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Creating a Reality of Israeli-Palestinian Peace

06/02/2004

The lesson of the failed Oslo peace process and the stalled roadmap is that paper agreements don't create reality. There are profound actual problems that prevent peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Until we begin to solve those problems, any agreement will fail. In anticipation of such paper agreements, and in the light of the fundamentally adversarial reality, each side has striven to create and maintain "facts on the ground" with the purpose either of gaining a decisive advantage and turning the peace into defeat for the other side, or with the intent of blocking any possibility of peace at all.

The race to beat the peace has resulted in a proliferation of new settlements on the Israeli side, and perpetuation of the refugee issue on the Palestinian side. It has multiplied Israeli incursions and Palestinian acts of terror. These policies are pursued regardless of the true interests of the parties, simply to gain an advantage or hold a bargaining chip or enhance the political clout of a particular faction in Palestinian or Israeli society.

Realistically, it is now evident that in any case there will not be real peace in the near future if present policies are continued. Rather than striving first for paper agreements, it may be better to first create "facts on the ground" that are propitious for peace. The peace will follow naturally once the objective conditions make it possible. Until the obstacles to peace are removed, it is hard to envision that any agreement will be kept, and it will take years to remove the obstacles that have been created by both sides.

Ariel Sharon's unilateral disengagement plan is an example of such a "fact on the ground." Whatever Sharon's intentions may be, there is no doubt that evacuation of settlements in Gaza is a giant step for peace that can help to create a new reality for Palestinians and Israelis. However, it is not the only step that is needed, and it is not the only step that can be taken without a negotiated settlement. If it will take several years to evacuate the 7000 settlers of Gaza, and cost a small fortune, how long will it take to evacuate 100,000 or so settlers from the West Bank, who will need to moved in almost any peace agreement we can imagine? How much will it cost? Can anyone think that while the settlers of Izhar and Hebron, for example, remain planted in the middle of Palestinian territory, there can really be peace? If so, hadn't we better get started on this problem right now?

Amelioration of the condition of the Palestinian refugees is an essential requirement for peace. To give an idea of the magnitude of this problem: there are about 2 million to 4 million refugees, depending who is counted and who is counting. Their natural rate of increase is above 4%. This means that if 100,000 refugees are resettled each year forever, there will still be exactly the same number of refugees or more. The refugees who live in camps such as those in Lebanon or Gaza often live in abject misery. They form a natural lobby that is opposed to peace on any terms except destruction of Israel through "right of return," and that is why they are maintained in these camps. The United Nations runs the UNRWA program which is expressly designed to ensure a lobby for destruction of a member state.

There is no legal reason for this enforced misery. The legal rights of a refugee are the same if he or she has a five room apartment, plumbing, schools and paved road, or if they live ten to a room with no plumbing, no schools, dirt roads poor sanitation and no running water. Yet, when the Jenin refugee camp was destroyed by Israel in operation Defensive Wall in 2002, all of the humanitarians busied themselves immediately with recreating the same miserable conditions that existed before operation Defensive Wall. In Rafah too, each poor dwelling that is destroyed will be replaced by a similar one in a refugee camp. Moreover, these dwellings and conditions, bad as they are, are luxurious compared to the conditions in Lebanese refugee camps. When Israel leaves the Gaza settlements, they will raze the buildings rather than allowing them to be used to settle refugees. What justifies this "humanitarian" policy that is so heartless? Spite? Convenience? It is certainly cheaper for the donor nations of the UN to provide miserable housing than to provide good housing, and certainly more convenient to make the refugees rot in Lebanon than to give them visas to live in the United States, Canada, EU countries or Australia. Until this problem is solved there cannot be peace, and it would take many years to solve the refugee problem, even if we started today. Amazingly, there are no initiatives at all for ameliorating the condition of the refugees or for solving the problem - not from the UN, not from the EU and not from the United States. It is not enough to say that Palestinians will not be able to return to Israel even if there is peace, though that is obviously true. It is not even enough to propose some hypothetical solution that will be implemented at the end of days. It is time to start creating "facts on the ground," to propose and implement retraining and resettlement programs that will be carried out now, before the Messiah comes and there is a just and lasting peace, and before the lion lies down with the lamb. These programs can create a different reality, giving hope to an embittered, desperate and radicalized population, and removing a tremendous recruiting grounds for terror organizations.

Today, thanks in part to the actions of the Palestinian Authority and in part to Israeli actions, Palestinian society is ruled mostly by criminals and religious fanatics. This was acknowledged by the mayor of Nablus and many others. It is unconceivable that this state of affairs is good for anyone. It is certainly not good for the Palestinian people, and it cannot be good for Israel either. Yet attempts at reform have been stalled or failed for lack of sincere effort, or because they are tied to peace agreements or to the personal ambitions of Yasser Arafat. The result is, that to spite the PLO, Israel will allow the rule of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad. To spite Israel, the Palestinians will allow their society to be run by gangs of criminals rather than undertaking serious reform of security services and police. Surely, the Palestinians need to undertake these reforms for their own sake, rather than as rewards to President Bush or to Ariel Sharon, and the Israelis need to help them in any way possible, rather than refusing to cooperate because "we aren't talking to each other."

Likewise, improvement of economic conditions in the Palestinian territories has to start right now. The "Marshall Plan" for the Palestinians cannot wait until there is peace, because there won't be peace if Palestinians can find no work other than making Qassam rockets, and if the only big money coming into the Palestinian economy comes from countries who finance Jihad.

The US, which is spending about a $100 billion on the war on terror, should consider what might be the effects, for example, of spending just $1 billion a year on improving the Palestinian economy, ameliorating the condition of refugees and education for peace. The Palestinians, who have epended so much effort in blowing up Israelis, would be well advised to turn those efforts to building their own society, peace or no peace. The Israelis, who have spent so much effort, so much money and so many lives to perpetuate the occupation, have to begin to spend efforts to end it. If we want to create peace and a normal life, it is not enough to talk about it. We have to start doing something. The time for media events and treaty signing will come later, and the agreements will hold because they will represent reality.

Ami Isseroff


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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000267.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 4 comments

Your article ranges far and wide and covers many aspects of the conflict. But I want to address myself to just a few. If Sharon's evacuation plan is a 'fact on the ground' of great importance as you maintain, then why have the Palestinians not made a similar unilateral offer of a 'fact on the ground'? Instead they bellowed and raged and acted as if they don't want the Jewish communities in Gaza removed. Had they hastened to offer something of equal value perhaps Sharon would have an easier time selling his 'fact on the ground' to his own party.

Posted by MIKE LEVINE @ 06/03/2004 05:40 PM CST

The Roadmap / Oslo Agreement etc etc represent to the PNA the last vestige they have of control of the process and current situation. Once Israel breaks away from the Roadmap and the assumptions around 242, then the PNA has to rethink its entire strategy. Although superficially a unilateral withdrawl from Gaza and ultimately the West Bank may appear to some as capitulation and retreat on the part of Israel. It underlines the palpable failure by the PNA / PLO to be an active player in a negotiated settlement and its impotence as a government. If Israel does unilaterally withdraw from the OT's then the PNA will have few if any concessions that it can offer in trade for access to Israel and beyond via Israel. The PNA is perfectly aware that without a compliant and supportive Israel, Palestine will descend into being a chaotic 3rd world state. It is also only too aware that to revert to their old official strategy of launching attacks into Israel will alienate them from the states they need support from.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 06/03/2004 08:55 PM CST

Ami's conclusions are essentially correct. In fact, many observers of the Palestine/Israel struggle have commented that the framework for peace is self evident. Unfortunately, that framework calls for concessions and agreements that the powers-that-be cannot accept. It would appear that elimination of the leadership on both sides might open the doors for some genuine peaceful agreements.

Surprisingly, Mr. Sharon, with his proposal to withdraw from Gaza, appears to recognize the need for such action. It may save his political career. On the other hand, Mr. Arafat has flatly rejected Sharon's unilateral proposal. Ergo, for peace sake he must go. Apparently the USA and Egypt also recognize this fact and have dramatically insisted on his "retirement" by June 15. If the removal of Arafat and the reconciliation of Sharon are accomplished, we may yet see peace in Israel/Palestine in our lifetime!

Posted by Elchanan @ 06/04/2004 11:50 PM CST

I AM SPANISH WOMAN AND I ANALYST ABOUT INTERNATIONAL POLITICS AND SECURITY AND DEFENSE.
MY OPINION NOW ABOUT CONFLICT IS :
1.- IS NECESSARY ACT TO RESOLVE CONFLICT ISRAELIES AND PALESTIANIANS TO MOVE THE WORLD AND ANOTHER MUNDIAL ORDER, IF DONT GIVE A GOOD SOLUTIONS THE HUMANITY WILL GO TO DISASTER ALL THE NATIONS.
2.- THE LIDER MUST GO OUT BOTH ARAFAT AND SHARON AND THE ONU ACT WITH PEACE MULTINATIONAL.
3.- IS NECESSARY ACT MOVEMENT CITEZEN THERE UNIVERSAL WITH EUROPEANS, PALESTIANS, ARABS, ISRAELIES, AND OTHER PEOPLE TO THE ONE WORLD TO ASK AUTORITIES PEACE QUICKLY.
THANK AT ALL AND I WOULD LIKE HELP YOURS WITH MY MOVEMENT CITIZEN.
WITH MY BEST REGARDS.

Posted by MARIE LOUISE FERNANDEZ @ 06/08/2004 06:18 PM CST

I appreciate this commentary but, sadly, I have yet to hear anyone speak openly about the pivitol issue that looms beyond any of the proposals for peace. Jerusalem and its administration is, in my unlearned opinion, the most important piece of the Israeli-Palestinian "peace puzzle". Israel has it whole. The PA wants half. A true dilemma that has not received the frank and honest dialogue it deserves.

Posted by Franando Jones @ 06/17/2004 09:49 PM CST

I think Ms. Isseroff's comments are the best I've heard so far about real, practical solutions to this crises. However, I am very concerned that the UN or any other organization will not have an easy time (if even at all possible) of replacing HAMAS as the main practical benefactor for the Palestinian people. All the Palestinians know their "government" is weak and corrupt and their only choice is HAMAS, a terrorist organization, for any kind of real help. What shall be done about this problem? Can any organization really re-settle enough Palestinians to other countries to lessen the grip that HAMAS has over this population? I have very serious doubts.

Posted by L.Stern @ 07/02/2004 06:46 AM CST

This is a well-thought out commentary that addresses what has been a problem for so long in this region; No actions towards resolution. Sporatic negotiations that disolve and restart have in the past few decades led nowhere. There has been no action plan, just talks and photo-ops. Ariel Sharon will never be publicly applauded by Palestinians or the Arab community because of his past and his affiliations, nor should he be. Acting unilaterally with actions that move towards peace and reconciliation is a good starting point because it signals to all that Israel is willing to move and not continue its long standing stall tactic while additional settlements are constructed. For so long many Israel Likud have not been willing to speak with the anyone representing the Palestinians for political or idealogical reasons, and have refused to recognize that significant and unpopular actions would have to be made in order to improve the situation for both groups of people. Occupation throughout human history has been met with violence. Long term occupation has been met with extremism and violence. Couple long-term occupation with no hope of change and deplorable living conditions and you get the current situation Israel is faced with. It can't continue and Ariel Sharon has an opportunity to begin real concrete steps towards ending the occupation.

Posted by Steven Elliott @ 07/07/2004 08:17 PM CST


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