An argument has been raging for some time as to which party in the Middle East conflict is more interested in peace and quiet. Israel claims that it wants peace and stability, that it made what it calls a generous offer for peace and that all they got in return was suicide attacks.
Palestinians insist that they want peace and that the illegal Israeli occupation and exclusive Jewish settlement activity in Palestinian lands is the problem. As to the generous offer, they state that returning occupied lands is not charity but an internationally mandated right and that just like the US insisted on all of Kuwaiti territory be returned to its owners, so Palestinians demand that all of the occupied West Bank and Gaza be returned.
But while this argument has not been settled, no one seems to be able to find a way to identify who is keeping the pot boiling and more importantly who is derailing various local and international attempts at reaching a cessation to the violence.
Even though both sides might not be aware of it, recent events on the ground have shown a strange unholy alliance between extremist Palestinian groups and hard line Israeli military and political officials. Whether it is militant Palestinian Muslim groups or the hawkish Israeli prime minister, both seem to benefit more from violence than from long periods of quiet.
This phenomena has been seen of and on for some time but in the past three weeks it has become much clearer to any neutral observer. Whenever the issue of a negotiated cease fire had been discussed in the past, Israel’s prime minister has insisted that first a period of absolute quiet must prevail. What Sharon means by quiet is not a unilateral one but rather a one sided effort. Israel’s leaders continuously insist that they want Palestinians to stop their violent resistance and suicide bombings before they can go back to the negotiating period.
Six days after the Palestinian Authority unilaterally observed a cease fire, last December, Israel’s assassinated a senior leader of Arafat’s Fateh movement Raed Karmi from Tulkarem thus putting the Palestinian leader in an impossible position as he tried unsuccessfully to stop his own militants from taking revenge.
Four hours after the Islamic spiritual leader Sheik Ahmad Yasin declared on Arab TV stations that the Hamas movement was considering a unilateral cessation of attacks inside Israel, a one ton bomb was fired from an F-16 fighter on a residential Gaza neighborhood killing a senior Hamas leader as well as more than a dozen children and women. Again the cycle of violence was intensified.
This Tuesday, the first day of implementing the Gaza and Bethlehem First plan Israelis once again sabotaged the deal. The agreement between Palestinian security officials with the Israeli Defense minister and leader of the Labor Party Beniyamin Ben Eliazer became worthless when a special Israeli army unit assassinated a secular Palestinian militant in Ramallah.
What is evident in all these cease fire attempts is that Israelis refuse to commit upon themselves a cessation of anti Palestinian violence. Israelis also refuse to stop expropriating Palestinian lands, expanding settlements, house demolitions, deportations using human shields and assassinations. Many Israelis have criticized these acts that which the international community considers crimes of war according to international humanitarian law.
Radical Palestinian groups also have little incentive for a prolonged period of quiet. As long as they are carrying out anti Israeli attacks their popularity among frustrated Palestinians continues to rise. If there is quiet and the beginning of negotiations then they will be in a corner, they will either be seen as spoilers of a historic peace agreement or they will have to make political compromises which will make them no different than mainstream Palestinian groups.
In order to break this cycle of violence between Sharon’s army and Palestinian militants, outside help is needed. International mediators efforts can’t begin until there is a genuine enforceable ceasefire that includes both sides commitment not to attack the other side. The Bush administration should make this the number one priority and should be ready to declare to the parties and to the entire world which side is really for peace and who is interested in keeping the current unacceptable violent status quo.
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University which owns and runs Al Quds Educational Television. In May 2001, Mr. Kuttab received the International Press Institute’s award as one of fifty press freedom heroes in the last fifty years.