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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

To a Palestinian friend - how not to end the impasse


Dear Walid,

Like you, and like many Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews who have invested so much hope in the prospect of peace, I have been following the events of the past year with increasing distress.

I was appalled and disappointed when the great opportunity opened by the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza turned into a nightmare: Palestinian Arabs under siege, the Negev towns bombarded by Qassam rockets, greenhouses turned into arms smuggling tunnels. The Israeli government, for its part, wasted opportunities to bolster Mahmoud Abbas's position, and continued to build settlements and invest in a future that is not a future. Then the Palestinians elected a Hamas government, and in so doing they sealed the fate of the Oslo peace process. The Palestinian National Authority that was created to negotiate peace, is now in the hands of an organization that has sworn to never make peace.

The boycott of the Palestinian Authority by the donor nations is causing great distress to the Palestinians, as we all know. It is greatly exacerbated by the fact that the Palestinian government uses whatever funds are smuggled through to pay for arms and to pay the salaries of "security" groups. You could not expect the donor nations to behave any differently. Their support was supposed to help build peace. It was to be given to a Palestinian authority committed to peace, not to a Hamas led government committed to the destruction of Israel at any cost.

I was distraught over the accidental killing of nineteen innocent civilians in Gaza, as I was distraught that a Qassam rocket strike killed an Arab Israeli women in Sderot. With each week, the perennial "situation," what we Israelis have called "hamatzav" since before there was an Israel, has deteriorated.

One ray of hope still flickered in the darkness at the end of the tunnel. That hope was that the moderate Fateh and the forces that are represented by Mahmoud Abbas, would form a unity government with the Hamas and that that government would pledge itself to keep to all previous agreements, to recognize the right of the Jews to live as a free people in Israel, and in so doing, gain for themselves the right of the Arabs of Palestine to live as a free people in their own land - lihiyot am hofshi be'artzenu as the Israel national anthem proclaims. I am sure that you, like me hold to this right.

Now it seems that Mahmoud Abbas may agree to form a unity government, but that that government will not recognize the right of Israel to exist, and will not honor the previous agreements of the Palestinian National Authority.

I looked forward to reading your article about the Palestinian and Israeli situations, knowing that you are committed to coexistence between our peoples, and hoping that you would show us a way of the impasse.

Unfortunately, I must confess that I was very disappointed and fearful for the future after reading your article, Walid. The reason is that you represent for me one of the most moderate Palestinians, who genuinely wants peace, and if this is what you think, then there is truly no hope at all.

I agree with you that the Israeli government should make some moves to meet with Abu Mazen and to try to negotiate an end to the madness. What is urgently needed is a temporary solution that "puts out the fire." This could include a real truce and a prisoner exchange , a settlement freeze, and a way to ensure that funds are distributed to Palestinian civilians for use in constructive projects, rather than smuggling arms and maintaining terrorist groups. After that, perhaps it will be possible to convince the people on both sides of the urgent need for permanent peace. What is emphatically harmful however, is resignation and acceptance of the status quo and of the maximalist demands of the Hamas, which would sweep the ground out from under the Palestinian moderate camp and declares that peace is forever impossible on any terms.

However, it appears to me that against the background of the Palestinian attitude that you express, there will be no progress whatever, for in effect, you have endorsed the Hamas position, and declared that the Palestinian moderates are willing to commit political suicide in the name of unity.

The first problem is that you show a great willingness to explain what Israelis must do for peace, but you are unwilling to tell your own people what you must do for peace. You tell us:

Peace activists meeting with Olmert this coming week...should tell him to forget the re-alignment plan and to make two other moves: One to allow some Kadima people to meet with Hamas people in order to get to a Hudna reciprocal agreement, and if that is not possible to get to an agreement for a reciprocal ceasefire, and the second is to begin quiet talks with Abu-Mazen people in order to decide the details of a permanent solution that will be implemented in a short period not to exceed three years.

Perhaps you really don't know, what you need to do for peace. If you do not know what is necessary, and you do not lead a peace movement among Palestinians, who will? If I talk to Palestinians about what they must do for peace, it will surely be perceived by them as "Zionist propaganda." If you try to tell Israelis what we must do for peace, it will be dismissed as "Palestinian propaganda." In any case, nobody will tell Olmert to talk to Hamas, as there is currently nothing to talk about, and talking to Hamas will undermine Mahmoud Abbas. It is the job of people like myself and other Israelis to ask Israelis to make sacrifices and change attitudes for peace. It is the job of Palestinians like you to ask Palestinians to make sacrifices and change attitudes for peace. You are not doing your job, and you cannot do our job.

The second problem is that you show no awareness whatever of the fundamental difficulty - the locomotive of the Israeli-Arab conflict. You wrote:

go back to the first simple fact; that is, that the evil began with occupation.

And that is the root of the impasse and of all the impasses. Your view of history begins in 1967. That is the big problem of your narrative. As I was alive before 1967 I can tell you that history did not begin then, and that the evil did not begin with the occupation. Your "narrative" is like the German history of 1925 or 1933, which began in November 1918. In that view, the Germans did nothing bad, because no history happened before 1918, when the bad allied countries conquered Germany unfairly. The evil, Walid, began about 1920 or before. Maybe it began with the little kids who threw rocks at my great grandfather in Jerusalem, a hundred and twenty years ago, or maybe began with Hajj Amin El Husseini and his people, who refused to accept any Jewish presence in Palestine. It continued with the war in 1948 and with the foundation of the Fatah about 1957 and the PLO in 1964 with the announced goal of destroying Israel by terror attacks. All this happened before there was any occupation. So the evil did not begin with the occupation. It was that evil that the Oslo accords sought to undo, and the basis of the accords was mutual recognition by Israel and the Palestinians. That has been undone by Hamas. Because you do not understand the root of the evil, you do not understand the real problem that will cause the failure of the unity government and doom any negotiations.

Hamas wish to perpetuate the evil. They insist over and over that they will never recognize the right of Israel to exist and they will never make peace. Never. They want a Hudna in order to create a state that will gather arms and resources in order to attack Israel. They will keep renewing this Hudna in order to gain time, and to educate the people about wiping out Israel. Their charter insists that all of Palestine is a holy Waqf given to the Muslim people by Allah and that negotiations and conferences are a waste of time. Instead of "Land for Peace" as the Oslo agreements dictated, Hamas wants to negotiate "Land for Genocide." No Israelis will buy that "bargain."

Abu Mazen had insisted previously that Hamas must recognize all previous agreements, and the quartet was insisting that Hamas must recognize the right of Israel to exist. That recognition is the basis of the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, which was created by the Oslo Interim Agreement in order to negotiate peace with Israel. A Palestinian Authority government that refuses to recognize Israel, as Hamas has announced repeatedly, has no legitimacy. Now Abu Mazen has apparently surrendered on this key condition, and hopes to form a unity government that will not adhere to quartet conditions and still get aid from the quartet. Perhaps he will do so. But the quartet aid was intended to support a government that would negotiate peace, not a government that would only negotiate concessions from Israel and give nothing in return.

What is the point of negotiating if the Palestinian government does not announce that it will adhere to negotiated agreements?

You wrote:

We [Palestinians] will not allow you [Mahmud Abbas] to make concessions free of charge to Israel via resuming the Israeli negotiations with you, while Olmert is not ready to make any move forward.

Only in the imagination of the Hamas, the Palestinians made some concessions to Israel. Can you name one concession? In return for allowing the Palestinians to form a government, to hold elections, to govern themselves in Gaza, what did Israel get? Suicide bombers in supermarkets and Qassams in Sderot, an empty statement of recognition that was quickly rescinded, and a constant international campaign of delegitimation.

You wrote:

"and the second is to begin internal talks with Abu-Mazen people in order to decide the details of a permanent solution that will be implemented in a short period not to exceed three years."

But Walid, there can never be any "permanent solution" unless and until the Hamas and the Palestinans are willing to recognize the right of Israel to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. So we are right back where we started. It might as well be 1948 again. Without that willingness, there cannot not be a "permanent solution" in 3 years or in 3 millennia. Apparently, even the most moderate Palestinians, like the emigres of the French Revolution, have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing.

You wrote:

This way is opposite to the stalemate, and also opposite to conflict management steps that proved to be not useful and that will lead only in one direction: A Big Regional War!

Who will participate in this war? Perhaps it can be another war like 1967. That war helped the Palestinians a great deal, no? Do you imagine that Egypt will come to the aid of the Hamas? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Iran might participate. And what was the result of the 1967 war, and of the 1948 war? Did the Palestinians gain anything??

And what will happen if the donor nations recognize this genocidal unity government, that would be sworn never to make peace with Israel, and Israel is forced to give in to all of the Hamas demands? An irredentist Palestinian state will be born, a state that will never be satisfied until it has fulfilled the goal stated in the Hamas charter, to wipe out Israel. And when they try to do that, won't there be an even bigger war?

It is amazing to me that you "forgot" that from the point of view of the quartet and of Israel, the object of the unity government "exercise" was to get a government that would recognize the right of Israel to exist and agree that they would negotiate a peace agreement. Without such a government, there is no prospect for peace.

The Fateh and Mahmoud Abbas understood very well at one time that the way of the Hamas is a dead end. That is why Abbas insisted that any unity government would undertake to honor all previous agreements. However, when fighting among Palestinian factions got out of control, this cardinal point was forgotten. The object became to form a unity government, as if unity in folly would solve all the problems. The real concessions were made only by Fatah and Abbas, and by you and others, who are now willing to give up every principle in order to achieve "unity." "Unity" is good if everyone is united to achieve a worthy goal. If everyone is united in the goal of destroying another people, in a project that can only end in disaster, unity is very bad indeed.


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