BY DONOVAN RINKER-MORRIS
Reading from his book “Strangers in the House: Coming of Age in Occupied Palestine” before an audience of about 120 at the law school on Monday, Raja Shehadeh described the experience of watching Israeli bulldozers ravage ancient vineyards while establishing a settlement in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Shehadeh argued that calls for upholding the rule of law and international condemnation of the Israeli practice of building settlements at gunpoint would eventually halt the practice.
While directing Al-Haq, which means “justice” in Arabic, Shehadeh produced voluminous documentation of the confiscation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank, systematic torture in Israeli prisons and other human rights violations perpetrated by the occupying authorities.
Watching in the audience was Eitan Fellner, a leader of B’Tselem, an Israeli organization working on civil and political rights in the Occupied. During the discussion, Fellner asked Shehadeh whether the negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis reflected a basic tension be-tween justice and peace. Shehadeh replied that the Oslo process was a “false hope” since it left resolving the status of the settlements to the final stage of negotiations. Shehadeh’s skepticism was borne out when the final offer of statehood made at Camp David, which would have left the settlements substantially intact, was rejected by Arafat. Shehadeh said establishing permanent armed encampments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would divide the proposed Palestinian state into cantons requiring permanent roads for Israeli settlers, the presence of soldiers and checkpoints to protect the settlers, and inequ-itable allocation of water resources. Acc-ording to Shehadeh, the failure to correct a clear injustice ensured the failure of any neg-otiated peace settlement, although he conceded that negotiations required some political compromises by all participants.
Shehadeh voiced discomfort with the PLO and the Palestinian Authority as representatives of the Palestinian people. While considerable work was conducted during the interim period between the Oslo Accords and the current Intifada to prepare Palestinians for exercising democracy, Shehadeh noted the ambivalence towards human rights on the part of the political negotiators. However, Shehadeh said that training a society to be governed by the rule of law is difficult when clear violations are readily apparent, like the dramatic increase in the size of Israeli settlements post-Oslo despite the agreement that nothing would alter the facts on the ground.
Discussing recent developments, Shehadeh argued that every government has a right to protect its citizens, but the matter is somewhat more complicated when those citizens are living illegally on another person’s territory. Shehadeh said he remains confident, however, that at the end of the day, there will have to be two states. He also contended he was surprised how quickly negotiations resumed after the 1987-93 Intifada, and how he sees the two sides as so entangled that some third party is necessary to resolve the dispute.