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Sold Down the River

The Wye River Agreement is mean-spirited and ineffectual. Yet again, Arafat has betrayed his people

By Edward Said

The Guardian, Saturday November 7, 1998


The unravelling of the Wye River Agreement between Israel, the United States and the Palestinian Authority has already begun. After yesterday's car bomb in Jerusalem, the Israeli government refused to ratify the interim peace deal until the Authority clamped down on anti-Israel militants. New obstacles are bound to develop on a daily basis.

In its reporting of the agreement, the US press did not bother to point out that the 40 per cent supposedly being given to Arafat's corrupt authority was broken down into bits and pieces, all of it subject to Israel's choice of date and location of the land to be partially vacated. Since the signing, there have been at least two postponements and no by-passing roads are to be given up: on the contrary Israel has asked the US for an additional $1.3 billion for redeployments.

The West Bank is still divided into three areas. Area A is entirely Palestinian-run except for security, water, and exits and entrances; Area B is jointly patrolled by Palestinian and Israeli soldiers, with security, water, building permits, exits and entrances entirely controlled by Israel; Area C is completely Israeli.

Before Wye, these amounted respectively to 2.8 per cent, 24 per cent and 72 per cent of the land area. Wye gave the Palestinians an additional 1 per cent from Area C, and 14.2 per cent from area B, thus putting about 18.2 per cent under Palestinian control again, with the same exclusions and provisos.

In addition, Israel will transfer about 13 per cent more from Area C to Area B, where - to repeat - Israel really controls things, including of course the 3 per cent designated as a nature preserve (whatever that is supposed to mean). In effect then, the Palestinians got - if that is the right word - a total of 18.2 per cent of the West Bank added to Area A, the rest to Area B. In no case did the Palestinians acquire sovereignty, control over exits and entrances, water, and overall security.

The Palestinian areas are, for the most part, non-contiguous and allow no free passage between them. Jerusalem remains off limits to residents of Gaza and the West Bank.

Most of the rest of the Wye River Memorandum is taken up with security arrangements which in effect commit the Palestinian Authority to Israel's security, but not the other way round. Palestinian lives and livelihoods are not worth so much as a sentence in the memorandum's extremely dodgy language.

In addition, the CIA is to play an active role in adjudicating security issues such as extradition, combating the "terrorist" infrastructure, incitement and the like. Israel in the meantime can do what it likes, including the building of more settlements, taking more land, adding to Jerusalem's area, and helping itself to all the West Bank water it wants. The fate of Palestinian human rights looks grim indeed, subject to dictatorial control by an already despotic Arafat backed up by the CIA and Israel.

But the real problem with all the land transfer arrangements is not only that it gives Israel a unilateral say over which land is to be transferred: it also allows Israel a generous number of "phases" by which the transferral is to be completed, without any mechanism to enforce delays or delinquencies.

Given its record since the Oslo Agreements were first signed, with the free passage provisions never implemented, no one ought to be sanguine that redeployments of the Israeli army will take place according to schedule, especially with the egregious Ariel Sharon in charge.

As for the changes in the National Covenant that Israel has demanded, that will require a hasty convening of the group which Bill Clinton, for reasons that do him no credit, has chosen to address. The Palestinian airport and the Gaza seaport were left suitably vague, though there was a pretty mean Israeli insistence that even Arafat's plane be searched by them before take off and after landing. Once again, the putative port and airport are to be in Israeli hands.

All in all then, a dishearteningly mean-spirited, niggling document without too much chance of real enforcement (technically, another Palestinian grenade will put off Israeli deployment for months) and no chance at all to change the relationship between the two sides. The Israelis will continue to be the masters, Palestinians - pardon the expression - the abject niggers.

What now? A number of things propose themselves. In the first place, the Palestinian leadership should be roundly censured by as many people as possible for so disgracefully supine a negotiating performance. Arafat and company have now completely delivered themselves to the combined Israeli and US intelligence apparatus, thereby putting an end to anything even resembling a democratic and independent Palestinian national life.

And this, by the way, has been sacrificed to the survival of Arafat and his coterie of advisers, hangers-on, and security chief, for whom the idea of Palestinian civil society with an independent judiciary and legislative body is a silly inconvenience to be disposed of like the land they have given up with scarcely a look back. From now on any resistance to Israeli colonisation will be dealt with summarily; opponents of what Arafat and his men are doing will be considered "haters of peace".

Second, the notion that literally hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are being left to rot in Israeli jails (Netanyahu gave up 750 of the 3,000-5,000 reportedly still held) is a scandal for which Arafat should be held responsible.

Third, the deferral of later deployments, later consideration of safe passage for Palestinians, later permits for industrial parks and the like is also scandalous. Who can believe that the Palestinian Authority has either the will or the leverage to press these matters?

In sum, Arafat and his people have done the usual thing: given up without very much of a struggle and certainly without the slightest trace of a strategic or moral vision. They will argue that something like Wye is better than nothing.

But is it? In effect Palestinians are now tied into security arrangements for Israel that continue to devalue and debase Palestinian life, to say nothing of Palestinian aspirations, which are not even mentioned. The catastrophe of 1948 has been erased, as have the conquests of 1967 and 1992.

Refugees will remain refugees, and Palestinians will continue to have Israeli soldiers as their keepers. The devil only knows what the horrendous settlers are about to let loose on the largely unprotected and exposed citizens of the West Bank and Gaza.

Certainly Arafat will do nothing for them except urge them to wait for "our" state, in the mean time robbing them blind, letting corruption continue, buying off potential opponent, jailing, torturing and killing anyone who stands up to him.

An absolute imperative now is to urge Palestinians, as much as possible, to try to deter people from attending and participating in that council meeting which is supposed to change, cancel or fiddle with the charter. It's a document I don't much care for, but the idea that people should be rounded up (like the usual suspects) just to do Israel's bidding, with not a whit of a change in all of Israel's highly discriminatory laws against Palestinians, strikes me as totally preposterous.

The only real course for Palestinians today is to urge their representatives on the legislative council to vote with their feet, not to attend this ludicrously unrepresentative council meeting, and to begin once again to play for a new council, one whose members are neither appointed by, nor beholden to, Arafat.

The time grows less and less before we will have allowed this ruinously incompetent and corrupt leadership to sell us out totally, and the sooner we start to organise a major Palestinian meeting to take place outside the Arab world, the better. The midnight hour has already struck.


Edward Said is the author of The Question of Palestine (Vintage)

(c) Copyright Guardian Media Group plc.1998

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