Jul 30 2000

Look inward instead of pointing fingers

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

No sooner had the Camp David talks broken up, than the finger pointing began. President Bill Clinton tried to be diplomatic by consciously praising Ehud Barak. The Israelis were more direct in putting the blame of the failure of the talks on the Palestinians. The Americans and Israelis tried to blame the Palestinians for the failure of the talks even though President Yasser Arafat was the more reluctant party to go to Camp David because he knew very well the fact that whatever the Israelis would offer would be much less than what the Palestinians could live with. 

Both Americans and Israelis should look inward before pointing fingers. A serious look at the situation will reveal a different reality. First the Americans must recognize that they and not the Palestinians have deviated from their own longstanding policies with regards to Jerusalem, refugees, settlements and the inadmissibility of occupying land. The US as well as the entire world has refused to accept Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem. Furthermore, the US government assured Palestinians in a letter signed by Secretary of State James Baker III that Jerusalem, both east and west, will be part of negotiations.

But when the Camp David talks began, it became clear that only a few neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem where up for negotiations. The US in its bridging proposals reflected this Israeli position. The same can be said about the other outstanding issues. For example, the US, which had publicly called Jewish settlements built in Arab lands “illegal” and an “obstacle to peace” was now advocating proposals that legitimized these illegal settlements built on occupied Palestinian lands.

On the refugee issue, the US again has never deviated from the international position as stated in UN Resolution 194, which honors the right of Palestinian refugees to return home. In the Gulf War and in Kosovo, the US insisted on the need to honor UN resolutions, to allow refugees to return home and to halt aggression.

But when Palestinians insisted on principles and international treaties, all of a sudden the Palestinians were branded as being intransigent. Of course the US has maintained a double standard for a variety of reasons. US interests around the world often dictated its position. But in Camp David, the Palestinians shouldn’t have been expected to accept positions that deviate from the publicly held United States government positions.

The Israeli finger pointing is much worse. The Israelis are responsible directly for the Palestinian refugee problem, they have been building settlements in contradiction to international law and they have continued to occupy Palestinian land in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 242. That resolution declares the “inadmissibility” of taking land by force and calls on Israel to return the occupied areas. Land for peace has since been the hallmark of the peace process since the 1991 Madrid talks.

The Israelis want a full peace while willing only to give up part of the land and refusing to admit their responsibilities for the Palestinian refugee problem. As to the illegal settlements, the Barak government wants to keep the Arab lands on which most of these settlements are built. This Israeli position is considered courageous and the Palestinian insistence on international treaties is considered intransigence. Not so. The best explanation for the Israeli position is summed up in the Hebrew term hutzpa.

Another way to explain the Israeli position is in the story of the thief who mugged an old lady, took her wallet and coat and was upset why she was not grateful that he was returning her coat.

It is true that there is a difference between the Palestinian position and that of Kosovo or Iraq. In the Palestinian situation justice is on the side of a politically and militarily weak party. But should might be right instead of right be might? What kind of world would we have then?

Palestinians dearly want peace. They have died for peace and they have suffered the most in the search for peace. But long lasting peace requires a drastic change in the Israeli side. The Camp David talks were extremely important in breaking up long-held taboos. But the Palestinian public, which has been so deeply hurt by expulsion and occupation is still very doubtful about the Israeli sincerity for peace.

What is needed, now more than ever, is a dramatic statement of public goodwill. One way to do that is for Israel to admit the wrongs made in 1948 which caused the Palestinian refugee problem. By simply accepting the United Nations Resolution 194 Israel can do this.

This would be a perfect place to start the badly needed reconciliation process. Israel and the US will then find Palestinians forgiving and generous in finding a peace formula that all can live with.

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