Only the PA Can Deliver
4 June 2001
Terrorist attacks in the region have been mounting in last few months. What is going on? What has changed? Is the possibility of negotiations still open? Can peace be reached under these circumstances? What is the difference between the Israeli and Palestinian populations, between the Israeli leadership and its Palestinian counterpart, between Israeli military activities and Palestinian terrorist attacks? Who can stop the wave of violence? Where are we headed? What are the preventive measures that can be taken and what will the consequences be? And what conclusion should we draw from this all?
Before I move on to the analysis, I would like to state that heinous, brutal killings can by no means be condoned. Nothing whatsoever can be said to justify discarding the last shreds of humanity.
Israel’s defense cabinet has formulated a decision, the media announced, and I cannot help but wonder what kind of decisions the cabinet could have reached that would prevent further escalation? The answer is one – There is nothing new under the sun. No ad-hoc cabinet decision can possibly prevent more bloodshed. Any resolution that would be adopted at this point would only feed the fire. Since the leaders refuse to adopt the only strategic decision that can calm the flames, more and more blood is bound to be shed and more and more atrocities will take place.
In order to find a way to stop the cycle of blood, let us first step into the Palestinians’ shoes. If we only see our own angle, violence will never stop.
Our behavior toward the Palestinian population in the Territories in the last 34 years since we took over has gained us the hatred of the local residents. The Oslo process commenced toward the end of 1993, when Arafat was ready to acknowledge our existence in the region and after he had adopted a strategic decision accepting Israel as a neighbor to the Palestinians. Since 1993 a process began which was ostensibly to create good neighborly relations between the parties. But a lot was up to us, Israelis. We have one clear line in the sand – the Palestinian right of return. We cannot allow Palestinian refugees to return to Israeli territory. The Palestinians are aware of this too. Moreover, in conversations with Palestinian leaders I was told time and time again that there are in fact no individuals to exercise the right of return. The 1948 refugees are by now at least 70 years old. Which of the descendants will return to the homes in Petah Tikva, Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak, Haifa and all the other places? The solution is, therefore, to pay the families compensation to be divided among the heirs. But the Palestinians also have their line in the sand – sovereignty over Temple Mount, which de facto is already theirs. It is difficult to understand Israel’s insistence to overturn a situation that is already in place on the ground through a moot judicial move. The Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter and part of the Armenian Quarter would remain in Israeli hands, while Temple Mount – those parts excluded – would be under Palestinian sovereignty. But Arafat rejected this formula that Barak had proposed, instigating the murderous events that started in September 2000.
The Palestinians were very hopeful before the Camp David talks. The talks failed because Barak and the Israeli population were unwilling to let the Palestinians gain respect with a newfound Palestinian state that would include Temple Mount. Since 1993 the situation in Gaza and the West Bank has seriously deteriorated. We know that in Israel there is a fringe that objects to peace and mocks the rule of law. This fringe, some 50,000 Israelis in total – the minimum required to get one representative, Rabbi Meir Cahane, into the legislature, has been outlawed. In Palestinian territories the equivalent fringe numbers more than 50,000. Palestinians have been living under foreign – Israeli – occupation, and in outrageous poverty. As hatred toward Israel grew, religious fanaticism gained momentum, as did the extremists. The worse the economic situation grew, the more attractive religion became. The more the peace process advanced, the greater the number of bloody attacks perpetrated by that Palestinian fringe, which in its weakest days only numbered a few hundred thousands of peace opponents. When Arafat entered Gaza in the end of 1993, he had to gain control over the Palestinian street, the extremists included. As part of the Oslo process, he was given firearms with which to fight his foes. Meanwhile, opinions in Israel were not supportive of the peace process either. Instead of striving for genuine, warm peace with the Palestinian Authority, objections to the process abounded. A strategy for peace was not endorsed; The Prime Minister was assassinated by an Israeli extremist; A new prime minister was elected, and an escalation began that led to hundreds of casualties on both sides. Despite the hope invoked by the Camp David meetings, these talks were also most volatile. An analogy may be drawn to a patient undergoing surgery: the procedure could greatly improve his medical condition, but might also leave him crippled or dead. Unfortunately, we Israelis are doing a very good job at pushing the Palestinians to desperation. It’s also our responsiblity for their losing the last shred of humanity and resorting to vile and vicious means.
There is no difference between the Islamic ayatollahs and their Jewish counterparts. The Jewish ones use Jewish Law, Halacha, to bar the compromises without which peace will never be possible, while the Muslim ayatollahs keep their people in the dark ages, try to force Islam on the world, and block peace, which would allow the Palestinians to prosper. In Egypt, Jordan, Algeria and other Arab countries fanatic Islamic leaders are also trying to create indigence, so that people seek consolation in the arms of religion. But fanaticism on neither side will prevail. The death toll is simply too high. The Jewish ayatollahs will not succeed because even when they issued religious creeds against democracy, instructing those of their followers who were in the army to disobey orders, the soldiers paid them no heed, and went on to uproot settlements as directed by the democratically-elected government. The Israeli public is stronger than the ayatollahs, and has healthier instincts. The people of Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon are also stronger than their ayatollahs. This is certainly true of the Palestinians, who, having been occupied by the democratic State of Israel, have learned the meaning of democracy – even though their schooling was not obtained in the most pleasant of ways to say the least. No, the ayatollahs shall not have the upper hand.
There is no love lost between Egyptians and Israelis. Despite the formal state of peace between these two countries, the grass roots have not been lending a hand to promote good relations. The reason is simple – it is the Palestinian predicament. The Egyptians see the conditions in which the Palestinians are living, and object to peace with Israel. It is the dire situation of their Palestinian brethren that prompted Israeli Arabs to start undermining Israeli authority. Despite unequal treatment by the state, Arab Israelis, who have been living between a rock and a hard spot ever since 1948, have proven the utmost maturity and responsibility in their relations with Israeli authorities. Israeli Arabs have been model citizens for 52 years, until in September 2000 a small group of Israeli policemen treated them with despicable brutality, leading them to conclude that they are citizens of an enemy country. It is this same shortsightedness of ours that led to the rise of Hezbollah in Lebanon and contributed to the birth of Hamas in West Bank. It was our own behavior toward the occupied population that spawned these evils, and now we are doing just as good a job at nurturing an enemy in our own backyard.
All the terrible blows we have been giving and receiving will lead to nothing but more and more loss of life. Only one route can end the violence. Two resolutions must be adopted by the leaders. The Israelis must resolve to resume negotiations immediately, based on the Clinton understandings and on the principle of Palestinian sovereignty in Temple Mount. The Palestinians must adopt a resolution much like the one made by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who decided to accept the UN plan dividing the Land of Israel into two countries, and at the same time fight the secessionists within the Jewish population as he did in the Altalena affair.
The Israeli and Palestinian peace camp is lying in ruins. But if we want to survive, it is incumbent upon us to come together and fight to get the parties back to the negotiation table in order to start talks based upon an understanding of each other’s lines in the sand. Arafat is the only Palestinian leader who can do that today. We have to keep the communications with him open, we have to sit down with him and make peace. He can deliver the goods – peace for his people and for ours.
We must never lose sight of the substantial difference between the occupying Israeli society and the occupied Palestinian population. There can be no reciprocity in the yearning for peace, in educating for peace and in fighting the detractors of peace. We have a state, we have institutions and infrastructure, we have a solid economic basis. The Palestinians have none of these. He who expects reciprocity is like a blind man walking toward a pit, into which he is bound to fall.
After the Palestinian state is founded, reciprocity should indeed be expected in education for peace and in the relationship in general. But this will happen naturally, since the Palestinians and we are so much alike, much more so than the English and the French, for example. See how far-removed the relations between Germany and the rest of the world, including the Jewish people, are now compared to only half a century ago. The relations with the Palestinians are sure to be amicable and honorable once peace is in place. It was Palestinians who killed my firstborn son, Arik, but I am not seeking vengeance or ways to perpetuate the hatred. What I want is reconciliation and good neighborly relations.
It is not for the love of the Palestinians that I am writing. It is for the love of Israel, and for the love of mankind.