President George Bush surprised many last week when he announced that a Palestinian state has always been part of the United States vision. Many have lauded the Bush Administration for announcing what many also believe: a viable Palestinian state is the key to long-lasting peace.
The announcement of a Palestinian state elicited outrageous comparisons by Israel’s Ariel Sharon. He not only compared Arab nations to the Third Reich, but he also warned the US not to sacrifice Israel the way European nations sacrificed Czechoslovakia in 1938, essentially comparing Bush to Britain’s Neville Chamberlain, who was known for his appeasement policy toward Nazi Germany. Sharon was publicly rebuked.
And while Palestinians somewhat disagree on the idea of a Palestinian state versus a democratic bi-national state with Israel [32% according to one recent Palestinian poll], there can be no disagreement that Palestinians deserve to live with freedom and dignity. And they deserve the comfort and protections a viable state can afford it. The implementation of UN resolutions 242 and 338 — which require Israel to withdraw from all of the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem [22% of pre-1948 Palestine] — are necessary in ensuring a viable Palestinian state. [Note that Israel rests on 78% of what was Palestine]. And the key word is ‘viable.’ While Ehud Barak is credited for his so-called “generous offer,” the reality is that the future Palestinian state under his plan would have looked like Swiss cheese and 80% of Israel’s illegal settlements would have remained. Further, Israel was going to lease a percentage of the famous 95% and the “difficult” decisions over Jerusalem really amounted to Palestinian sovereignty over a few Palestinian Arab neighborhoods.
Ultimately, a viable state has been the whole goal of the last 13 months of the Palestinian uprising, which has resulted in more than 625 Palestinians dead and nearly 16,000 injured — many of whom are now paraplegics and quadriplegics. For Palestinians to end their Intifada for freedom as some are asking, there must be something great to show for it, or the dead and wounded will have fought and died for nothing. No mother or father would accept this. A viable state means many things to Palestinians. Freedom from a brutal Israeli occupation. Freedom from having their olive orchards uprooted, a source of income for many. Freedom from having their homes demolished. Freedom to go to schools and universities without the threat of IDF live ammunition. Freedom from Israeli military checkpoints, which never went away since the signing of the Oslo Accords. Freedom from land confiscation to build more illegal Israeli settlements. Freedom to travel to hospitals during emergencies without being detained — some until death ensues. Freedom from torture, which still exists despite a ban issued by Israel’s High Court. Freedom from the sadist brutality of Israeli border patrol when they go to their jobs. Freedom to build an infrastructure that is not dependent on Israeli mercy. Freedom to be children as opposed to fighting like adults so that they are not subject to the same humiliation their parents are. Freedom of the same kind of security that Israelis want for themselves. Freedom to dream.
As Americans, we understand the necessity of Palestinian statehood. When the Washington-based Arab American Institute conducted a poll of fellow Americans in July 2000, two-thirds responded that they agreed that Palestinians have the right to establish an independent state.
Peace in the Middle East is not only in the best interest of the Palestinians and Israelis, but it is in the best interest of the United States and world. In fact, earlier this year, the main UN human rights forum overwhelmingly reaffirmed the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and statehood, calling it a basic condition for achieving a lasting Middle East peace — which is in our national interest.
President Bush has made it clear that a Palestinian state is in the US vision. It’s time for us to get behind our president and prove that the land of the free is not just our way of life, but a way of life we believe in for everyone.
Sherri Muzher is a Palestinian-American activist, lawyer, and freelance journalist.