Sep 28 2003

Protesting Pilots Key to Mideast

Published by at 11:26 am under Articles,US-Middle East

The protest statement signed by 27 Israeli airmen could go a long way in unlocking the puzzle that has kept the Middle East violence from abetting. By publicly stating their opposition to air strikes against Palestinian civilian targets and their refusal to carry out such missions, these brave Israelis can make a key contribution to reaching a lasting cease fire, an important step on the way to reaching a comprehensive peace. Much regional and international support will be needed to reach this important goal but the airmen’s protest could help close a missing piece of the puzzle.
For months, Palestinian militants and the Israeli army have been unable or unwilling to reach an effective ceasefire that has been Israeli’s pre condition to restarting peace talks. All attempts to reach a ceasefire have failed because of Israel’s refusal to stop its assassination policy of Palestinian leaders. Islamic and other hard line Palestinians have repeatedly made a conditional offer to reach a ceasefire and at time have unilaterally ceased fire. These truce attempts have repeatedly failed because of Israel’s insistence on continuing what it calls targeting killings. These assassinations which Amnesty International and other human rights organizations call extra judicial killings are normally carried out from the air by US made apache helicopters and at times from F-16 fighter jets. If the protest of the Israeli airmen snowballs, it could mark the de facto end of these senseless killings that only produce acts of revenge.

Ironically, the United States government which is actively prodding Palestinians and Israelis to return to the peace table has in the past refrained from directly criticizing the Israeli air strikes. When pressed the Bush administration spokesperson say that they understand Israel’s need for self defense but that they advice Israelis to consider the consequences of their actions.

The airmen’s protest must be saluted for its bravery and the high value that these Israelis place on Palestinian civilians. But for their courage to move ahead, the US and its partners in the quartet must seize on its contents and make it part of a cease fire plan.

Any ceasefire agreement requires both parties to refrain from attacking the other. These agreements normally include a clause setting up some kind of neutral third party monitors. Finally for such a ceasefire agreement to stand it must be followed immediately upon signing it with a concerted effort to produce a political solution to the issues that caused the warring parties to attack each other. Israel’s insistence in continuing with its assassination policy has led to a violent reaction. This pattern of assassinations followed by revenge suicide bombings and then further assassinations has become a broken record repeating itself ad nasum without either side giving in.

To break the cycle of violence the thought of one side crushing the other side must be removed. Israeli thinking that yet one more assassination will cause the Palestinians to crumble and the Palestinian belief that one more suicide attack would cause the Israelis to raise the white flag have proved to be futile. India’s Mahatma Ghandi once said that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves the world blind and toothless. There has to be a stop to this zero sum game and a return to a sane policy based on reciprocity, compromise and reasonability. The Israeli pilots’ action can contribute to breaking up this cycle of violence and force the leaders to abandon their ineffective violent activities.

The pattern of the past three years shows that the first order of business must be a ceasefire between the Israeli government and all its military and intelligence subsidiaries on the one hand and the Palestinian Authority with all the Palestinian factions. Such agreement must put an end to all types of military and armed attacks as well as assassinations. This agreement needs to be observed by a neutral third party. This could be done by the quartet led by the United States of America. Such a provision for foreign monitors already exists in the Road Map which all parties have publicly adopted.

To strengthen any ceasefire concerted round-the-clock negotiations (preferably in secret with top US involvement) must commence immediately. They need to be aimed at ending the occupation of the Palestinian areas and determining the issues of borders, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem. In this context, Israel must put aside the thoughts of choosing its negotiating partners Everyone involved in the Middle East knows pretty much what a peace agreement between the sides will most likely look like. In Taba, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were very close to agreement on all those issues early in 2001. President Bush’s vision of a state of a free and independent Palestine established in 2005 alongside a safe and secure state of Israel could also be used as a reference point for the talks.

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