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Israeli-Palestinian Relations - How to Give Peace another Chance


The current relative calm on the Israeli-Palestinian front cannot last if each side makes the same mistakes as they made in the past, and there is every sign that they are making the same mistakes. Everyone agrees that so called Oslo "peace process" was a disaster. How can we avoid another tragedy?

Mistake number one is ignoring violations and problems as long as they are "not too bad." This was the nemesis of the Oslo agreements. During the period of the Oslo "peace process" Israeli settlement construction continued, but it didn't make headlines, and Palestinian incitement continued at a low level, and terror continued as well at fluctuating levels.

Now Palestinian violence has abated but it has not stopped. Sadly, the major factor that has prevented suicide bombings and attacks in the past weeks is still the presence of the IDF in the territories. The IDF has found 22 road side bombs in the last three weeks (more than a bomb a day) in Gaza, and stopped suicide bombers in the West Bank. The IDF has stopped suicide bombers and discovered explosives. The Palestinian authority is doing a bit to stop violence, but it is not ready to take over responsibility for security. Not surprisingly, in these circumstances, the IDF is reluctant to withdraw from Palestinian towns and remove checkpoints and closures that have choked Palestinian life, but have also stopped the suicide bombings. Only minor, cosmetic steps to normalization have been taken. The result is that poverty and unemployment and misery continue unabated. Palestinians are also bitter about the Israeli security fence, which continues to be a source of friction and hate, as well as continued Israeli settlement activity.

Disengagement is vital to the success of further negotiations, and it must be conducted in peaceful conditions. If Israeli withdrawals from Palestinian towns in the West Bank result in renewal of suicide bombings, no amount of apologies and rhetoric from Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas or from Ariel Sharon will be able to save the wreck of the peace process. Disengagement might go through, because it really is in the interests of Israel, but that would be the end of the road for the peace process. Fear of renewed violence discourages Israeli concessions before disengagement is complete.

Mistake number two of the Oslo process was that no real attempt was made to change the national goals of either side, which were headed for a collision course. We can see it happening again. Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, formally approved by the government this week, represents a watershed in Israeli thinking, but it will not bring about the needed change if it is meant to be the beginning and end of Israeli concessions. Mahmoud Abbas's calls for non-violence represent a watershed in Palestinian thinking, but it will not bring about the needed change if it is meant as a temporary "Hudna" or truce for the sake of convenience. If the Palestinian leadership do not recognize that that the suicide bombings were not only a "mistake" but a tragic and immoral step, that coexistence with Israel is not a short-term means to the end of eliminating Israel, and that "peace" proposals cannot include ideas like return of refugees that eliminate or defeat the other side, there will not be peace. If the Israeli leadership doesn't realize that evacuation of Gaza and some settlements in the West Bank cannot be a gimmick that will allow Israel to keep vast territories in the West Bank, or bottle up Palestinians in a tiny quasi-state, there will not be peace.

Mistake number three of the Oslo peace process was that both sides did not make an effort to meet each others' needs even when it didn't involve any risk or loss of national honor. Danny Rubinstein, Arab affairs expert of Ha'aretz, notes that because of Palestinian dissatisfaction, it is taken for granted that the current calm is temporary. Khalid Amayreh reported the same thing in Al-Jazeerah. He quoted Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri:

"Both sides need a rest. The Palestinians need to recover a semblance of normal life, and the Israelis need to revive their economy, which was hard hit by the near destruction of the vital tourism industry,"

Rubinstein notes that Marwan Barghouthi estimates that "Abbas has six months." Rubinstein adds that Barghouti should know. Elsewhere, Barghouthi was quoted as saying:

"The uprising will continue in the West Bank, which you (Israel) will continue to hold onto."

Indeed Barghouthi should know. He is the expert on the Intifada, because Barghouthi himself is largely responsible for instigating and leading the Intifada, by his own admission. He issued the same sort of "warnings" before the outbreak of violence in September 2000, and there is no doubt that if he is allowed to do so and as soon as conditions are ripe, he can and will reignite the violence from his jail cell. Now the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs agrees that violence could return after evacuation of Gaza.

In a sense, we are exactly where we were two years ago, but everyone is a bit tired. Palestinians have not given up violence and the Israeli government has not really gotten used to the idea that there must soon be a real independent Palestinian state next door.

If we really want to give peace a chance, we must ask for more from Palestinians and Israeli leaders. An interview that Abbas gave recently to Der Spiegel, summarized at the official Palestinian Media Center, provides both room for hope and room for alarm. The good news is that Abbas is quoted as saying that while Right of Return of refugees is not negotiable, where they return to is a subject for negotiation. Of course, return of Palestinian refugees to a Palestinian state should be their right, if that is what he means. That return, like the return of Jews to Israel, should not be a threat to either side, and is the sovereign right of every state. Moreover, Abbas reiterated that the law will be enforced, and there will be an end to unauthorized armed groups. However, he also said there will be no compromise regarding "illegal" Israeli settlements and that he would not use force against "resistance" groups. The report also said there are plans to integrate the Hamas and other groups into the PLO.

Palestinians must understand that while Israel is willing to evacuate Gaza, it is not likely to give up the settlements around Jerusalem such as Maaleh Edumim. That does not prevent formation of a viable contiguous Palestinian state, propaganda claims to the contrary notwithstanding. Changes in the 1967 borders are not a demand of the "Greater Israel" camp, but rather they are anchored in the Geneva Accord, agreed to by both moderate Israeli and moderate Palestinian leaders.

If Palestinians really want to integrate the Hamas into the PLO, it is certainly their business, but Israel must demand that the Hamas gives up its opposition to the very existence of the state of Israel, and disowns racist parts of its charter which claims, among other things that the "Zionists" were responsible for the French and Russian revolutions and cites a Hadith that describes a time when the Muslims will slaughter all the Jews, who will not find even a tree to hide them. The foundation of the peace process is mutual recognition by both sides and willingness of both sides to live at peace with the other. The Hamas charter is totally incompatible with those principles.

The Palestinian government can make any demands it wants to make in final negotiations, but there is no point to making declarations ahead of time that limit its flexibility, prime the Palestinian people to expect goals they cannot achieve, and probably would prevent the Israeli government from entering any negotiations at all.

The maximalists on either side still want us to believe that their programs can be implemented if only the people are stubborn and persistent. They pretend that the choice is between their programs, or "defeat." It is not so. Their programs are not options. The US and EU would not allow Israel to carry out the fantasies of the Greater Israel Camp nor even to keep substantial territories in the West Bank in a peace settlement. The Palestinians aren't going to wipe out Israel or set the clock back to 1967. The worst defeat would be the failure to achieve peace. Both leaderships have declared time and again that there is no alternative but coexistence, but both leaderships also continue to back goals that make coexistence impossible. It is time to tell people the truth and get them prepared for reality. Israel cannot keep the Ariel settlement and have peace. The Palestinians cannot convince Israel to restore the "Auschwitz borders" (so-called by former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban) that existed on June 4, 1967. They cannot erase nearly forty years of history, including the recent Intifada, that have taught Israel some very bitter lessons.

In the immediate term, Mahmud Abbas cannot continue to declare, impossibly, both that he will not use force against terrorist groups and that the law will be enforced. If people with guns prevent law enforcement, how will he reinforce the law without using force against them? "Relative calm" is not enough. A bomb a day will keep the peace away, even if the bomb doesn't explode and is found by the IDF. The Palestinian Authority must get to the point where they are apprehending and holding the people who are placing these bombs, rather than leaving it to the IDF.

Israel must do everything needed for its security, but it must stop doing things that are not needed for Israeli security and which certainly hurt chances for peace. Here is a list:

House demolitions - It took sixteen years for the IDF to examine its policy of demolishing houses of terrorists, and conclude, very surprisingly, that demolishing houses does not make people love us. Unfortunately, Israel has decided that while houses of terrorists will not be destroyed any more (for the time being) houses of innocent people may be destroyed if they interfere with military operations or are a haven for terrorists. This policy must be reexamined.

Security Barrier (aka "Apartheid Wall") - The Israeli government chose to announce that it is continuing with the security barrier along a new route, modified to take into account humanitarian concerns as demanded by the High Court. The good news is that the new route will take only 7% of Palestinian land instead of 16%. The bad news is that the new route still takes 7% of Palestinian land. Moreover, the government stipulated an option to include the settlement of Ariel in the barrier. The security barrier remains a point of contention between Israel and the Palestinians. It cuts off people from their land, their jobs and medical care. It is the source of demonstrations and brutal Israeli responses. When terrorists were exploding themselves in Israel every week, the fence made sense and completing it was urgent. However, the fence was not completed even in that period. Now that there is at least a temporary lull, completion of the fence is not urgent. Wouldn't it be better for the government to suspend construction of the barrier until the security situation is clarified? Wouldn't it be better for the government to announce that it was opening more passages in the barrier, and that these would remain open as long as there is calm? This would create a real incentive for the Palestinians to keep the peace. Unfortunately, this is the Middle East. What makes sense doesn't happen, and what does happen often does not make sense.

Checkpoints - Checkpoints may be necessary for the time being, but they could be implemented in a way that was less onerous for the population. Insulting people, beating them up, making them wait for hours do not contribute anything to security. A way must be found to allow the unhindered flow of goods and of persons who are going about their business, so that Palestinians can get back to work, get to hospitals and get to schools, and feel the advantages of peace. If Palestinians continue in misery, and continue to believe they have nothing to lose by violence, there will be no truce and no peace. Israel has to give them something to lose by making war.

Settlements - Even while Israel is planning to evacuate the Gaza settlements, the number of settlers increased there, as well as in the West Bank, and the government approved investments in projects in Gaza that are supposedly destined to be dismantled or abandoned in a few months. It is long past time to declare a settlement freeze, at least a temporary one. It doesn't help Israeli security to throw away money on settlements that will be abandoned or to encourage the creation of more settlers who will need to be compensated. The freeze should continue as long the Palestinian Authority is making progress toward keeping order in the West Bank and Gaza, and the relative calm continues, creating another incentive for the Palestinians to keep the peace. It is also long past time for Israel to fulfill its obligations regarding dismantling illegal outposts.

Settler Violence - Settlers attack Palestinians, destroy olive trees and foul village water supplies. The IDF and the security service have done nothing to stop this barbaric behavior, which shames Israel and has nothing to do with security. Their claim that they are powerless to stop the settlers is a bad joke. The General Security Service and the IDF that can spot suicide bombers and ferret out Palestinian bombs cannot convince anyone that they cannot find Jewish hooligans and terrorists among our own people.

Prisoners - The release of only 500 prisoners by Israel, with about 450 more promised to be released, is too little to meet Palestinian expectations. A "concession" that generates only bitterness and cynicism is not helpful. Israel freed only prisonsers who do not have "blood on their hands" (were involved in terror attacks) and who have coompleted two-thirds of their sentence. However, there are still many prisoners and "administrative detainees" who could would not constitute a threat to Israeli security even if they haven't served out two thirds of their term and even if they have "blood on their hands." Some of these people are old or very sick, some are held on doubtful charges. At least, Israel should announce that it is willing to consider future releases of more prisoners, provided that the truce takes hold and becomes permanent.

National Goals - Both governments must decide and declare that publicly that in principle Palestinian self-determination and Jewish self-determination are mutually complementary and that each is a necessary condition of the other. A recent poll claimed that 39% of the Israeli people favored an "alternative disengagement" program invented by settler advocates, that would result in expulsion of the Palestinians. Even if the real proportion of genocidal Israelis is smaller, the results are alarming and indicate that a massive re-education program is needed if peace is to succeed. On the Palestinian side, polls likewise still show large numbers who favor violence, are not willing to live with a Jewish state or want to flood Israel with Palestinian refugees and void Jewish self determination.

The above program will not suit extremists of either side or professional "peace people." Those who call themselves "friends of the Palestinians" and members of the "peace camp" do not insist on such concessions from Palestinians, and confine themselves to demands from Israel. It is clear that anyone who does not insist on these steps is not a friend of the Palestinians, and is not in the "peace camp." The program will not suit Zionist extremists either. However, if these steps are not taken, we are headed down the slippery slope to the bad old days of the Intifada and the promises of peace and Palestinian independence are doomed.

Even before we "make difficult decisions," both sides have to prepare their people for those decisions. Even before we "take chances for peace," both sides need to do many things that do not involve great risk or difficult decisions, and show good will, in order to give peace another chance.

Ami Isseroff

Post Script - Palestinians have raised a furor over the Israeli cabinet vote on the security barrier and announced they will take the matter to the UN. An unecessary and unfortunate decision.

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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/00000335.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: 7 comments


Posted by Aleph @ 02/24/2005 05:24 PM CST

Although I don't know why taking the matter of the barrier to the UN is a problem, the rest of the article is very good and shows what each side must do to really achieve peace. I would like to add that there should be a framework on what a final settlement should look like though(i.e. how much land should each side get). Problem is if that helps the Palestinians I'm afraid it might do the opposite for the Israelis. However if a referedum was held for both sides and the framework wins out it would help curb extremists and their goals.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 02/25/2005 02:34 AM CST

Butros: For the last 50 years+ the Israel - Palestine conflict has occupied a position in relation to UN business that it simply does not warrant in relation to other issues around the world. The UN is frequently a forum for regional, ethnic and sectarian groups that use the Israel - Palestine conflict as a means of deflecting attention from their own shortcomings. The net effect has been to reinforce Israel's sense of isolation and victimhood to the point where it becomes intransigent and unwilling to compromise. Equally the attention that the UN affords the pro-Palestinian factions encourages the Palestinians to avoid dealing with the reality of the situation and inhibits progress towards a mutually acceptable settlement.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 02/25/2005 11:08 AM CST

A good rational review.

The Geneva Accords provide the basis for a fair solution to this problem.

Moshe Dyan had it right in his later days. - Give back the lands taken in 1967 for peace. (And abide by UN res 242)

Some sort of economic union between the two states is a natural that will also help in breaking down the animosity built up over the last six decades.

Zionists and settlers should remember that Muslim countries provided havens for Jews against persecution elsewhere from before the crusades, through the Inquisition and into modern times.

Naturally the dislocation from family lands held by them for over 1000 years and longer is resented. Try walking in their shoes.

Posted by Robert M @ 02/25/2005 03:30 PM CST

To Rod Davies
I think the purpose of the Palestinians going to the UN is meant to tell the world something is not right. They want the world attention that Israel might try to do something undisirable when the world is not focusing its attention on the conflict itself. During the Poland crisis Israel annexed the Golan Heights and although they aren't planning on annexing the West Bank, The Palestinians idea is to keep the world informed
1. That Israel might try to do something covertly,
2. The Palestinians attempts to tell the world that Israel's steps are not what they seem .
3. That the conflict is not over and putting less interest on the conflict now could lead it to never being solved. In other words to keep the level of international involvement high and not to be a forgotten conflict like Western Sahara.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 02/27/2005 08:34 AM CST

A very good article that should be read also by the policy makers on both sides... Regrettably, the same mistakes being made during the Oslo peace-process seem to be made again, as the suicide bombing of friday night shows. Abbas is really more serious about fighting terror than Arafat was and the PA arrested some suspects, but I'm doubtful if he is able to really stop these groups, as he has said time and again he doesn't want to use force against them. Unless he wants to change this policy, it is likely that there will be more attacks in the future, and they might literally blow up the truce, and that would be very bad for both Israeli's and Palestinians.
I agree with the article that building new settlements is really bad too, and discouraging to Abbas and the Palestinians. There should be a settlement freeze and illegal outposts should be dismantled instead of being turned into 'legal' settlements as the Israeli government wants to do now.
I very much agree on the last sentences of the article, and they are also an answer to Dahu and Robert M. : "Even before we "make difficult decisions," both sides have to prepare their people for those decisions. Even before we "take chances for peace," both sides need to do many things that do not involve great risk or difficult decisions, and show good will, in order to give peace another chance."
It is too early now for negotiating on final issues, as the national goals of both sides are exluding the legitimate demands of the other side. A referendum, as Dahu proposes, would probably show that most Israeli's think Jews should have the right to settle anywhere in the region from the Jordan to the sea, and the cause of the problems is Palestinian terrorism, and Palestinians will say all Jews should leave Gaza and the Westbank and East Jerusalem (including the Jewish Quarter and Mount Scopus and Latrun), and Palestinian refugees should have the right to 'return' to Israel.

To Robert M.: I think Zionists remember very well that Jews had, also in Muslim countries, a second class position and weren't allowed to own land or bear arms or practice some professions. Sometimes they had to pay special 'dhimmy' taxes for their 'protection'. Of course, free immigration of (persecuted) Jews was impossible, as they had no political power. Jews who tried to settle in Palestine over centuries were often not able to because they were not allowed to own land or bear arms to defend their communities. Try walking in their shoes too.
In the same way as you state that Zionists should remember that Muslim countries gave Jews a save heaven, Jews can say to Palestinians that they should remember that Zionism brought work and economic development to Palestine.
Both people have suffered, and this should end by a fair peace and self determination for both, and start with confidence building measures and fighting of extremism by both sides.

To Butros Dahu (latest comment): I think you don't need to be afraid that there is too little interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the international community. On the contrary, no conflict got so much attention, no country, not Sudan, nor Congo, or China, that all violate human rights on a large scale, got so much condemnations from the UN as israel. Rather the contrary to your fears is true: lots of people believe that the wall/fence takes 40-50% of the West Bank and will devide it into several enclaves, which is obviously not true, as the new route of the wall/fence will take 7% of the West Bank.

Posted by Ratna Pelle @ 02/28/2005 09:36 AM CST

could someone please help me out, i'm a year 11 student and ive been asked to the middle east conflict as my history coursework but am finding it difficult.

Posted by Kayleigh Richards @ 03/01/2005 05:27 PM CST

To Mr. Ratna
What you say is true that the barrier takes only 7% but like Mr. Issarof said it takes 7% at a time were both sides are still wondering what the border will be like. My previous post actually describes a strategy that suggests that the Palestinians will go the UN as long as there are reasons to in order to keep the conflict alive. It's a public relation tactic more or less.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 03/02/2005 08:36 PM CST

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