quarterly 102.4 (2003) 675-699

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Palestine Besieged:
The Threat of Annihilation

Roane Carey

After many months of delay, primarily at the behest of its Israeli ally, the Bush administration finally promulgated in spring 2003 the "road map" peace plan, which had been laboriously negotiated the previous year by the "Quartet"—the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia. The plan is replete with the same flaws that doomed the Oslo process: it imposes numerous conditions on the Palestinian leadership and requires the Palestinians to police themselves for the benefit of Israeli security, while barely addressing Palestinian security and ignoring all the fundamental issues of the conflict, like settlements, Jerusalem, borders, refugees, international law, and human rights. Numerous commentators on all sides were delivering obsequies for the road map even as it was being set in motion. But with his Iraq war victory rapidly turning into an occupation debacle, and under increasing diplomatic pressure from his European allies, President Bush used the considerable weight of his office—and a Mideast summit at the Jordanian port of Aqaba in early June—to pressure the Israeli and Palestinian leaders into at least nominal acceptance. [End Page 675]

In this context the new Palestinian prime minister, Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), who is as much the nominee of Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as he is the appointee of the besieged Yasir Arafat, was able to broker a fragile cease-fire in late June by all the Palestinian factions, including the grassroots Fatah activists of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades as well as the Islamists of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The factional leaders were almost unanimous in predicting the eventual failure of this latest démarche, but they were finally willing to give it a try, if only as a way of exposing what they predicted would be Israeli stonewalling or outright sabotage. At that point, the Palestinian militants had little to lose, since the armed intifada had brought only death and devastation. Indeed, the Israeli army's destruction in the occupied territories had reached frightening proportions by the June cease-fire. More than 2,400 Palestinians had been killed and 23,000 injured, while more than 1,500 homes had been destroyed (according to the UN, at least 8,000 had been rendered homeless in Gaza alone as a result of house demolitions between September 2000 and the end of March 2003) and thousands of dunams of agricultural land razed. Torture and beatings are once again commonplace, and thousands have been jailed under administrative detention, with little or no legal aid; some 6,000 are now in prison, roughly the figure under detention in 1993, prior to the first Oslo Agreement. 1

Economic life in the territories has come to a standstill, with closures and curfews preventing travel to jobs and schools and forcing the close of businesses. In February the World Bank announced that the territories needed $1.1 billion in aid this year just "to maintain a very basic level of equilibrium in the economy." Now some 60 percent of Palestinians are living on less than two dollars a day, with 1.9 million—roughly two-thirds of the total population—receiving some form of food assistance. The cost of physical destruction is estimated at seven hundred million dollars, but the economic damage from curfews and closures is even greater. Many people have died because the army has prevented ambulances from taking them to hospitals. 2 Nablus alone was under siege for the entire second half of 2002 and the beginning of 2003, and all of Gaza has been sealed tight, making it the largest prison in the world.

The destruction reached a crescendo during Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unleashed the full fury of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), calling up some 20,000 reserve troops for [End Page 676] a complete reoccupation of most of the West Bank and Gaza. During this invasion, the intentions of the Israeli leadership became evident to those who had not already...


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pp. 675-699
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