Jun 22 2002

Bush and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,US-Middle East

It was no coincidence that the latest spat of attacks against Israelis occurred as US President George Bush was about to make his policy statement regarding the Middle East. Among other things, the statement was expected to include a road map to solving this century old conflict on the basis of a free independent Palestine alongside a safe Israel within secure borders.

It was also no coincidence that the attacks by militant Islamic Palestinians occurred despite a plea by leading Palestinian intellectuals calling for an end to attacks against Israeli civilians. I signed the public statement drafted by PLO representative in Jerusalem Professor Sari Nusseibeh in the hope that we can show Israelis that there is real opposition among Palestinians to these senseless killings.

Instead the timing of the recent attacks against Israeli civilians seems to be aimed at thwarting US attempts at peace making and to weaken Palestinian moderation. While Israelis and Palestinians are suffering those behind these attacks are benefiting from the status quo.

Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon is also benefiting from this vicious cycle of violence. Collective punishment, apartheid-like travel restrictions, daily tank incursions and assassinations of Palestinian leaders contributes to the sense of desperation and hopelessness that has produced these attacks. The continuation of building illegal Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas simply adds fuel to the already raging fire.

Ideally it would make sense for Palestinian and Israeli moderates, which ought to reflect the majority to work together against the radicals. Unfortunately this has not happened. Instead of the violence spurning more efforts for peace, the hard-line Sharon government uses the attacks against Israelis as an excuse for lack of effort on the political front. The Israeli leader continues to move the goal post putting one condition after the other before agreeing to consider a return to peace talks. Sharon, however, is very active on the military front. The harsh Israeli actions simply depend the cycle of violence, killings and most importantly hatred between our peoples. Terror and violence against civilians on both sides should not be condoned and must stop. But it is inexcusable not to negotiate as soon as possible a peaceful end to the conflict.

Israelis claim that the Palestinian thwarted their so-called generous offer at Camp David. Returning illegally occupied lands can never be described as generous. The fact is that according to a joint statement in the Egyptian resort of Taba in January 2001, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were very close to a historic settlement. They took a break for the Israeli elections and since then Israel under Sharon had not agreed to return to negotiations. The hard-line Israeli leader has been unwilling to go back to the talks until the Palestinian unilaterally stop their anti Israeli attacks. Palestinians insist that resistance to the Israelis and their occupying army is the only means to press Israel to accept UN Security Council Resolutions that define occupation as “inadmissible” and called on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territory occupied in 1967. A cease-fire, Palestinians say, must be bilateral be observed by a neutral party, and strengthened by parallel peace talks.

The late Yitzhaq Rabin used to say, “we will fight terror as if there is no negotiations, and negotiates as if there is no terror.” A genuine peace leader would adopt a simultaneous political and security policy for the sake of his own people and that of regional peace. Sharon has refused to talk politics and Arafat has been unable to stop the militants.

With such inability by Palestinians and Israelis, the role of the US becomes that much more important. America can’t only declare the vision of peace but must do all it can to implement it, including if need be, publicly criticizing the party obstructing to a fair peace deal.

Last May when I met former US peace envoy Dennis Ross, he told me that what he regrets most is that he and the Clinton administration covered up too much to the mistakes both sides were committing. In the interest of an overall settlement, he told me, we overlooked the wrongs of Palestinians and Israelis. In retrospect, he confide to me, we should have publicly exposed any side that failed to carry out commitments they made.

Such an active US involvement is needed now more than ever. We, Israelis and Palestinians, are exhausted and unable to move out of the boxes we have trappe ourselves in. The US with its historic support for peoples freedoms and human rights and its strategic power and special relations with Israel can do what no other nation in the world can.

What the Bush administration must do is lay out a fair deal on the table, draw up a reasonable road map and timetable and then work tirelessly on the ground until it’s implemented. America must know that radicals on both sides (both within and outside current leaderships of both people) will do what they can to derail such a process. This should not deflect the Americans from pursuing their ultimate goal. If radicals see any hesitation they will increase their destructive efforts. US resolve must be based on America saying what it means and meaning what it says.

The insanity of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict must be stopped immediately even if foreign forces have to be flown in for this purpose. Palestinians and Israelis yearn for that. The Middle East wants it, and the world will support it.

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