The Winds of Peace
June 5, 2003
At long last, after so many months of violence and repression, the winds of peace are blowing in the neighborhood of Israel and Palestine. So far, it is mostly talk, but it is good talk.
The recent summit meetings that launched the Roadmap for Middle East peace have given new life and respectability to the idea of peace. The roadmap has many defects. There is certainly a very long way to go from current reality and actual positions of the different sides on the issues to a viable peace agreement, but we should be thankful for what has been achieved.
Not everyone will agree with this assessment. There are two ways of viewing the Middle East conflict. The conventional view, which was perhaps the only view that existed prior to 1977, is that there are two implacable, unchanging and monolithic foes, the Zionists on the one hand, and the Arabs and Palestinians on the other. If you view the conflict in this way, then whatever side you chose, the roadmap is certainly doomed to failure. If we take the pronouncements of both sides literally, as unchanging commitments to policy, this is certainly true. The "moderate" Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen has declared that he will not settle for anything less than the borders of June 4, 1967, including East Jerusalem, and will not give up on the claim of right of return for Palestinian refugees to Israel. Ariel Sharon is not about to renounce a square millimeter of Jerusalem and insists that the Palestinians must give up the claim of right of return. These are not just positions of unwise leaders. Polls show that large majorities of Israeli Jews oppose right of return and concessions in Jerusalem. Large majorities of Palestinians support literal right of return of refugees to Israel and insist on Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem.
If we examine the fine print of the announced positions, the prospects for a quick settlement are even gloomier. No fair peace will ever fulfill the goals of the extremists, which are respectively, destruction of Israel, or a Greater Israel in which Palestinians are either absent due to transfer or have no rights.
However, events have proven that the static view of the Middle East conflict is incorrect. The conflict is a dynamic process, and the dynamics and the stands depend on the history. Violence and warlike acts help to build a history of hate and serve the interests of confrontation. Each nationalist and extremist pronouncement is a rallying cry for further hate. Each massacre is the basis for further massacres. Each declaration regarding peace, even if it is only words, each period of relative quiet, each gesture of reconciliation, is a tiny step forward in path to peace. This path may not be the one that is mapped out in the roadmap. It may be much longer and more erratic. However, as long as leaders are talking about concessions, about peace and suppression of violence, they are helping to build a constituency for coexistence.
The three historic "nos" of the Khartoum conference of 1967, no peace with Israel, no negotiations, no recognition, were swept aside by peace treaties between Israel and Egypt, and between Israel and Jordan. The historic Israeli opposition to a Palestinian state has been swept aside by a public commitment to a Palestinian state, reiterated by Ariel Sharon. At the Aqaba summit, Sharon said,
" It is in Israel's interest not to govern the Palestinians but for the
Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state.
A democratic Palestinian state fully at peace with Israel will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state."
This shift did not happen in a day of course, and was anticipated for many months if not years.
Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas ( Abu Mazen) said:
"The goal is two states - Israel and Palestine - living side-by-side in peace and security."
" Let me be clear. There is no military solution to our conflict. We repeat our denunciation and renunciation of terrorism and violence against Israelis wherever they might be."
Considering that Abbas is a founding member of both the Fate and the PLO, organizations whose charter goals were the destruction of Israel through armed struggle, these are revolutionary statements. Considering the continual flow of propaganda glorifying violence that has emanated from Palestinian Authority media and leaders since they began the Intifadah in September 2000, these words are a profound and welcome change. In the Middle East, the word is often father of the deed, though the gestation period may be very long.
True, Sharon is still not about to give up on Jerusalem, and his vision of a "Palestinian State" probably encompasses no more than about 60% of the territory of the West Bank. Sharon told Jerusalem post that he doesn't intend to give up Beith-El and Ofra and other West Bank settlements. Members of his Likud party were shocked by rumors that Sharon might give up 17 marginal settlements (in addition to the illegal outposts) in the framework of a settlement. There are, however, hundreds of settlements in the West Bank, and most or all of them would have to be abandoned in order to allow creation of a Palestinian state that might be viable.
Sharon also briefly created a stir when he told his Likud party:
"I think that the idea of keeping 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is the worst thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and also for the Israeli economy"
"You may not like the word, but what's happening is occupation."
It was probably the first time an Israeli official, the highest official had said the word "occupation." In Hebrew, the connotations are much harsher than in English, since the Hebrew word is "Kibbush," which means "conquest." There is no separate word for "occupation" and "occupied." Many Israelis refuse to admit we have done anything so harsh. It doesn't fit with our self image. It was an important psychological breakthrough. Sharon had to backtrack because officially, Israel does not admit that the West Bank and Gaza fit the definition of occupied territories under international law, because there was no legally recognized sovereign over these areas following the expiration of the British mandate for Palestine, but the words cannot be unsaid, and the sentiments were clear.
At the Aqaba summit, Sharon also referred for the first time to the "West Bank" rather than "Judea and Samaria" that is permitted in the lexicon of the Israeli right.
The roadmap has already created a new atmosphere. It is respectable to talk about peace in Israel and in Palestine once again, and to speak out against violence. Over 700 Palestinians, mostly Fatah members, have signed a petition supporting the Nusseibeh-Ayalon agreement, and other public peace initiatives such as www.silentnolonger.org are also getting under way.
Decent Palestinians are saying things that they could not say before because of fear of ostracism, and because mass hysteria created the wrong atmosphere. It is better late than never. In an article entitled " Time for the Palestinians to choose life," Bassem Eid, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group wrote:
" It seems Arafat is still encouraging Palestinians to victimize themselves, an attitude that is without logic or ethics. Instead of talking about peace and life, instead of supporting coexistence, instead of fulfilling the consciousness of human beings, Arafat is calling for death. It appears the nearly 2,500 Palestinians and more than 700 Israelis who were killed during this intifada are not enough to fulfill Arafat's political interests. I hope - and am rather sure - that Abu Mazen will no behave in this manner. I also hope that Abu Mazen, with his government, will do his best to put an end to the terror and the violence...
After the summit, I want to hear from the two leaders the same words that Sadat said in the Israeli Knesset in 1977 - "No more war." This is the only statement that can save lives on both sides. It is the time for the Palestinians to choose life over death; only while you are alive can you achieve anything."
It is no longer necessary for Palestinians to praise the "resistance" and it is no longer forbidden for Israeli government officials, at least sometimes, to talk about the evils of occupation and ending the occupation.
We do not know that the reign of terror has ended. While at this writing there is no curfew in any Palestinian city, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian cities has not ended and neither has the closure. No spectacular suicide attacks have occurred as of this writing, but that doesn't mean there will not be any. The "usual suspects" will be looking to disrupt the progress of peace in any way possible. The refugee groups such as BADIL will warn that any compromise with the "Zionist enemy" is treason. The Yesha council and the Union of Rabbis for Greater Israel have already demonstrated and issued statements against leaving any settlements whatever. The Syrian media have warned that the roadmap will not lead to peace, as has the ZOA in the United States. The Hamas and/or the Islamic Jihad, and/or splinter groups, will never be satisfied with the roadmap or the leadership of Abu Mazen and will certainly initiate terror attacks at some point. Though Abu-Mazen has won release of prisoners, and end to curfews and other Israeli concessions not seen in several years, Arafat himself has belittled PM Abbas's achievement, and claimed that Sharon has given nothing substantial. No doubt the rivalry between the two will continue to threaten the peace.
For the roadmap to succeed or at least to make progress toward peace, there must be tens of thousands of voices in Israel and Palestine raised in support of peace and coexistence, supporting the statements of the leaders, and there must be public peace initiatives as well. In Israel, it is disappointing that there was a large rally of the Yesha council against the roadmap, but no rally in support of the roadmap. Where is the Israeli peace movement, now that we need their voices for peace? It is not enough to demonstrate against the government when we disagree, and it is not necessarily productive to antagonize the maximum possible number of Israelis with slogans such as "the occupation is killing us all" and demonstrations against the Israeli government after suicide bombings. Shouldn't we be demonstrating for the roadmap now? Aren't we missing a great opportunity to boost the cause of peace and to bring mainstream Israeli Jews back into the peace camp, just because we hate Sharon?
Today is the anniversary of the start of the Six Day War. In 1967, we all thought this war was a great victory that would bring peace and prosperity, and allow us to create the Israeli society of the Zionist ideal. It did not happen, in part because of Arab refusal, and in part because our victory, and Zionism, were hijacked by a historically inevitable, though logically impossible movement, "religious Zionism," that sent Israel off on a mad quest for territory and dominion over another people. The quest turned into a nightmare. We have been offered a second chance, a chance to turn the conquests of the Six Day war into a permanent and lasting peace.
The Palestinians, who had doomed themselves to destruction by a suicidal commitment to senseless violence, have also been offered a second chance. Once more, both sides can "touch the peace." It is within reach, but it will not be attained if we remain silent.
We need to hear everyone's voices in support of peace, and in support of the public process for peace, in support of ending the occupation and of ending the violence. No more suicide "martyrs" and no more "resistance" to peace negotiations, no more reprisals, and no more repression. We must not dignify murderers and their supporters as freedom fighters, and we must not excuse property theft, brutality and repression as "self defense." Then perhaps one day we will have peace.
Peacewill not happen tomorrow. It may not happen according to the roadmap. There will be many setbacks and disappointments. It may never happen. But we have at least one more chance to take a stand for peace, and no decent person can ignore this opportunity.
Click here for official text of the roadmap - April 30, 2003
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