Dec 31 2003

The year that the Taboos fell

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

2003 was not just the year that the statue and person of Saddam Hussein fell. A number of long held ideological issues relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict also came crumbling down. This ideological climb down, however was not symmetric in any way.

For Palestinians this was the year that the issue of the right of return was opened up for discussion with the majority of Palestinians indicating one way or another that serious compromise on this issue is possible. For Israelis, and especially right wing Israelis this was the year that the Zionist ideology of unlimited land expansion and settlement activity began to be reversed with Ariel Sharon agreeing on the uprooting of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories.

Palestinian refugees decade-long demand of returning to their lands and homes as enshrined in UN Resolution 194 was dealt two major blows this year. Peace proposals signed by patriotic Palestinian leaders and supported publicly by important community representatives shifted the ultimate destination of those refugees expelled from lands and homes, which are now the state of Israel to areas in the proposed new Palestinian state. These political proposals were strengthened by a groundbreaking public opinion poll of Palestinian refugees themselves who said overwhelmingly that their idea of a return doesn’t include the return to Israel but to Palestine , wherever the borders of the Palestine will be.

This clear Palestinian compromise was reached without any serious quid pro quo. Sure the People’s Voice Document and the Geneva Accords are written as a package deal in which this Palestinian compromise is part of a deal that includes an independent Palestinian state basically within the pre 1967 borders of what was then part of Jordan controlled West Bank as well as the Egyptian controlled Gaza Strip. But in real terms it is highly unlikely that any future Israeli negotiator will accept verbatim these accords or the visions within them. The right wing government of Ariel Sharon will certainly claim that they have been opposed to these peace initiatives from day one, while the Palestinian leadership which has not officially endorsed them will have a harder time beginning the talks with anything more than what is included in these ideas which the PA has indirectly supported.

Even though the Israeli concessions regarding uprooting settlements are coupled with a, vigorous land grab and possible future annexation, one should not belittle the power of the recent decision by the hard line Likud leader. Sharon ‘s statement in Herzilya, and before that the statement of his deputy Ehud Olmert, point to a major ideological shift in the most ideological Israeli movement. This shift includes a tacit agreement to stop settlement building and a willingness to uproot existing ones. The ideological importance of this decision should not be minimized. It signifies the first time in modern history of the conflict in which a major Zionist party has stopped, what for Palestinians has been the single most fatal problem to their national goal, loss of land due to exclusive Jewish settlement activities.

For better or worse, there is no doubt that the move towards Palestinians and Israelis reversing their long held ideological positions is a direct result of the three-year Palestinian intifada. And without equating the fairness or the justice of either move, this has happened because both people are convinced that it will be impossible to return to Israel or to keep the settlements. But we are still not there. Israel has not given up on all settlements built on Palestinian lands occupied in 1967, nor has the issue of Palestinian refugees been pushed aside from the political map. Palestinians passionately believe that this issue will not be solved until Israel admits political and moral responsibility for creating the Palestinian refugee problem in the first place.

Furthermore, a number of other issues still are looming in the picture, among them, Jerusalem , borders, connectivity between Gaza and the West Bank as well as the economic relationship between the two states.

The recognition that both Palestinians and Israelis have made important ideological leaps could be a major turning point if enough good will is found to build on them. However, if these ideological shifts are not built on quickly and effectively, we will find ourselves in the same situation that we did seven years after Oslo , with nice political talk but no major decisions on the ground.


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