Al Ahram Weekly (Egypt)
February 28, 2005 Issue
Throughout the Arab-Israeli conflict Israel has concentrated its energies on imposing its own version of events and its own version of a solution so successfully that the Palestinians and Arabs have invariably been cornered and forced to make concessions.
Following the 1948 war Israel claimed that the Arabs refused to recognise its existence and negotiate with it. In the process it gobbled up 78 per cent of Palestinian land, shredding the UN partition resolution to which it had originally agreed. Following the 1967 war Israel protested that it had no intention of holding on to the territories it had occupied — all the Palestinians and Arabs had to do was recognise it, halt the resistance to occupation and enter into negotiations.
When the Arabs did recognise Israel and entered into negotiations it continued its expansionist policy, annexing the Golan Heights and Arab Jerusalem, building over a hundred settlements in the West Bank and, during the Oslo period, dissecting the occupied territories with a web of ring roads and checkpoints.
During the second Intifada the problem, according to Israel, became one of Palestinian violence and its own security needs. On this basis Israel began the construction of the racist separating wall, decimated the foundations of the Palestinian economy, continued with the annexation and judaisation of Palestinian territories and pressed ahead with its project to transform any possible Palestinian entity into a collection of Bantu states.
Today, now that the Palestinians have built up a new momentum — by virtue of heroic sacrifices made in the Intifada, their steadfast commitment to national principles, the democratic spirit they brought to recent elections and the cohesiveness they have shown in their agreement to a ceasefire and a halt to military operations — Israel is once again driving them on the defensive.
Instead of capitalising on the current momentum the PA was drawn into the Sharm El-Sheikh summit, handing Israel the opportunity to hammer home its view that security arrangements are the crux of the peace process and providing Sharon with an opportunity to continue to evade his obligations under the roadmap and insist that the Palestinians are the only party accountable for the implementation of that plan. The only road now leading from Sharm El- Sheikh threads its way through partial negotiations and interim agreements, a course defined by Sharon’s conditions and the milestones he sets for Palestinian performance on security.
Israel is desperate for the world to forget that the crux of the conflict resides in its occupation of Palestine and its refusal to accept the Palestinians’ inalienable right to self- determination. Its strategy is to reduce Palestinian cause into a series of security and administrative arrangements, holding out the possibility of some improvements in their standard as the carrot for sliding peacefully into a system of racial discrimination and enslavement. Its aim is to reduce the concept of an independent state to a semi- autonomous entity, with no sovereignty over its land or borders, the primary task of which will be to serve as the occupier’s policemen.
It is now more crucial than ever that the Palestinians decide how to manage the struggle rather than the negotiating process. If they have reached a consensus over calling a halt to military operations they must also reach a common strategy for peace. This strategy must befounded upon the insistence that international resolutions, the end ofthe occupation and national independence remain the only terms of reference of the peace process. Towards this end an international peace conference should be convened and non-militarised protest must proceed hand in hand with a diplomatic drive to secure international support and a domestic drive to promote social cohesion and steadfastness in the face of economic hardship.
Safeguarding national unity and preventing Israel from converting its conflict with the Palestinians into an internal Palestinian one are the obvious incentives for adhering to the truce. However, the preservation of national unity also requires a unified mechanism for managing the struggle and the negotiating process. Until the elections of the legislature, national council and other organisations are completed the only viable route to creating such a mechanism entails ensuring that all major Palestinian factions, including Hamas, the Palestinian National Initiative and Islamic Jihad, are represented on the PLO executive committee. This committee, in turn, will be charged with conducting the Palestinian peace offensive and its attendant negotiations.
This solution presumes that the PLO, and not the PA, will guide the negotiating process. It presumes a solid framework for maintaining a united stance rather than a body that takes policy decisions unilaterally and then scrambles to negotiate individually with each of the factions every time a crisis erupts. It presumes that commitment to national principles is something that will be translated into practice rather than forming the substance of quickly forgotten electoral slogans and that the factions are willing to place the welfare and future of the Palestinian people above their own narrow interests.