Rami Khouri / Globe and Mail – 2006-06-28 23:36:02
(June 28, 2006) — As Israeli troops massed on the border with Gaza, preparing to invade the Palestinian territory in retaliation for continuing rocket attacks against southern Israel and the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, why do I feel we’ve been through this before without any real success?
Perhaps it is time for Israelis and the world to acknowledge something they have always preferred to avoid: Why did Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip last year not result in the intended effect of rejuvenating the Israeli-Palestinian peace process? Because the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank are not the main issue at conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s worth noting how large is the variance between Arab analysts and the political establishments in the US, Europe and Israel when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Take the three examples of Israel’s unilateral actions: building the barrier that physically separates the two peoples; pulling out of Gaza last year, and, according to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s promises, pulling out of much of the West Bank in the coming years.
Most people in Israel and the West see these as major, bold initiatives that reflect historic change in the mindset of the Israeli public and political elite, who have decided that they must separate from the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, lands occupied in 1967.
The reason that Israeli unilateralism has not triggered a renewed peace-making effort is very simple: This is not a unilateral conflict. Easy moves that only reflect the concerns of one side, while leaving the underlying causes of the conflict untouched, will only keep the conflict alive. The only way out of this is the hard way: coming to terms with the core dispute over the land of historic Palestine and the rights of all its people.
For the Palestinians, the dispute is not only about Gaza and the West Bank.
It is a wider national conflict that can be resolved by addressing the full dimensions of Palestinian national rights. This means statehood in the West Bank/Gaza, a capital in Arab east Jerusalem, and resolving the 1948 Palestinian refugee issue fairly. In return, the Palestinians have to make the decision to live in peace and mutual assured security with the predominantly Jewish state of Israel in its 1967 borders.
The Hamas victory in the Palestinian election was badly misinterpreted by Israel, the United States and much of Europe. The victory reflected a series of widespread Palestinian concerns, including: the failure of nearly 40 years of PLO policies; the failure of foreign diplomatic intervention; the absence of solid Arab support; Israel’s preference for unilateral moves that deny Palestinian national rights; and, the subordination of Arab-Israeli issues to the U.S.-led “war on terror.”
The Hamas victory represents a reaction to all these perceptions, and reflects the dominant Palestinian attitude that wants to achieve three things: resist Israel militarily and politically, while always exploring opportunities to negotiate with it on equal terms (not the unequal, humiliating and failed terms of the past); continue to develop the republican institutions of a pluralistic democracy; and rebuild Palestinian society on the basis of good governance, local security, and a revived economy.
Palestinians look at themselves and their national issues as an integrated whole, not as a narrow West Bank/Gaza matter or the “demographic threat” that Israel’s Jewish population sees. Palestinian priorities include resolving the refugee issue from 1948, reclaiming all lands occupied in 1967, and stopping Israeli attacks, assassinations and colonial expansion, in return for co-existence with a law-abiding Israel.
In other words: If Israel will not allow Palestinians to live in peace, dignity, and national integrity, Israelis themselves will not be permitted to enjoy those same rights. If Israel is prepared to negotiate seriously and fairly, and resolve the core 1948 issues of the conflict, rather than the secondary ones from 1967, a fair and permanent peace is possible. Sending yet another Israeli assault brigade to kill and torment more Palestinians in Gaza will only heighten that reality, not override it.
Israelis must wise up one day and accept the fact that unilateralism — whether invading or retreating with their army — does not solve the problems of a bilateral conflict.
Rami G. Khouri is editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star.
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