Sep 13 2003

The Challenges Facing the New Palestinian Prime Minister

Published by at 11:41 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

The new Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei has a daunting challenge ahead of him. He needs to walk between the rain drops of continued Israeli military actions against Palestinians, US ambivalence and lack of real support for the peace process and militant Palestinian groups who want to carry out acts of revenge every time one of their leaders is assassinated.
In order to break out of this series of Israeli assassinations follow by Palestinian suicide bombings, a change of thinking and actions is required.

The thought that either side can crush the other side and declare victory has proven elusive and has left a trail of blood and hatred.

Palestinian leaders feel that Israel must be made to understand that preemptive attacks and assassinations only increase the chance of more anti Israeli attacks not less. So far the right wing Sharon government, which seems to only give lip service to peace, is more than happy engaging in military actions that they know will lead to Palestinian retaliations. And as the tough Israeli actions fail to deter Palestinians, Israel seems to raise their harsh inhuman acts with the hope that maybe then Palestinians would stop. But all the inhumane Israeli actions seems to produce is more determined Palestinian reaction, and the cycle of killing and violence continues.

The US government must change its attitude. Instead of stating that they understand that Israeli must defend itself, the Bush administration needs to come out clearly and unambiguously against Israel’s assassination acts and its collective punishment which includes uprooting decades old olive trees and destroying eight story buildings in addition to massive travel restrictions and continued settlement activity. If the Americans can get Israel to agree on this simple request, the situation could be ripe for enacting a cease fire agreement that would be the prelude to a genuine peace process.

Until recently Israeli officials have publicly and privately refused to respond to the Palestinian request for reaching a cease fire agreement. Instead they have pressed for the impossible request that the Palestinian Authority dismantle the militant groups, an act that Israel with all its powers has not succeeded in accomplishing. A deadly civil war would surely ensue if the Palestinian Authority attempts to crush Palestinian militants at a time of unrelentless Israeli attacks on them and their leaders and without any tangible progress in the peace talks.

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 and 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. . The hudna worked out between the militant Palestinian groups and the Palestinian Authority with the knowledge of the Americans clearly was missing a major component with the absence of Israel in the agreement. One key component of this three month one sided truce was that Israel refrain from assassinating the leaders of the Palestinian resistance groups. 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 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 was written by the US and which all parties have publicly adopted.

Finally such a ceasefire must be supported by concerted round-the-clock negotiations (preferably in secret with top US involvement) aimed at ending the basic reason for the violence, namely 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. Palestinian president Yaser Arafat is the legitimately elected and historic leader of the Palestinian people. No serious negotiations can take place and no results can last, if one party vetoes the representatives of the other side. Real peace requires agreement between enemies and not friends.

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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