America’s blind support of Israel’s continued illegal occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem has left the parties to the conflict and the world community at a loss of how to equitably achieve Middle East peace. Yet Palestinians remain committed to the U.S.-sponsored peace process that has proved as flawed as the Israeli intentions to implement the agreements that have been signed.
Today’s Palestinian leadership is struggling an uphill battle to reconcile the historical injustices that were done to Palestine and its people. Palestinians went to Madrid, Oslo and Camp David and put on the table the greatest concession ever voluntarily made by an indigenous people, to relinquish 78% of their ancestral homeland so Jews of the world could fulfill their dreams. In return, they expected their Israeli occupiers to dismantle the illegal Israeli occupation on the Palestinian lands that remained. What Palestinians received instead was a package of Israeli aggression like never before. Collective punishment, imprisonment, political assassinations, uprooting of trees, burning of schools, maiming of children, economic blockades, tanks, gunship helicopters, F-16’s and much more.
The interim peace agreement that was reached between the PLO and Israel in 1993 was to set the stage for a final status agreement that would end the conflict and relieve the world community of their ill-conscious surrounding this international sore spot. It is not an accident that the 1993 Oslo agreement is titled, “interim.” The last eight years of “interim” peacemaking was building a bridge that, if destroyed, would send Palestinians back to their collective memory, a memory that harbors Historic Palestine, a land that Muslims, Christians and Jews peacefully lived together on prior to the creation of the State of Israel.
Palestinian’s bitter collective memory yearns for the 418 Palestinian villages It took the Palestinians, the victims of a prolonged 20th century colonization project, 45 years to absorb that they had been objects of a history that was not theirs, and thus, accept Israel’s political existence. If hope is lost today, if Israel yields to its illegal settlers and Jewish extremists and wages war, it can only be expected that it would take Palestinians 45 hours to reinstate a political platform pillared upon their legitimate collective memory.
If twenty-first century diplomacy and politics fail to serve justice and restore Palestinian livelihood, albeit fractured, the reinstating of Palestinian’s collective memory can be expected to return to provide Palestinians the comfort of oral justice. Israel knows this, and does not dare to unilaterally rip up the Oslo peace agreements, not even hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The U.S. knows this even more, and thus does not dare disregard these agreements, no matter how shattered their implementation and no matter how illiterate the current administration is on the issues. Yaser Arafat knows without a doubt that he is the string holding together the entire, failed U.S. policy in the “New Middle East.” Arafat also knows that if today’s stumbling interim peace efforts do not soon result in a total and unfettered end to Israeli occupation, in all its forms, the Palestinian people will have no alternative but to succumb to the collective Palestinian memory, regardless of the price.
Well-oiled public relation campaigns are emanating from Washington and Tel Aviv to portray the Palestinian victim as the rapist and the Israeli rapist as a poor soul with a dire need for a security fix. In spite of this, Palestinians are going out of their way to facilitate the entry of Israel into the Middle East as an equal, a legitimate entity and a partner for the future. History will judge the Palestinian leadership on its wisdom in this strategy, but Israel cannot wait for history. Israel must choose today between peace, on internationally recognized terms, with the dispossessed indigenous people of their State or face another half-century of isolation with the backdrop of a rapidly encroaching demographics dilemma.
Sun-Tzu, in his widely read Chinese militarily classic, The Art of Warfare, wrote, “on the day a declaration of war is made, close off the passes, destroy all instruments of agreement, and forbid any further contact with enemy emissaries.” Palestinians should not be expected to be militarily wiser than classical military science. If Sharon’s Israeli war drums are translated into an all-out war on the Palestinian people or its leadership, the world — Americans and Israelis in particular — should not expect the frameworks of the Oslo Peace Accords, the Mitchell Report, or the numerous antiquated UN resolutions to remain as reference points for any future resolution of the conflict.
If Palestinians must choose between their annihilation and their collective memory, their choice is most likely to be the latter and their time frame, the future. Likewise, Israel must choose between continuing an illegal occupation and preserving the State of Israel. To think that both can co-exist is an utter ignorance of history and human development.
Mr. Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman, born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, who relocated to his family’s home in Al-Bireh, West Bank immediately following the signing of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994).