Where did we go wrong?

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The Palestinian cause is one of the causes that is very clear in its justness. The Palestinian people’s pursuit of freedom and independence is a legitimate one and a sacred right as it is for all nations. The right to self-determination is not only a humanitarian right but a legal one according to the United Nations Charter and all international treaties.

At the same time forceful occupation is condemned and rejected in all these charters and treaties, and the Geneva agreement forbids demographic changes that any occupying force tries to carry out on the territories it occupies. International legitimacy resolutions represented by Security Council and the UN General Assembly resolutions are usually the reference for any political move regarding one of the heated and thorny cases.

As for the Palestinian case, the accumulated Security Council resolutions, starting with resolution 242 and ending with resolution 1397, are resolutions binding for the United Nations, especially for the permanent members of the Security Council (the countries with the right to Veto). They are also binding for the parties concerned with those resolutions, specifically Israel in this case. The Security Council (especially its permanent members) is supposed to take practical steps to implement these resolutions in the event that a concerned party refuses to implement, as has happened in many parts of the world.

But matters were, and are, different when the party concerned is Israel.

Thirty-five years ago the Security Council adopted resolution 242, which demands that Israel withdraw immediately from the lands it occupied in 1967. Here we are now approaching the thirty fifth anniversary of Israel’s invasion without the implementation of the resolution and without the major countries making a move regarding Israel’s refusal to implement this resolution.

This is the reason for all the tragedies and for the state of instability and conflict in the Middle East. Not only this, but Israel’s refusal to implement the agreements, which were signed with the participation of the U.S. and the international community, has increased the crisis of the conflict. The continuous Israeli incursions into Palestinian Authority lands, and the crimes committed by the occupation forces against the Palestinian people, increased the severity of the situation in the Middle East.

The irrational, unsound and condemned reactions, through bombing operations that targeted Israeli civilians, came to further complicate matters and to serve the extremist Israeli right, which does not want peace to begin with, and provide it with all the winning cards to change and distort the facts and turn matters upside down, portraying the Palestinians as terrorists and the Israelis as victims whereas in truth and reality the Israeli occupation is the source of organized terrorism against the Palestinian people, which has gone on since 1967 and is till going on.

Thus, it is vital in the process of reviewing and reevaluation that we discuss, reveal and point out where the Palestinians erred, and what were the mistakes they made that enabled Sharon to obliterate the truth and distort it to find a cover-up for a crime committed against an entire people é one which continues until this moment.

First we must establish a truth based on information obtained by the Palestinian Authority at the time, and that is no longer a secret as many sources published it é information related to the Israeli military plan named “Field of Thorns”. This means that the Israeli government, the Israeli army and the security services planned and began to implement a military aggression against the Palestinian people with the purpose of subduing them and eliminating the political work that was supposed to lead to ending the occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

The Israeli government has a different vision of the peace process. It wants to reinforce the occupation, subdue the Palestinian people to its rule and annex 48% of the lands of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Israel. The Palestinian people erupted in an Intifada whose spark was started by Sharon when he provoked the feelings of Palestinians by storming Al-Aqsa mosque surrounded by hundreds of security personnel, army and police.

At the time Sharon’s provocation of the Palestinians was blamed; President Clinton even spoke of it publicly. The Palestinian masses demonstrated everywhere. These peaceful demonstrations calling for the ending of the occupation continued, and the Israeli army continued to fire live bullets, rubber bullets and tear gas at the unarmed protestors.

The world stood with the Palestinian people and their Intifada. The world condemned the killing of Palestinian children and civilians at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces. But the mistakes began here. After weeks of peaceful demonstrations, and the brutal confrontation to these demonstrations by the occupation forces, the phenomenon of the appearance of armed men and masked men at demonstrations began. This greatly harmed the objectives of these demonstrations, which had succeeded to a great extent in mobilizing international public opinion to support the Palestinian people’s right to freedom and independence.

Popular peaceful demonstrations calling for freedom and independence were mixed with armed resistance to the occupation and self-defense at every location. Self-defense is a legitimate right when faced with the Israeli military aggression, but mixing this with popular demonstrations led to the opposite of the desired consequences. With the escalation of the Israeli attacks the armed self-defense escalated as well, which created for international public opinion the impression that there was a battle or a war between two armies being waged. Whereas the truth was that only one side has an army, the Israeli side, and that the Palestinian people are unarmed and have weak security forces without much substance (according to agreements signed between the PLO and Israel).

This led to aiding Sharon in distorting the truth which was that what was taking place was a barbaric blatant aggression carried out by an army heavily equipped with planes, battleships and tanks against an unarmed people. With the escalation in the aggression some factions began to carry out bombing operations targeting Israeli civilians in Israel.

This was the major mistake that led to very adverse consequences which made it easier for Sharon to implement the plan that had been drafted by the Israeli army commanders a long time ago, even before the Intifada broke out (Field of Thorns, Hell, and then Defensive Shield).

The most important of the adverse consequences are:

That Sharon and the Israeli government were able, because of these operations, to portray Israel as a victim, and that Israel’s battle against the Palestinians was a part of the United States’ battle against terrorism and that Israel was the United States’ partner in this battle, whereas reality says that the terrorism is the occupation and that the source of instability and insecurity is the continuation of the occupation and the Israeli government’s refusal to implement international legitimacy resolutions.

Giving the Israeli government and Sharon rich material to mobilize the Israeli community fully under the banner of the battle of the survival of Israel. Sharon’s aides waged a local and international propaganda campaign to show the Israeli aggression as a battle of survival and self-defense and that the Palestinians’ goal was to destroy Israel. For this reason the voice of the peace powers disappeared completely and they retreated, leaving the front lines filled with extremists. For this reason the Israeli army was and still is mobilized in an unprecedented manner é not even during the June 1967 and October 1973 wars. The voices calling for withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip disappeared and extremism prevailed.

This mistake is still repeating itself, supplying Sharon and his extremist government with rich material to cover-up the barbaric aggression and the continuation of this aggression.

Thus, we say that reviewing and reevaluation must begin here.

No illusions should exist regarding any military battle, all bombing operations that lead to the killing of Israeli civilians must end, and the Intifada must return to its peaceful nature. This so we may be able to restore the pyramid to its natural position; that is, stable on its base and not shaking on its head. I have no doubt that all reasonable people realize the importance of this opinion, that does not in any way mean not defending one’s self and not resisting the occupation. It means that all operations that target Israeli civilians stop, and the clear separation between the peaceful Intifada, through which the people express their insistence on obtaining their freedom and independence, and armed self-defense in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinians defined their strategic choice, which is peace based on a political solution by which an independent state is established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; that is, on the lands occupied by Israel in 1967 and ruled by Security Council resolution 242. They do not want to destroy Israel because they adopted, through their National Council (Parliament), a resolution to modify the Organization’s charter by canceling all clauses referring to the destruction of Israel.

Here we must add an important factor that contributed greatly to enabling Sharon to mobilize Israeli public opinion to wage this brutal war against the Palestinian people, which is the insistence of some on talking about the return of four million Palestinians to their homes in the 1948 territories.

This factor helped to create real concern in the Israeli community because the return of four million Palestinians means, simply, for the Israelis, the end of the Jewish nature of their state, which is what Israel and the Israelis have rejected since the establishment of their state. This is what made them reject the idea of the establishment of a democratic state on the historic land of Palestine. This is what made the Palestinians choose the political solution based on the concept of two states on the land of Palestine.

As for the right of return, it is a sacred right for all human beings, but its implementation depends on the political circumstances and on the results of the negotiations between the two concerned parties based on resolution 194.

We must correct the approaches in order to deprive Sharon and the extremist right from the chance of using these mistakes to kill the spirit of peace, cooperation and stability.

Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.

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