One of the recent disputes between Israel and the Palestinians sounds like the discussion about what came first – the chicken or the egg. The Israelis insist that before negotiations can commence and before the international fact finding commission can begin its work, Palestinians must cease their resistance. The Palestinians insist that the resistance is a natural byproduct of occupation and that it can’t stop unless the occupation ends.
For Palestinians it is inconceivable that the Israeli army and government can create illegal facts on the ground in the form of settlements while Palestinians are asked to stop their resistance. Building and expanding settlements and roads are akin to the invasion of military forces.
Naturally, the Palestinian position is not based solely on the premise of resistance until the end of occupation. Palestinians have for almost a decade tried another method. In 1991, at the beginning of the Madrid talks, Palestinian youths presented Israeli soldiers in the streets of Ramallah with olive branches as a sign of support for the peace process.
Similar sentiments were reflected in the Palestinian street with the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993.
But the seven-year Oslo process produced no concrete results. The so-called fruits of peace never materialized and the Palestinian nightmare of the continuation of Jewish settlement activity was not stopped or frozen. Even the request by US Secretary of State Madeline Albright to take a time out from settlement activity was immediately rejected by Israeli officials.
So if Israel is unable or unwilling to stop its illegal settlement activity, why should Palestinians unilaterally end their legal resistance? In the past, Israeli doves like Regional Cooperation Minister Shimon Peres and others argued that if the peace process brings fruit there will no longer be need for a settlement freeze because it is one of the issues to be discussed in the permanent status talks.
Had you been sitting in on a briefing by Peres to a group of Palestinian journalists, you would have watched him deflecting criticism that settlement activity had continued despite the peace process. He assured us that this issue will become trivial once the peace process is completed.
This argument has proved its futility on two fronts. The Israeli military has continuously responded to all the demands of the settlers, including their latest demand to add two mobile homes to the Kfar Darom settlement in the heart of Gaza. Secondly, Israeli government officials have failed to make a single statement advising settlers to dismantle their homes and return to Israel. Even the inhabitants of settlements which the Barak government has said are most likely to be removed, have received no advice or public statement in this direction.
Of course, this dovish argument is not the only argument in town. The hawkish argument has proved much more powerful and violent in recent months. Proponents of this argument, which include Barak, use snipers, helicopters, and tanks in an attempt to force down Palestinian throats the argument that they must stop their resistance or else.
This violent argument reflects an Israeli policy of attempting to win an un-winnable military war against a civilian population. But although senior Israeli officials have admitted that this policy will not succeed on the battle ground, it has succeeded in planting more seeds of hatred. As a result of hundreds of recent deaths, thousands of injuries, and hundreds of thousands of traumatized children, Palestinians are unlikely to present olive branches to Israeli soldiers as they did when this process began.
This is the issue that Israelis must think about, not whether the resistance will or will not stop before negotiations can begin. If the Israeli government cannot or will not stop its illegal occupation and the settlement activity before negotiations begin, it ought not expect the Palestinians to stop their legal resistance to occupation