David Landau has been writing for Ha’aretz for some time. His path and mine have often crossed, usually when we are on different ends of a debate regarding the Middle East. More often than not, we agreed more than we disagreed. Until Tuesday.
The prestigious US radio program All things Considered on National Public Radio invited David and I for a discussion on the current situation, especially after Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza Tuesday morning.
For David the situation was very clear. Unlike the time that Sharon rolled his tanks into Lebanon, this time the Israeli public is square behind him, Landau told the American audience. He insists that the Israeli peace camp has completely disappeared and like other Israeli and US officials, all the blame was placed on the Palestinian leadership for throwing away a golden opportunity given by Barak to return most of the West Bank and Gaza and to also give back some of Jerusalem including access to the holy sites.
To his credit Landau did say the situation is tragic, but other than that he seemed to shed little tears at the loss of life, and limp, collective punishment, continued settlement policy and in general the continuation of occupation. Landau simply had no answer as to where this process would be leading.
Landau justified the current Israeli tank activity in Gaza as natural, because “no Israeli government can accept an Israeli town being shelled.” It made little difference for Landau that the unsophisticated shell that hit the side of a road in an Israeli city injured no one. There was no remorse or second thought about the retaliation.
For my part I tried to concentrate on that fact that there is no military solution and that there is a need for a continuation of the negotiations. I stressed the impossibility of Sharons precondition the violence must stop from one side namely the Palestinians. Landau attempted to respond by saying that not a day goes by without some Israeli (including the son of the prime minister) talking to Arafat or other senior Palestinians. I responded that in all the talks the Israeli emissaries have only dictates to send to Palestinians and that there are no genuine negotiations.
The bottom line one gets from most Israelis is that Palestinians rejected a generous offer and that by doing so they lost the Israeli camp and therefore there is no one batting on behalf of Palestinians.
On both counts it seems necessary to point out some basic facts.
Fact number one. Generosity is when you give up something that you have a right to not when you return part of what was taken illegally. Israelis seem to forget that they occupy Palestinian land against the will of its people and the will of the international community. Henry Sigelman, the former president of the American Jewish Congress was on the ball when he correctly understood that the underlying problem is the occupation.
Fact number two- The Palestinian leadership didnt feel that Israelis (and for that matter perhaps Palestinians) were ready for a comprehensive final status agreement when Clinton pushed hard to have Arafat go to Camp David.
Arafat knew that Israelis would not budge on giving up sovereignty over Jerusalem nor accede to the Palestinians right of return, both of which are red lines for any Palestinian leader. Arafat simply had little room to maneuver and was unwilling to save either the Clinton legacy nor the Barak government for a deal that his people were not ready to accept. The Palestinian prediction became a self-fulfilling prophecy but by then the script was written and the victim was found. And despite the fact that Barak did break previously held taboos, the Israeli offer in Camp David had major holes. Many of these gaps were closed in Taba, but by then Barak had no coalition and therefore the Israelis were not ready to sign. Also by this time the Sharon wagon was unstoppable.
Fact number three. The intifada was not initiated by Arafat but by a restless Palestinian public that was tired of negotiating about the right to live in freedom and liberty of occupation. True the Palestinian leadership didnt physically stop the intifada but there is no evidence that it started it.
Fact number four- Every time Israel uses excessive force against Palestinians, kills, maims and destroys property. Every time it closes areas and prohibits movement they are simply increasing the Palestinian anger and hate against the occupation and the settlers who get apartheid-like preferential treatment. These Israeli actions not Arafats lack of action are the main reason for the continuation of the Palestinian resistance
Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.