The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has two main objectives: to reverse the peace process and its achievements, and to maintain Israel’s control over all of historic Palestine. Sharon’s immediate goal, however, is forcing the Palestinian Authority (PA) to accept Israel’s cease-fire terms which would permit Israel to have a security role in the Palestinian territories. Aware of Israel’s intentions, the Palestinians rejected the amendments to the Tenet and Mitchell plans made by U.S. Middle East Envoy Anthony Zinni. The changes would legalize Israel’s military actions against the PA and the Palestinian people.
The nature of the ongoing Israeli military operation and the U.S. administration’s support for Israel has made it difficult to see a way out of the current bloodshed. The Israeli incursion in the West Bank is creating a dynamic that will be difficult to reverse. The Israeli government seems to not only want to weaken the PA, but to entirely eliminate its security capabilities. In addition, by officially declaring PA President Yasser Arafat and the PA as the enemies of Israel, Israel has eliminated the PA as a political player. It appears that Israel’s goal is to downgrade the PA from a governing authority to an administrator. Plans to demote the PA began to surface during security negotiations, when Israel demanded that the PA simply police Palestinians. When that failed, Israel used military force to crush the PA.
Understanding the Violence:
Palestinians sometimes wonder about the specific nature of the American concern over suicide bombings. Is the concern so strong because these terrible attacks are suicidal and therefore irrational and unstoppable? Or is the concern so strong because these attacks result in extensive civilian casualties? If the concern is over civilian casualties, it is only fair that Americans be equally concerned over Palestinian civilian casualties. A distinction must be made between Palestinian suicide attacks against Israelis, and Israeli military attacks against Palestinians. Palestinian suicide bombings occur within the context of aggressive Israeli military occupation. They are a response to occupation and to the humiliating tactics used by the Israeli army to enforce the occupation.
The Way Out:
At the Arab League Summit in Lebanon last month, the Arab states adopted the Saudi peace initiative which was also endorsed by the Palestinians. This was an Arab and Palestinian effort to find a way out of the current crisis and to end the bloodshed. It was a demonstration by the Arabs and the Palestinians of their desire to bring about a comprehensive final peace and normalization in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the borders sanctioned by United Nations (UN) resolution 242, as well as a solution to the refugee problem in accordance with resolution 194. Israel officially rejected the peace plan and timed its reoccupation of Palestinian territories for the same day the Arab summit approved it.
An immense hurdle to finding a way out is Washington’s complete adoption of changing Israeli positions. In light of Israel’s unwillingness to adhere to signed agreements, international law, and bridging proposals such as the Tenet and the Mitchell plans, the United States remains the only power that can influence Israel. However, it appears that the Middle East conflict is mired in internal American politics which are preventing, if not paralyzing, decisive U.S. action. At the very least, the United States should expect Israel to respect U.S.-sponsored initiatives. But the power to influence the United States is not exclusive to Israel. The growing anger of the Arab people-seen as a threat to the stability of U.S. allies in the region-seems to be an influencing factor on the official American position.
U.S. Diplomatic Effort:
The success of the recent U.S. diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, launched with the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region, is in doubt. If Powell arrives with the same American mentality-ignoring the nature of this Israeli government, the roots of its positions, and its racist, right-wing, fascist ideology, he will fail. Powell must understand that the political nature of the Sharon government is, in principle, against the very foundations of the peace process.
Another diplomatic mistake Powell should not repeat is to take advantage of the current weak and uncertain state in which some in the Palestinian leadership find themselves. Concessions extracted during such times will not be kept. The American politicians should carefully study the Palestinian internal political situation and should not take advantage of the gaps in positions between the Palestinian political and negotiating leaders, on one hand, and the activists and the political leadership of the uprising on the other.
The only chance for success in the diplomatic effort is to adopt an equal approach when addressing the needs and rights of Palestinians and Israelis. If the goal is to stop Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians, it must be addressed in the context of stopping violence against civilians on both sides. If the goal is to ensure security, it must be ensured to Palestinians and Israelis alike. If the goal is to guarantee Israel’s right to exist, it must come within the context of the right of both sides to self-determination and existence. An ideal way to achieve these goals is to use international law and legitimacy as the measure for American and international diplomacy.
If Powell continues to toe the previous U.S. line, his efforts will inflame the conflict and violence. The failure of his mission will increase the conviction of both sides that there is no peaceful alternative to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
This latest Israeli operation is one more step towards the permanent reoccupation of all Palestinian territories. This new dynamic will further push the area away from peace negotiations and deeper into confrontation. The logic of force, as recent and ancient history has taught us, only brings further forceful reactions. When a neutral observer views the nature of the carnage inflicted on Palestinians-whether it be the demolition of homes with entire families inside, or the prevention of ambulances and the International Committee of the Red Cross from evacuating the injured and the dead, or restricting journalists from witnessing events-they will understand that it is natural to expect all forms of violent Palestinian retaliation and revenge. Ultimately, Israel’s attempt to achieve the legitimate goals of peace and security through illegitimate means of inflicting pain will fail. This strategy has failed since Sharon’s rise to power.
The way out of this current crisis lies in the will of the Israeli public and government to end the occupation. Even in this dire state, the Palestinians-who are resisting Israeli occupation-want no more than an end to the occupation. They will take no less, but aspire to no more.
Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.