Sep 22 2000

Time for peace

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

The date was Dec. 13, 1993, exactly three months after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and the PLO on the White House lawn. We were dispatched to Gaza to gauge Palestinian reactions to the passing of this date without any change on the ground. Palestinians had high expectations that on this day, Israel would begin withdrawing from Gaza and Jericho as the agreement had stipulated. But nothing was happening on the Israeli side that day. The then prime minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin had made it clear “there are no sacred dates.” With the lapse of this first important date, the carefully worded interim peace agreement with a whole set of interdependent dates had fallen to the wayside. 

For years since the famous handshake, Israel has refused to comply with the terms of the interim agreement. Withdrawals were continuously postponed. The latest such postponement was the redeployment from Abu Dis and other communities near Jerusalem. Agreed upon schedules for the releases of Palestinian prisoners were also not honored. The third redeployment has been all but forgotten in the discussions about the permanent solution. Israel’s binding commitment to dissolve its military-run civil administration and the rescinding of military orders has never been carried out. The northern safe passageway promised to have been in operation years ago has yet to see completion or approval by the Israelis. The power of the army in the lives of Palestinians continues to affect all forms of daily life in contradiction to the signed agreements. All scheduled execution dates in those internationally sponsored agreements have been ignored.

I have been thinking about this issue this week because of the repeated use of the issue of time in almost every press report about the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. “Time is running out.” “The window of opportunity is quickly closing if we don’t make good use of time.” “This or that side is wasting time.”

“We must find a breakthrough before the resumption of the Israeli Knesset, before the end of the current session of congress — so it can approve the aid package — before the US elections, before the end of the Clinton administration, etc. etc.”

The bulk of the criticism coming through the powerful Israeli and US media machines is directed against the Palestinians. But unlike those days in 1993, when Palestinians wanted nothing more than to see the back end of the Israeli occupation jeeps, the situation is different. Time is immaterial to Palestinian negotiators if rushing to reach any agreement means signing a bad deal for Palestinians. After all, the discussion is no longer on interim agreements but on a permanent solution that will mean an end to the conflict. What will be agreed upon now can’t be amended or changed and therefore has to stand the test of time.

Palestinian are aware of the time issue but for different reasons. They are less concerned with what happens either to the Barak or the Clinton administration. Instead the issue of time is of concern to the Palestinian leadership as a result of the credibility of the peace process itself. Palestinian apathy to politics in general and to the peace process in particular has become the prevalent issue in the Palestinian community ever since the Palestinian dates also lost their sacredness. No one was holding their breath on Sept. 13 and no one will hold their breath if a new date had been set.

But while Palestinians are less under the time pressure that they were in 1993, the time issue should not be understood as being open. Political discourse does not operate in a vacuum and the Palestinian territories will not continue to live in the legal vacuum that it has been living in forever. If a just and comprehensive solution is not found the entire area will once again find itself in turmoil. It is unlikely. Palestinians are nowadays not willing nor ready to take up arms and start violent confrontations overnight. But eventually the situation of no peace and no war will become a source of trouble for all parties involved.

The time for peace is upon us. But while Palestinians were ready to accept any interim solution in 1993 that will begin the process of dissolving the occupation, the same doesn’t apply to Palestinians in 2000.

Today Palestinians want and need a solution that will guarantee longevity and independence away from Israeli controls and dictates.

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