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Friday, 6 October, 2000, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
Understanding Palestinian anger
burning israeli flag
Palestinians have had enough
Middle East analyst Tim Llewellyn argues that the current clashes have their roots in decades of Palestinian oppression

Click here for a different viewpoint

The Palestinians of the Israeli-Occupied Territories and of Jerusalem have had enough.

burning us flag
Much of the resentment is directed against the US
They have risen in protest against the attempt by Israel and its mentor, the United States, to impose on them an unequal peace, in which Palestinian-Arab rights could be forfeited indefinitely.

There have been nine years of the "peace process", the main - and perhaps fateful - step the secret Oslo accords of 1993 and mutual recognition by the Israelis and Palestinians.

As a result, there was, it seemed, with American blessing and brokerage, to be a trade-off: the Palestinians would get their land, or most of it, in exchange for peace with Israel.

Humiliation and oppression

But it has not worked out. Most of the land remains in Israel's hands or under its effective control; illegal Israeli settlements have continued to expand, especially under Ehud Barak; Jerusalem remains the strongest contention - not just the Holy Places but the Arab neighbourhoods and areas.

A Palestinian throws a stone towards Israeli positions
A Palestinian throws a stone towards Israeli positions
There remain major restrictions on Palestinians' freedom of movement, access and right to reside in Jerusalem - impositions reminiscent of the pass laws of apartheid South Africa and the ethnic cleansing of the Balkans.

It is a story of continuing dispossession, occupation, humiliation and oppression, and cruelly lowered expectations, all the more bitter given raised hopes of peace.

The Palestinians recognise that extended - and so far failed - peace negotiations are designed to persuade them to make peace and pronounce an end to the struggle between the two sides without Israel relinquishing its effective control over the bulk of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and its Holy Places, including those sacred to Muslims and Christians, and key parts of the Gaza Strip.

Israel's leaders, for the most part, cannot see beyond a hostile Arab population who must be contained and controlled, even if it means overriding Palestinian civil rights and self-determination.

Arafat aggravates misery

Palestinian resentment has been intensified by the autocratic and corrupt leadership of Yasser Arafat, who is underpinned by a phalanx of security forces.

Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat has lost much support among his people
Freedom of speech, political activity and the media can be crushed at these forces' will, with little redress.

One essential flaw in the Palestinian-Israeli peace effort has been inequity, a total lack of balance between the two contenders: talk of "concessions", as if the Palestinians had not already yielded 75% of their country in 1948 and the remainder in 1967, including Jerusalem.

They are the "occupied", as recognised in international law, by all major governments, even the United States, not the "aggressors."

There has been continual failure to recognise that the Palestinians are to an almost pathetic extent the weaker party; and failure by the international community to have provided an honest broker for the bargaining process.

Yasser Arafat seems to have recognised that he and his people have been asked to give much for very little.

As I said, the Palestinians have had enough.

Anger boils over

The Palestinian population has risen up, provoked by the incursion into the Muslim Holy Places by a right-wing, zealous Israeli leader and ex-soldier, and the disproportionate use of Israeli military force against what started as civilian protest.

Palestinians hurl rocks at Israeli soldiers over burning tires in Hebron
Fighting it out on the streets of Hebron
It is doubly serious in that Palestinian Israeli citizens - a million or so in all in Israel proper - have for the first time since 1948 joined such protests on such a scale and with such violent results.

It is quite possible, that with United Nations and European diplomats working so hard behind the scenes, and under enormous American pressure in a U.S. election year, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders might return to the negotiating table; they might even, though it is highly unlikely, sign some interim peace treaty that leaves open crucial questions like Jerusalem and refugees' right of return but saves national and political face on all sides.

But in my view only a just peace can prevail and this is not in sight.

The Palestinians are signalling at a sacrificial level that they are prepared to fight for a fair and lasting solution.

It is also the case that many of the more than four million Palestinians of the whole Holy Land - what was until 1948 British Mandatory Palestine - may be thinking beyond the concept of a separate state in the Occupied Territories (only a quarter of the original Palestine).

They may be slowly moving on to the idea of a unitary state that for the first time offers equal citizenship to Arab and Jew alike: a state in which 40% or more of the people would be Arabs.

Tim Llewellyn is a freelance writer and former BBC correspondent in the Middle East.

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See also:

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