Amira Hass Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Occupation and Terrorism: Conversation with Amira Hass, Columnist, Haaretz; October 24, 2003, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Leaders and Motives

We've talked about the Israeli policies of occupation and now the response on the Palestinian side from some parts of the Palestinian community with the use of suicide bombing. In both of these cases -- that is, on the Israeli side and the Palestinian side -- there seems to be a failure of leadership, of a responsible leadership that sees both the implications of policies and the dynamic of the situation. Let's look at both sides. I want to ask you about, first, on the Israeli side, it seems that even Labor governments who initiated and tried to implement the Oslo process continued to build settlements, and that that was a real failure of leadership. Do you agree?

I think not at all. Not at all.

You don't agree?

No, no.

Okay.

You say failure because you assume that Israel's main goal was to have peace with the Palestinians, and just peace with the Palestinians.

Touché.

Yes. I think their main goal was to guarantee a stronger Israel, a bigger Israel, and an enfeebled Palestinian political entity. And they were very successful. So it's a very responsible leadership, if you think that this was their main goal.

So all of the sides of the Israeli debate are committed to enlarging the size of Israel through settlements?

I think so. This has been made clear during the Oslo process especially, not before, because before you could always say security, bargaining chip, whatever. But during the Oslo times, when everybody expected Israel to freeze all settlements, no, they were only expanded, and since Rabin all Israeli governments. So they were very successful. It's not a failure of leadership. It's a failure of Israeli constituencies that did not support these policies, but let themselves believe that their leadership was going towards peace.

So why did these constituencies, then, fail to see what was going on, and try to build a political coalition to oppose that?

I guess that many people wanted to believe that it is possible to break the spell of conflict. People were very optimistic about the Oslo process. They thought that their demands of years for a two-states solution and talk with the Palestinians in recognition of the Palestinian people, etc., were coming true under Labor. They just felt, "Oh, we were right all these years, and now there is a government which acknowledges we were right." So they paid very little attention to the reality on the ground. You can explain psychologically, not attributing bad motivations to these people. But others saw that peace was possible with settlements.

Until '91, we were made to believe that peace was not possible with settlements. Then with the Oslo process, after Arafat actually signed an accord where Israel is not being demanded to stop all settlement activity. So Israel saw that peace with settlements was possible. So maybe Palestinians are satisfied with it. After all, the settlement activity was beneficial for many segments of Israeli society. This is why these constituencies failed to understand the discrepancy between the promise of stability and normal life in a state, and the reality of permanent colonization.

Let's talk about the Palestinian leadership, then. How do we account for their failure? I hear you having said two things: one is that important parts of that leadership sold out to the Israelis in the Oslo process -- those are my words, not yours -- but compromised themselves, creating a class system, almost, among that leadership and the Palestinian people. And then secondly, I think I heard you say that they have failed by the abuse of their own people, especially in the case of the suicide bombers, where they see them as tools for jockeying for position vis-á-vis the other factions in the cause.

It's not true about the suicide bombings. I don't think that the Palestinian leadership sent suicide bombers. It maybe did not dare to stop it on time in this Intifada. But it did not use the suicide bombers. It's the factions of some of them in opposition to the leadership, and some Fatah groupings, but which had loose connections with Arafat. So it's not a failure, but it is true that vis-á-vis Israeli, it was a failure to correctly analyze Israeli motivations and to conduct a better strategy of negotiation.

I think it's partly the naïveté of this Palestinian leadership; also, a human need to see a change. I do believe, in spite of all what they said in Israeli and American propaganda: that they did not intend to have peace with Israel. Let's not forget they were the weaker party. I think that they were very sincere in their readiness for a two-states solution as the final status solution. But they failed to see [or] to learn Israeli methods. And Arafat's people didn't consult with people inside the occupied territories who had known Israelis better. When they signed on the Declaration of Principles, they didn't even know what a settlement looked like. They thought it was military distant position, so that's why they did not bother to insist on it.

They were not sold out so much as they let themselves be pampered by Israeli methods, very colonialist methods of pampering an elite with all sorts of privileges, especially privileges of freedom of movement, which allowed the Palestinian Authority to build up an entourage which benefited economically from the process. That's why it gave its political support to the process and participated in the political negotiations.

So what you had were people who were economically dependent on the Israelis because of the privileges, and were also conducting the political negotiations with the Israelis about how quickly the Israeli withdrawal/redeployment will be and how big the settlements will be or not be. So this was the byproduct -- what you feel as being sold out. I don't think it was intentional. Many of them did believe that if they served Israeli security demands for some time, they would guarantee the future and the stability of a Palestinian society. This is it.

Now class society, it has always been. Palestinians have always been a class society. But the Palestinian Authority, internally, had a responsibility for the welfare of the people. Now, instead of dedicating [themselves to] the development of human beings inside, it invested a lot in all kinds of symbolic aspects of life which served the grandeur of the authority. It allocated much of its budget to security organizations, multiplied security organizations, because Arafat needs this multiplicity in order to control. They did not develop enough the health system, the education system; did not see the person, the human beings, in order to use their own opportunities to develop. I think this was their main failure. It stems out from the fact that they were not really elected, they came from outside, they were very indifferent to the people. They come from very undemocratic traditions, and this was a major failure. I think that if they cared more for their people and were more attentive to people's demands, internally, they would have been stronger vis-à-vis Israel in the negotiation table.

Next page: Conclusion

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