Searching for the Path Forward
by Faisal Husseini
There is no shortage of
expectations for the emerging foreign policy of the new Bush
Administration, and nowhere are these expectations more pressing than in
the Middle East, a land rocked between the brink of war and peace.
With the eruption of the Palestinian Intifada and the coming to power of a
right wing Israeli government, many see the prospects for reaching a
comprehensive peace agreement ebbing. But if there is one message
that must be communicated to the Bush Administration, it is this: never
underestimate the currents of change in the Middle East.
The last eight years of the
peace process have resulted in no real benefits to the average
Palestinian, and as a result, trust in the peace process has eroded.
While we did gain the first representational Palestinian government, the
average Palestinian has seen his income cut nearly in half. The continued
Israeli military closure has decimated the Palestinian economy and given
Israel immeasurable power over the fledgling Palestinian government. Since
the start of the Intifada in September, Israel has used the power of
closure to stop the flow of labor and trade. This has resulted in a
50% decline in GNP and a dramatic rise in unemployment to nearly 40%. More
disturbing still is that Israeli settlements in the Palestinian
territories, like the Har Homa settlement near Bethlehem, continue to
expand and consume more Palestinian land. Prime Minister-elect Ariel
Sharon's visit to the Haram al Sherif was the spark for the current
Intifada, but the fuel for the fire was already there, thanks to eight
years of stagnation and growing pessimism.
Still, as we began ten years
ago with the administration of the senior President Bush, we have chosen
the peace path as the way forward based on the principles agreed to during
the Madrid Talks in 1991. Despite the hardships and violence
directed against us over the past five months, we the Palestinians remain
committed to the principles of reaching a negotiated settlement with
Israel based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, and the right of return as
defined by UN Resolution 194. I believe a solution is still at hand.
The last-gasp negotiations at
Taba built important bridges necessary for finding a final status
solution. For the first time, concepts such as an "open
city" for Jerusalem - in which freedom of access and adequate
security is assured for all - and the principle of reciprocal and
equitable land swaps based on the 1967 borders were discussed seriously.
The progress made at Taba was truly astounding, and could form the basis
for a permanent peace in which the vital interests of both Palestinians
and Israelis are preserved.
Although the incoming Israeli
government may consider the progress achieved at Camp David and Taba to be
off the table, in reality there are few options possible but to return to
that table. And we cannot wait until the streets are calm. For
the only way to truly bring about an end to violence is to address the
roots of the conflict. Israel's harsh acts of repression and
collective punishment -- such as house demolitions, closures, curfews and
political assassinations - ostensibly conducted in order to bring about
"security," in fact serve only to provoke more protest from
Moreover, the Palestinian
Authority is now in financial and institutional crisis, in large part due
to the Israeli policies of collective punishment and economic
strangulation. To a large degree, Israeli security measures in the
Palestinian territories are a primary cause driving the current unrest.
Once again, there is again an
urgent need to restore confidence between the two sides and to begin a
process towards achieving a final status settlement. The American role in
this process is crucial; but it is vital that the United States take a
balanced position. It is imperative, for example, that the U.S.
Government not move its embassy to Jerusalem until there is a final
settlement (at which point the United States should open two embassies in
Jerusalem). To move the embassy before a final agreement would
torpedo the peace process and have dangerous repercussions for the United
States throughout the region.
The Bush Administration would
also be well-advised to recognize the flaws in the Clinton
Administration's proposed solutions. The future state of Palestine
must be a viable state and must have development options to expand its
urban centers and to assure its private sector that trade of goods will
not be impeded by Israeli checkpoints and border crossings. As with
other states in the world, Palestine must be a fully sovereign state with
unimpeded access to its neighboring countries and have full control over
its central transportation arteries. And Jerusalem must be
recognized for what it is: the political, economic and cultural heart of
the Palestinian state, and the only acceptable site of the Palestinian
Peace is still achievable if
it its pursuit is based on the reason of logic rather than on the logic of
power. As former President Bush and I began ten years ago, peace
must be forged on the principles of international law and must stand the
twin tests of "fairness and security." We no longer can
afford the status quo and we can no longer continue to debate the
principles. Both sides have formulated the outlines of a lasting
peace agreement. Such an agreement must be implemented soon if
stability is to return to the region.
article written, March 24, 2001, by late Faisal Husseini, PLO Executive
Committee Member in Charge of Jerusalem Affairs.
by courtesy & © 2001 Arabic Media Internet Network (AMIN)