Palestinians remain puzzled over the nature of the American peace mission led by General Anthony Zinni. Is he coming to repeat what previous American envoys like Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet tried and failed to do, i.e. “ensure quiet” and “enforce the ceasefire” and “stop the violence”? Or has he come to assist us Palestinians and Israelis in moving from the current political, security and economic misery into the better world United States Secretary of State Colin Powell described in his speech: an end to occupation, Palestinian statehood and peace and security for all.
What adds to that puzzle is that General Zinni has yet to say little of substance with the exception of reiterating his intention to help end the violence, using the Mitchell and Tenet proposals as his guide. So far, he has listened and given the two sides the opportunity to say what they feel he needs to know without yet telling them – at least the Palestinians – what they need to know about his mission and its limitations.
In the meantime, it seems that just about everyone is trying to tell Zinni what they think, including the extremists on both sides. Ariel Sharon and his government, representing the extremist camp in Israeli society and politics, offered Zinni an example of escalation by renewing the assassination and random killing of Palestinians, in 48 hours taking the lives of 15 people, the majority of whom were civilians including five schoolboys.
The extremists on the Palestinian side, i.e., the Islamic fundamentalists, responded loudly, also wanting to be heard by Zinni and sending the message that security for Israel will not happen at the expense of security for Palestinians.
Now extremists on both sides – Sharon’s right-wing government, for Israelis, and Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, for Palestinians – have gained the upper hand and are feeding off each other. Let us, at least for a moment, come back to the center.
Israeli government escalation in the form of killing and a tightening of the closure will always lead to and legitimize violent actions and reactions from Palestinian political or religious groups. In return, these Palestinian attacks on Israelis will also justify further violent activities from the Israeli government against Palestinians. Moreover, the two radical camps on both sides gain from this process. Their desire is to push this conflict towards one of existential importance because neither wishes to compromise and compromise contradicts both groups’ ideology.
The only way for General Zinni to help us out of this bind is if he carries out a strong third-party intervention that is based on enforcing (through peace initiatives, of course) the implementation of the documents that Palestinians and Israelis have agreed on – at least officially. These include the recommendations of the commission of inquiry led by Senator George Mitchell, previous interim agreements and most importantly, Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Otherwise, the parties will be left alone to wound each other according to the extreme imbalance of power. Israel will be further encouraged to proceed with attempts to solve the problem by force. Palestinians, on the other hand, will be further undermined in their ability to rally support for a peaceful end to the conflict.-
Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.