Jul 07 2003

The lessons to be learned on the limits of Violence

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

The recent positive changes on the Palestinian-Israeli front promise the beginnings of a political process that will lead, if President Bush means his words, to a viable Palestinian state in 2005. Clearly the region has lately made an important shift, which requires a review of the past two-and-a-half years. We must learn the lessons of the past and make appropriate adjustments.

Palestinians and Israelis have both failed in the attempt to use violence to change the political position of the other side. Israelis have hung on despite attacks on their soldiers, settlers and civilians. Palestinians have also hung on despite thousands of their citizens killed and injured massive punishment to their entire community, house demolitions, travel restrictions, destruction of their infrastructure and demolition of any semblance of an economy.

Both sides have come out of this conflict exhausted and ready for a political agreement. Since neither side has capitulated they are unlikely to do so during negotiations.

The agreement of the radical Palestinian groups, especially the Islamic ones, on a hudna (truce) is possibly the single most significant act of the past few years. By agreeing voluntarily to lay down their arms, even for a short period of time, they have admitted the futility of their actions and the impossibility of accomplishing victory (whether they define victory as Israeli withdrawal from the West bank and Gaza or the collapse of the state of Israel) using violent means.

Israel under the leadership of its most hawkish prime minister has also admitted defeat by accepting the negotiations track. For over two years, Ariel Sharon has insisted that Palestinians must stop their attacks first and a period of considerable period of calm pass before they agree to conduct any negotiations with Palestinians. This has not happened. Israeli-Palestinian talks have occurred even before this latest truce was agreed upon.

Possibly the one Israel victory has come in the form of the attempt at weakening the powers of the Palestinian president Yasser Arafat. In this, the Israeli demands, were adopted by the US and many in the world community and they were translated in a compromise acceptable to Palestinians, namely the creation of the post of prime minister. But as a result of strong Palestinian popular support, the clearly weakened Arafat, has not surrendered and looks likely to succeed in the long run, outmaneuvering all those who tried to get rid of him.

Hopefully Palestinians and Israelis have learned much more than the limits of sheer violence and brute power. They have learned that neither side is going to leave the Holy Land and therefore both peoples are destined to find a way to live with, or rather next to each other rather than instead of each other.

These important lessons might not be translated into a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement very quickly. Unfortunately, much more time and effort will be required before a political deal is found.

Many in the region and outside believe that the understanding between both sides had reached at the last session of negotiations held in Taba in January 2001 can be the basis for a permanent peace deal.

That agreement adopted dealt successfully with the two outstanding issues in previous talks. Namely Jerusalem and refugees. The agreement adopted the Clinton suggestion for solving the thorny issue of Jerusalem. Namely, Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian sovereignty and Jewish ones under Israeli sovereignty with the Harm al Sharif under Palestinian control while the Western wall be in the hands of the Israelis. On the refugee issue, a complicated plan was agreed upon that would allow for some Palestinian refugees (with priority to those in Lebanon) to be allowed to return to Israel while the rest having the right to return to the Palestinian state or become full citizens of the countries they are presently in.

The failure of the Israeli violent and administrative repression as well as the Palestinian violent attacks should be a clear lesson to all that this conflict will not be solved in military ways. Opponents to peace might still try and dabble with violence. But if the lessons of the past are properly learnt then leaders of each side must take a firm stand against naughty members of their own. Rouge elements unhappy with the peace process will try and attacks an Israeli here, or try and build a settlement there. Elements within the Israeli army itself might carry out an assassination here or deal softly with an a trigger happy soldier there. If the leaders are truly committed to peace and to their own undertaking hey should not allow these elements to get away with their actions.

The peace train is finally back on track and people of goodwill on all sides must do their best not to allow any person or group or themselves to derail it. The majority of Israelis and Palestinians want the road map to peace to succeed. They and not minority elements should succeed. Only then would we learn the lessons of the horrible past few years.

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