Tel Aviv, January 2005
The death of Yasser Arafat is seen by many people of good will as a chance to revive the peace process. Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is hailed as a moderate leader. A leader who has openly opposed the armed Intifada. The Palestinians are bathing in the exciting energies of a democratic election campaign just like a prisoner bathing in a small pool of sun entering his cell through a tiny skylight. One of the reasons they have elected Abu Mazen was to appease Bush and Sharon, hoping that in return, the strangling Israeli grip on their lives will loosen a little. In Israel, too, many are fed up with fighting, and wish to lead a normal life - only they have their own ideas of what normality means. Optimism is desirable, filling our sails and motivating us for action, but we must remain sober, or else the same wind might drive our fragile boat against the hard rocks of reality...
The first sober realization is this: although Arafat was the man who many loved to hate, he is not the cause of the conflict that started long before he was born. The roots of the conflict are in the Zionist aspiration to “inherit the land”, ignoring the indigenous population, or at least upholding the colonialist idea that “...They (the Palestinians) will be grateful, as they see how we have developed land...”. as Herzl wrote in his book ‘Altneuland’. This aspiration opened the door to a century of bloodshed and suffering. The danger of this aspiration is now spilling over from the local arena into the global one and is fuelling the extremely dangerous concept of the “Clash of Civilizations”. This sees the conflict no longer between Israeli and Palestinian, but between ‘Jew’ and ‘Arab`, wherever they are.
As long as this long-term Israeli aspiration does not change, Abu Mazen’s politics, moderate or otherwise, will not bring about any radical change. True, many Israelis hope, as many Palestinians fear, that Sharon and Bush might succeed in forcing the moderate leader into accepting the American-Israeli diktat. In this scenario, Abu Mazen is expected to give up the minimum Palestinian demands, settle for a Bantustan Palestinian state inside the maze of the separation wall and call this peace. But Abu Mazen, just as Arafat before him, seems, at least for the time being, unwilling to abandon the minimum demands for the establishment of a free and viable Palestinian state: A Palestinian state demarcated by the Green Line with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just solution for the problem of the refugees. These are the same demands Arafat made ever since 13 December 88, when he took the historic decision to recognize Israel on 78% of historic Palestine, and settle for a Palestinian state on the remaining 22%, with the Green Line as a border of peace between them.
In order to appreciate the magnitude of this concession, we need to remember that the Green Line itself took from the Palestinians a large part of the land designated to them by the UN. It was drawn arbitrarily in 1949 as the armistice line between Israel and Jordan. The Green Line separated Palestinians from their homes and split villages in two in the exact same way the Separation Wall is doing now, causing a traumatic rupture in the Palestinian society.
The secret hope of some in Israel is that the Palestinians today will adapt to the Separation Wall in the same way their parents adapted to the Green Line in 1949. Who knows? Given another generation of “negotiations” and “peace process”, perhaps my son and his Palestinian comrades in their shrunken enclaves, will struggle for the establishment of a free Palestinian state within the Separation Wall just as we are struggling for a free Palestinian state within the Green Line...
Let us remember that if any legal border exists between Israel and Palestine, it is along the lines of the 1947 partition plan. If there is any contended land, it is Palestinian land occupied by Israel during the 1948 war, and not only during the 1967 war. From this standpoint, the Palestinian position is a huge, almost unbearable, concession. Any further Israeli demand can only be based on “might is right”, and a Palestinian submission to such demands will lead to devastating results, because it is highly unlikely they will be able to establish a viable state behind the wall, on the remaining shreds of land.
So, what can bring about the realization of the Palestinian minimal demands? What will Abu Mazen be able to show as a concrete result of his moderate strategy? How can he answer the Palestinian militants who insist, not implausibly, that only the armed struggle will have brought about the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, that 4 years of blood achieved more results than decades of negotiations during which the colonies expanded ceaselessly?
Abu Mazen would be naïve to expect much from Israel as a return for his non violent approach. He already had a taste of the Israeli attitude when Israel released 400 prisoners to Hizbullah in February 2004, but refused to release Palestinian prisoners to help strengthen Abu Mazen, the new, moderate Palestinian prime minister. The Israeli attitude to him will probably be a mixture of disappointment and disregard: Disappointment with the “moderate” who turned “radical” overnight. For a mainstream Israeli, not accepting the settlements (which are internationally recognized as illegal), as a “fait accompli”, means being radical. This Israeli Hubris seems to be confusing moderation with submission. Several Israeli ministers have already conveyed their “disappointment” with Abu Mazen’s statement that his goal is a free Palestine in all the territories occupied in 1967. “We thought he was moderate” they say, meaning “We thought he understood that the settlement blocks are here to stay”.
The second component of the predictable Israeli response is disregard - after all, how important are the political positions of a Palestinian leader, for those who are backed by the world’s sole super-power?
This is the mentality that allows Israel to continue pursuing its long-term aspiration – to “inherit the land”. Sharon’s unilateral disengagement plan is entirely consistent with this goal. The idea is to appease the world in Gaza while tightening the Israeli grip on the parts of the West Bank designated to be annexed to Israel by the “separation” wall.
In the second phase Israel will continue the unilateral disengagement from parts of the West Bank that are densely populated by Palestinians, and therefore unfit for annexation. The west bank, just like Gaza before it, will turn into a series of ghettoes surrounded by walls and fences and totally controlled by Israel. The Palestinians may call this a state, if they wish.
This plan has wide support among the Israeli public even though it is brought to public discussion only in a fragmented form. There are two main reasons for this support:
1. It is consistent with the deepest Zionist view of an exclusive Jewish state serving as a Western outpost in the midst of Oriental Barbarism, a view held by a vast majority of Israelis.
2. A considerable shift in the Israeli political landscape.
The left, which took a sharp turn to the right during the current Palestinian uprising, is meeting a large part of the Israeli right that has given up on the hope of continuing the ethnic cleansing of 48. This political block realizes that such an act is no longer possible in the 21st century.
The result is a new large block that may be called moderate-right wing. This block represents a great majority of the Israeli public who believe strongly that Israel needs to separate itself from the Palestinians unilaterally, finally consolidating the conquests of the 1967 war and keeping as much land as possible, under the formula “maximum territory – minimum Palestinians”. This formula is the basis of the consensus, and is shared by left and right alike, from most of the leftist Meretz party to a large proportion of the right wing Likud party. There are approximately 20% who still maintain “all the territory – no Palestinians” and not even one Jewish MP who is willing to raise his voice for the Palestinians` rights. The Separation Wall is the concrete manifestation of this consensus.
Unfortunately, the US is a full, even if a sometimes silent partner to Israeli past and current politics, as well as to its vision of the future. Bush’s letter to Sharon dated April 2004, makes this abundantly clear:
“...In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949...”
both regimes share a brutal, darwinist view of the world. Both uphold the ethos of the pioneering settler inheriting the land given to them by the Lord, and it is the secret fantasy of many Israelis, that the fate of the Palestinians will be similar to that of the native Americans. Still, the US has many other interests in the region, and cannot appear to be completely one sided, or else its local puppet regimes may lose stability. Under these circumstances it is probable that the US will demand Israel start negotiations with the new, moderate Palestinian leader. This demand will probably be followed up with the same resolve Bush has shown after demanding, some 40 months ago, that Israel withdraw from the Gaza strip, or when he demanded the dismantlement of the ever growing Israeli “out-posts”...we are still waiting.
This will suit Israel just fine. Let us negotiate. Why not? Negotiations will help create the impression of progress and improve Israel’s image in the world. But most important, under the warm blanket of endless negotiations Sharon can continue expanding the colonies and tighten Israel’s grip on the West Bank, just as Israel did in the years 1993-2000, the seven “peaceful” years of the Oslo process, when the population of the colonies very nearly doubled, from 200,000 to 380,000.
A sober look at this reality must lead us to the conclusion that currently, Israel does not have the will, nor the political resolve, to end the occupation and allow the establishment of a sovereign, free and viable Palestinian state.
It is therefore clear that effective international pressure on Israel is needed in order to protect the Palestinians against the American-Israeli intention of confining them into a set of ghettoes behind the Separation Wall. It should be made perfectly clear that this pressure, be it economic, political, academic, cultural or other - is not aimed against Israel, but rather against her oppressive policies, and will persist only until such time as Israel decides to respect her obligations under International law, including the agreements and conventions she is a party to.
As an Israeli, I must admit to having failed, along with the Israeli peace camp as a whole, in our efforts to convince our fellow citizens of the necessity and value of a just peace.
In the light of this failure, and of the grim analysis presented earlier, I think that the Israeli peace camp needs to change its perspective. While maintaining our efforts in Israel and the occupied territories, I think that a major duty of Israeli activists is to lend our voice and moral weight, as Israelis and Jews, to a call for the application of effective pressure on Israel. I believe this is the greatest asset we can bring as our contribution to a popular and combined struggle, involving the international community, Palestinians and Israelis. Such a struggle, if conducted with dedication and resolve, might bring better results than we have achieved so far. I know that many readers will shake their heads in disbelief. I do not share their reservations.
On February 15 2003, twenty million people, all over the world, took to the streets in a demonstration that was larger by far than any held before. On that day, the people of the world raised a loud and clear voice against the war Bush intended to wage on Iraq. The demonstrations covered the entire globe – from Beijing to Antarctica, from Paris to Alaska.
Many argue that the demonstrations failed because several weeks later Bush still attacked Iraq. I do not think that they failed. The demonstrations branded the war with a deep and indelible mark of illegitimacy. The heavy price Bush had to pay in order to build his feeble coalition, the intensive and unsuccessful search for WMD, the tremendous public impact of the Abu Ghraib affair and many others, are all marks and results of this illegitimacy.
In a perfect world, we would have succeeded in stopping the war, but we are not in a perfect world, just on our way there...We, the people of the world, are gaining power daily. It is a power that we have not yet learned to harness effectively or even fully understand.
As the US under Bush is falling under an increasingly dark shadow, Europe must take its place as a sane, leading world power.
Europe, and especially the people of Europe who emerged sixty years ago from the debris of devastating destruction, probably appreciates more than most the value of a just peace. Europe, if she overcomes her fear and guilt, can make it very clear to Israel that oppression and denial of human and political rights are not tolerated practices any longer. It is well within her means to make that happen.
This is a quote from the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, addressing the UN general assembly in 1988.
“...The PLO will seek a comprehensive settlement among the parties concerned in the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the State of Palestine, Israel, and other neighbors, within the framework of the international conference for peace in the Middle East on the basis of resolutions 242 and 338 and so as to guarantee equality and the balance of interests, especially our people’s rights, in freedom, national independence, and respect the right to exist in peace and security for all .
If these principles are endorsed at the international conference, we will have come a long way toward a just settlement, and this will enable us to reach agreement on all security and peace arrangements...” Yasser Arafat addressing the UN general assembly – 13/12/88
16 years ago, long before the first suicide bomber blew himself up in an Israeli bus, the leader of the Palestinian people reached out for just peace. For what it is worth, the word ‘peace’ is mentioned 67 times in his speech.
What has the world done between 1988 and 2000 in order to make this a reality?
How can those who have done nothing for decades now accuse the victims of terrorism?
How deep is our commitment to the Palestinians and their new leader, Abu Mazen, now?