Laboring under illusions

Violence has been one of the most prominent characteristics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, one used deliberately by both sides in order to achieve their separate political objectives. In the history of the conflict, various periods have been marked by first intensification, and then a reduction, in the use of force. But for most years of the conflict, from the beginning of the waves of Zionist immigration to Palestine to the subsequent attempts to take over land and property from the indigenous Palestinian population that persist even today, violence has been a major feature of this struggle.

We have recently reached the point where many (and perhaps even most) Israelis and Palestinians labor equally under the illusion that the other side understands the language of force over any other means of communication. This is despite historical evidence to the contrary, which shows that violence has never produced political results for either Israelis or Palestinians. Palestinians, who are legitimately trying to achieve the end of Israel’s occupation and their own freedom, self-determination, statehood and refugee right of return, have not made significant progress towards any of these goals through forceful means, while they have made progress–no matter how incremental–via peaceful means. The most prominent examples of Palestinian successes are Israel’s recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization as the legitimate Palestinian leadership, as well as Israel’s partial and gradual withdrawal from Palestinian land as it simultaneously allowed the PLO to take charg! e. All of these achievements occurred during and as a result of the peace process, which began at the Madrid conference and culminated in the signing of the Oslo agreement, however flawed it was.

Israelis, on the other hand, who have been trying to achieve the legitimate goals of peace, security, recognition and regional integration, have not moved one step towards realizing those goals via their own use of violence. On the contrary, periods of intensified Israeli force, such as that which commenced on September 29, 2000, have brought Israelis only less peace, security, recognition and integration and resulted in this protracted vengeful confrontation.

It was during the periods that Israel used a peaceful negotiated approach that circumstances have changed–no matter how slowly–in favor of the objectives of the average Israeli citizen. The years of 1997-2000 were the most peaceful and secure four years for Israelis in the history of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Those years witnessed remarkable breakthroughs in Israeli-Arab relations, mutual recognition, cooperation and integration. It was not by coincidence that prominent Israeli journalist Danny Rubinstein noted in the tense weeks preceding the outbreak of the September 2000 violence that the last Palestinian attack on Israelis had occurred four years prior.

Both sides have now reached a climax in the use of force and subsequently each side is insisting that the other stop first. The only way out of this circuitous logic is the implementation of a schedule of steps that will be acted out simultaneously by both sides, i.e., a coordinated fulfillment of the obligations of the roadmap. Together and at the same time, each side must make a declaration recognizing the basic rights of the other and committing to a moratorium on the use of force. Then, also simultaneously, both sides must actually stop their acts of violence, not excluding the quiet violence of Israeli attempts to confiscate land, demolish houses and prevent by force the movement of Palestinian citizens and local commodities. Otherwise, we have learned through an excess of experience that the wielding of force will only produce a like reaction.

Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

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