The Wye bother peace summit Decisions might not help Israelis or Palestinians

November 01, 1998|By Phyllis Bennis

Already the "land for security" Wye understandings have hit the skids. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his cabinet's ratification vote, thus derailing implementation even before it began.

But it's hard not to wonder whether that matters. It's hard not to wonder whether, despite the intense, personal involvement of President Clinton, King Hussein, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, CIA director George Tenet and others, last month's Wye summit ever held the real potential to move the parties closer to real peace in the region.

Why?

Because Wye's central decisions will not help the Palestinians win back their occupied land, and will not provide Israelis with their definition of security.

For the Palestinians, Wye's key gain was a fiercely resisted 13 percent redeployment of Israeli troops; for Israel, it was a new Palestinian commitment to security. But those issues cannot provide a serious foundation for the final status talks. Further, the Wye River Memorandum has no enforcement provisions.

For months, the news was filled with accounts of the 13 percent Israeli redeployment. Over and over, we heard reminders that with that additional 13 percent, the Palestinians would have "full or partial" control of 40 percent of the West Bank. Not bad - if it was real.

In fact, today the Palestinians have full authority of only 3 percent. On another 27 percent, they share "partial" control with Israel. The Palestinian Authority, in that 27 percent (called Area B), is allowed to run the schools, pick up the garbage, deliver the mail. But Israel retains control of security, which means Israeli troops remain on patrol on the roads, surround the scattered pockets of Palestinian-run land with military checkpoints, impose closures, prevent the movement of Palestinians within or between towns.

Wye's 13 percent will come out of the 70 percent of West Bank land (Area C) still fully under Israeli occupation. But only 1 percent will come under full Palestinian control. The other 12 percent will be shifted to the "shared" Area B. So the few Palestinians living there will have new rights to their own garbage collection and post office, but Israeli control of the roads and checkpoints will remain unchanged.

And the land under real Palestinian authority will grow only from the current 3 percent to 4 percent. Yasser Arafat's acceptance of the U.S.-initiated 13 percent proposal is hardly something most Palestinians see as a significant move. (The Wye memo also calls for 14 percent of the "shared" land to move into full Palestinian control, in stages, but the lack of maps raises serious doubts about Israel's intentions to implement such an agreement.)

As to the demand for Palestinian security guarantees, what is astonishing is Israel's success in redefining "security." Traditionally, diplomatic agreements deal with national security: respecting borders, stopping invading armies. Now Israel has redefined the security to mean absolute personal safety for every individual Israeli. No government, not even the United States, could make such a guarantee.

Unrealistic expectations

How realistic is it to expect the Palestinian Authority, with its limited, derivative jurisdiction, to be able to prevent every act of terror?

It isn't realistic at all.

The Palestinians cannot provide a personal safety shield to every Israeli. And the specific pledges being asked of them are eroding the Palestinian Authority's shaky commitment to democracy. For example, Israel demands that the authority do what Israel's military occupation forces have done for years: arrest Palestinians solely based on their alleged association with Islamist organizations like Hamas, regardless of involvement in military or terrorist attacks. In the U.S., our federal courts have ruled for almost 50 years that this kind of arrest based on political association is unconstitutional.

And bringing in the CIA to work with the Palestinian security agencies in determining who should be arrested and who should be released from prison is no answer. Given the agency's no-longer-secret history of aiding, or at least looking the other way, while CIA-backed authorities massively and violently shredded the human rights of civilian populations from Pinochet's Chile to the Shah's Iran, we can hardly have confidence that Tenet's spooks will encourage stronger respect for democracy in their junior counterparts. U.S. voices are challenging this new high-visibility role for the spy agency.

Wye states that security matters should be taken up with "due regard to internationally accepted norms of human rights." But if the CIA reflects the U.S. commitment to those rights, where was it when Israeli military authorities continued their roundups of Palestinians, 3,000 of whom are still held in Israeli prisons? (Despite claimed Israeli agreement to release 750 of the Palestinian prisoners, the Wye memo does not mention any release of detainees.)

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