Exit from the deadly impasse between the Palestinians and Israel requires the separation and then the elimination of two major myths that are firmly entrenched in the active, and rather confused, debate on how the negotiations can be restored and the search for a Palestinian-Israeli peace can be resumed.
The first is the Sharonian myth, for which he secured instant approval and firm support from his American hosts during his recent visit to Washington. This myth insists that the Palestinians should stop the violence before the Israelis agree to go back to the negotiating table. This is wrong, misleading and entirely based on exploitative assumptions.
The truth is that violence was the result, not the cause, of the breakdown of a sterile peace process which ended up as it started, being used by Israel, with American acquiescence, as a convenient cover for legitimising its occupation, continuing the implementation of its expansionist colonial settlement programme and consolidating its war gains in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Violence, for Israel, means the Intifada, and it is evident that the Israelis’ major goal now is to end the Intifada, not as a prerequisite for restoring negotiations (which are the least of Israel’s concerns), but as a desperate security and policy necessity, to extricate itself from a deep crisis, while its military superiority, a handy tool of its aggression policies since its creation, is failing to break the spirit of Palestinian resistance, in spite of its ruthlessness and unprecedented destructive cruelty.
Israel simply insists on ending this Intifada, as it did the previous one, to strip the Palestinians of any cards that may help their negotiating position towards a meaning settlement.
Should that happen, it will reverse the situation to the very critical point that ignited the present crisis, ensuring a certain re-entry into a violent and deadly vicious cycle.
Does the mean that the Intifada, and therefore the violence, should continue? Before answering this tricky question, clear distinction should be drawn between the two: for violence and the Intifada are not the same.
The Intifada, as a legitimately recognised form of rejecting half a century of ongoing oppressive Israeli occupation, should certainly continue until justice is done. The rights of people to resist occupation and fight for their independence are recognised by international law; and for the Palestinians it is not only their right but their irrefutable duty to free themselves from an historic injustice (just, on only 22 per cent of their country) and to put an end to a persistent threat to their very existence, after seven years of mounting frustration with vain, reckless, comic and counterproductive negotiations.
The Intifada should be seen as a useful catalyst, as liberation movements often are, for temporising attitudes and for confronting Israelis with the hard fact that peace has its requirements and that they could not have peace while maintaining occupation and inflicting continued injustice. They should choose, as president Carter put it in his famous letter to The New York Times few months ago, land or peace.
The Intifada stands as a last resort for imposing reason on the Israeli defiant and extremist attitudes, when everything else over the last thing five years has failed. The United Nations with its resolutions has failed. The United States has failed. The Europeans have failed. The Arabs have failed. All the methods of temptation, appeasement, persuasion, threats and force have failed.
The Intifada should be seen as part of the solution and not of the problem; it should be the way, not the obstacle. This is not going to be easy for the Israelis to accept and, therefore, they will pursue their fierce war until faced with what will not be the desired end. This was the lesson, and the fate, of all the colonial powers who chose to row against the current of history and to ignore its fatal inevitability.
The Intifada should continue until the negotiating terms are corrected and redefined and until the Palestinian rights are clearly recognised in accordance with the relevant United Nations and the internationally approved principles and terms as basis for peace.
Violence, on the other hand, of which the Palestinians are victims, not propagators, should certainly be stopped. In their expressions of anger, and for various causes, people throughout history resorted to forms of violence which varied in their intensity and scope according to the prevailing circumstances. Throwing stones at tanks and fully protected Israeli army bunkers by Palestinian protesters would not have submerged the region in blood and destruction had it not been for that brutal Israeli retaliatory war of destruction, mobilising the full force of their superior military capability against civilians and, lately, against Palestinian National Authority installations, in spite of its pacifist moderating role. This is the source of violence which should be instantly terminated by Israel.
The Israelis know very well that throwing stones does not constitute a threat to their existence or to the lives of their soldiers. But in their usual arrogance, they could not accept any form of insolent defiance by inhumans who should be grateful for being allowed to provide cheap menial labour for Israeli factories, against their superior masters.
In an article in the Jan. 29 issue of the New Yorker, Jeffery Goldberg describes his experience when, in the late 1980s, he worked in a chicken house in a kibbutz south of Haifa. When it was time to clean out the house, Goldberg asked the foreman when we would be shovelling out the house, to remove a three feet high layer of droppings. We are not cleaning the shit out the foreman answered. We get the Arabs to clean up this shit. That is why we have Arabs, the foreman continued. The Arabs who were used in the chicken houses, Goldberg adds, were citizens of Israel who come from the town of Umm Al Fahm.
This typical, and by no means solitary, example clearly indicates a deeply rooted racist, discriminatory attitude on the part of the Israeli Jews against the Arabs, citizens or occupied. It should also explain the deep pain felt by the Palestinian victims of this unprecedented historic injustice.
To break the spiral of violence, Israel should stop its aggression against the Palestinians. This will most certainly, be reciprocated by the Palestinians who have been mainly responding and defending themselves, not initiating any of the violence which has been hurting them most.
The second myth is the notion that the return to the negotiations will automatically create momentum and yield positive results. This is also elusive, unrealistic and untrue. The negotiating table was not deserted as a matter of choice, rather, as the result of a total breakdown of a peace process which had been totally derailed and emptied of any meaningful content.
Israel, with American approval and support, had denied the validity of the agreed principles, terms of reference and United Nations resolution as a basis for negotiations and settlement and had them replaced with what serves its purposes and expansionist designs. In addition, Israel failed to implement any agreements it had signed with the Palestinians, making a mockery of the negotiations and the peace process.
Sharon is offering much less now than the little his predecessor offered and fell far short of the lowest requirements for any possible settlement.
He would “never divide Jerusalem,” Sharon told Goldberg (in the previously referred to article of the New Yorker). The Jordan Valley would remain under Israeli army control, and no settlements would be dismantled. Palestinian refugees of course would not be allowed to return to Israel, Sharon declared. Referring to peace, he said: You know my position about it. It cannot be achieved.
What can be achieved then at any negotiating table with a Sharon team sitting across after such flagrant revelations had been made?
Any return to the negotiations should require renewed commitment, from Israel in particular, and a comprehensive review of the futile previous negotiation. Before agreeing to return to the negotiations, the Palestinians need to know the terms they would be negotiating should insist on unequivocal recognition of their legitimate rights.
It would be a disaster if they agree to participate in any negotiations with the purpose of dealing with security, which will only mean Israeli security needs, and which will necessarily impose on the PNA new, impossible demands, to chase and liquidate patriotic symbols of the national resistance, and to surrender their inalienable rights of resistance and self-defence as was the case before Oslo. Such an eventuality, if it ever happens, will guarantee Israel’s unchallenged freedom to renew aggression and leave the Palestinians totally disarmed, exposed and defenceless. It will further offer the Israelis a temporary exit from the present crisis. But it will not be long before they run into a new and more serious one. In the meantime, tension in the region will continue to fester towards the imminent next round; however, on the basis of myth there will be no peace.
The writer is former Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations. He contributed this article to the Jordan Times.