Advice to Sharon

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The establishment of what seems like a stable government in Israel should once again place the focus of attention on the best means possible to expedite genuine and lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians. This government will commit a big mistake if it attempts, as previous governments have, in solving its problems using force. That will only lead to more immediate bloodshed and more long-term hatred.

What would make life easier for the new rulers in Israel and everyone else is if they can identify non-negotiable issues and ones that are open for negotiations. Attempts to use the people as hostages to force Palestinian leaders to weaken their positions will not work. What is needed is new thinking. Here are some pointers that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his government need to consider.

Non-negotiable issues include the need for Palestinians to live in a free, sovereign and independent state. Attempts at weakening or reducing in any way the sovereignty of the Palestinian state will not work in the short term and will only produce more trouble in the long term. History has shown that you can’t rule another people by force for ever. There comes a time when people will revolt. Palestinians have revolted twice in 13 years. Any attempt to postpone their independence is only postponing the inevitability of yet another eruption.

The facts on the ground have shown every sane person in Israel that attempts to rule Palestinians by occupation, economic strangulation and travel restrictions will produce trouble and insecurity.

Settlements, especially all the settlements in Gaza and most of the settlements in the West Bank must go. There is no way that an independent Palestinian state can coexist with a colonial power bringing its people to live on Palestinian land and against the wishes of the Palestinian people.

Now, it is understandable that Israel is unlikely to unilaterally withdraw from many of these settlements. So, until an agreement is reached, why not turn these settlements over to an international body that can hold them in escrow until a solution is found? This way settlements will no longer be the source of massive Israeli firepower against Palestinian civilians and Israeli settlers will no longer continue to be daily targets of angry militant Palestinians.

Stop collective punishment. Not only is this a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, but it produces nothing tangible for Israel or Israelis. It doesn’t increase security nor does it hasten the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

Suicide bombing attacks have continued (in fact increased) as a result of the closures. The level of anger and frustration among Palestinians is at an all-time high and the expectation that punishing the people will change the Palestinian leadership has so far proven to be wrong.

Dividing the Gaza Strip into four areas, placing a siege-like closure on major cities, villages and refugee camps and banning travel on the Jordan River bridge and the Gaza Airport is adding fuel to the fire of anger in almost every Palestinian. If the people have no opportunities to release their anger, this boiling pot will explode in the face of those holding the lid down.

Palestinians celebrated Id al-Adha (the feast of sacrifice), which is the holiest event in the Moslem calendar. Because of the weekend, for many this was a nine-day holiday. But for Palestinians who have been yearning for a break, the Israeli authorities made no break in its four-month-old tight closure.

Even travel outside, which would have no effect on Israel’s security, has been barred. No one can understand any benefit from this except as revenge and punishment. This punishment is not meted out to those who carried out attacks on Israelis, or even those who agree to these actions, but it is carried out on every single Palestinian no matter what his or her political beliefs are.

If Sharon’s government wants to move forward in the peace process it needs to understand that the wishes of a people to be independent and free of these colonial settlements and to be able to move freely, will be important steps in eventually reaching peace and an end to hostility.

Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.

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