The Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon issued a public statement that amounts to something of a proposal. Sharon suggested in his statement that Israel would enter renewed negotiations with the Palestinian people once the Palestinians have established a viable interim government, initiated socio-economic reforms and established a reliable security apparatus in the occupied territories. It was the media that characterized Sharon’s statement as a proposal, even though Sharon did not mention in his statement any concessions that Israel is willing to make in exchange for Palestinian willingness to stall its movement towards independence to appease Israel’s concern that the people of Palestine are not capable of self-governance, and fears that a Palestine without Israel will be little more than a launching ground for future attacks.
Perhaps if Sharon had been willing in his statement to give even the most casual indication that Israel understands that it was its illegal redeployment into the territories, targeted assassinations, and also its wanton destruction of private property that energized the movement for independence, his statement could have served as a rational argument upon which to begin a dialogue of substance on the points raised. What we have instead is a statement that stresses the point that Palestinian independence is the most reliable means of security for both peoples, since Israel is incapable of self criticism and seems to miss the point that the Palestinian security forces under Arafat were established, and given their marching orders according to the terms of the Oslo Agreements which sought to create a Palestinian security appar! atus that would work to secure Israel from within the territories, in service to the Israeli and not the Palestinian people. Oslo’s preoccupation with Israeli security, and its complete neglect of the Palestinian interest gives the impression that unless and until Palestine is independent and free of Israel’s overbearing control, there is no hope that the people can craft a system that is designed to meet their needs, and that enjoys the respect and cooperation of the people.
What guarantees are the Israelis willing to provide the Palestinian people that during their period of reconstruction they will be safe from Israel’s continued aggression and violations of international law? What assurances do the people have that Israel will refrain from targeting and assassinating Palestinians suspected of crimes and extend due process to suspects? Is Israel ready to disarm the settlers? And what assurances are Israel willing to offer the people of Palestine that they will enjoy a period of calm that allows them to refocus their attention on internal development so long as they are not the initiators of any aggressive actions? Sharon’s statement completely ignores the fact that much of what is wrong with Palestine is a direct result of what is wrong with Israel. The point being that just as Palestine’s ne! ar destruction resulted from Israel’s self assumed authority over the Palestinian people, and a claimed moral and legal right to cut off employment, food and medicine, block ambulances and medical treatment, destroy communication facilities, trees, livestock, schools, etc., its reconstruction is dependant on a change in the way Israel views its relationship with the Palestinian people, and in the way that it interacts with them. It is not reasonable to suggest that Shraon’s demanded changes can take place in an environment where the people lack the basic requirements for life, which include security, keeping in mind that at the same time Sharon was calling for Palestinian reforms, he stated that Israel will continue its “war against terror” and proceeded to enter another Palestinian village where they killed two men who were reportedly asleep.
There is no denying Sharon’s contention that the Palestinian Authority is in need of reforms, and that the Palestinian people must be allowed to hold elections, not only to select a leader, but also to cast their votes on issues that are central to the success of future negotiations. Until now we have not been privy to the dreams of the people, meaning that no one really knows what future vision the people hold secretly within their hearts as individuals and as parents, students, farmers, professionals or tradesmen. Lacking any indication of what “the people” want, might weaken any agreement struck between Israel and Palestine, as happened previously with Oslo, and since it is the people who will be charged with the implementation of what ever agreements their leaders accept, it seems to be of the utmost importance that ele! ctions be held. The quality of the election process will depend upon the amount of time, energy, and expertise that is dedicated to the task, and in order for the elections to meet international standards of democracy, a considerable amount of time must be spent to construct a suitable and functional mechanism, while allowing the people and candidates to prepare. Anything thrown together hasitily will have the appearance of a sham, and will likley not meet needed standards. In this respect, Sharon is not far from the mark when he suggests that it will take time for all of the changes he has demanded to take place, but ten years is far too much, while six months to a year seems to be more reasonable, especially when we consider that during this time we will be left without a protectorate for the Palestinian people, which means they will continue to be vulnerable to Israel’s arbitrary acts of punishment, as well as Israel’s def! iance of the law.
PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat had the humility to accept some of the blame for what went wrong in Palestine, Israel shares that blame and must be willing to acknowledge the truth that until it is able to reform its attitude and its policies towards the Palestinians, it has no right to demand anything of these people. Yet, Israel’s unwillingness to understand that it must play a responsible role in reconstruction and development efforts in Palestine should not prevent the Palestinian people from taking the initiative to begin a process of healing and reconstruction to the extent they can. If the United States and Europe are truly interested in making a substantial contribution to peace, they can work along with the Palestinian people to insure that candidates for elections are fielded from every corner of the Palestinian political spectrum, and that they are allowed to speak freely and openly without fear of reprisal or censure, and that the people are allowed to cast their votes uninhibited by the fear of retaliation, or under any other form of duress, avoiding the mistakes of the past election that ultimately undermined Arafat’s legitimacy.
The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women.