Sep 15 2000

Full rights until deal is delivered

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

For a long time two people, let us call them Ahmad and Shlomo have had a financial dispute. Shlomo owes Ahmad $100,000 and he has been refusing to pay it back despite Ahmad’s possession of a binding contract to the effect of his rights to this amount. The dispute has caused trouble for both men. Their children are always fighting and the atmosphere between them has become unbearable. Finally a mutual friend, let us call him Jimmy, has suggested a compromise. He went to Ahmad and convinced him that since he will never be able to get all his money back, the best he can do is get $30,000. Although he felt cheated Ahmad reluctantly agreed. But Jimmy was unable to deliver the agreed upon compromised amount. Days turned into weeks and month. An angry Ahmad started bad mouthing Shlomo saying that he has swindled him and has not paid him back his money. 

Question. How much does Ahmad tell his friends that Shlomo owes him? $100,000 or $30,000?

The logical answer is the larger amount. It is true that Ahmad agreed to the compromise. And there is no doubt that if Jimmy delivers the smaller amount, this dispute would be over. But until the money is delivered Shlomo will be blamed for defrauding Ahmad for the total amount.

This example attempts to explain one side of the Arab-Israeli conflict. For Palestinians, the rights of Palestinians to their land, and their right to return are inalienable rights guaranteed by international law and treaties. True enough, Palestinians have expressed willingness to accept their state on part of the historic lands of Palestine. There is willingness in the Palestinian leadership to make compromises on sensitive issues like Jerusalem and refugees. But until an agreement is reached Palestinians will insist on their total legitimate rights as guaranteed in international agreements including the right to return.

Ironically, the same sentiment has been experienced on the Israeli side. The daily newspaper, Haaretz, reported last week that Jewish settlers were perplexed at the seemingly contradictory results of public opinion polls. The polls showed that a majority of Israelis are opposed to compromises to Palestinians on sensitive issues like Jerusalem and the refugees. Yet at the same time, a similar majority supports a comprehensive agreement that includes the same compromises that the majority is opposed to.

There is no doubt that a comprehensive agreement that promises a permanent end to the conflict will be supported by the majorities of both peoples. This conclusion should give the leaders the extra buffer needed to make far reaching, and painful compromises including areas that have in the past been taboo. But such agreement must have the basic features of longevity and permanence.

The issue of the Haram Al Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) which includes the two mosques Al Aqsa — the third holiest site in Islam — and the gold-roofed Omar Mosque) as well as the courtyard between them, is a case in point. On the one hand, Israel is insisting that this area which they call the Temple Mount should be forever under Israeli sovereignty. The reason is that Jews believe that the mount is the location where the Jewish temple stood two thousand years ago. Because of its sensitivity, senior rabbis in Israel have ordered Jews since 1967 not to step foot on the mosques’ compound.

In the meantime, the presence of Palestinian Muslims who have been praying continuously in the mosque compound for over six hundred years has not diminished during the 35 years of Israeli occupation. A permanent solution that will include Israeli sovereignty over this sacred site will be a formula for trouble.

Ever since the break up of the Camp David II talks, Americans and Israelis have been blaming the Palestinians for their intransigence and their refusal to suggest alternative formulas regarding the fate of Jerusalem. The Palestinians are now suggesting a host of alternatives (Islamic Sovereignty, International sovereignty etc.), but the Israelis are the ones now that are insisting on continuing their exclusive sovereignty over an area that they have no intention of allowing Jews into it. At a time that Barak is talking about a secular revolution, he seems hostage to religious issues that have to do with stones — as holy as they may be to one faith or the other — rather than humans.

While thousands of Muslims pray daily in Al Aqsa Mosque during Friday prayers in the holy month of Ramadan hundreds of thousands of worshipers flock to the site. Just last year, more than 300,000 Palestinians prayed at this mosque on the last Friday of Ramadan which this year begins in November when once again the throngs of people visiting this holy site will bring the old city to a standstill. This while Jerusalem still witnesses a closure and Muslims from around the world cannot come freely. What will happen when there is permanent peace?

The presence of Muslims at this mosque has not been without continuous harassment and trouble sparked by the Israeli soldiers stationed there.

In 1990, Israeli soldiers on patrol on and around the mosque opened fire and killed 18 Palestinians and injured hundreds during a confrontation in which soldiers used live fire in response to Palestinian stonethrowing. The 35 years of occupation has also witnessed a number of other incidents including an attempt to burn down the mosque in 1968. In 1982, an Israeli soldier shot randomly into the Al Aqsa Mosque killing two Palestinians. The incident in Hebron in 1994, when an Israeli soldier killed 28 Muslim worshipers in cold blood as they were kneeling down to pray, is still fresh in the minds of Palestinians and Muslims throughout the world.

Complicated solutions, especially those dealing with human beings will not stand the test of time and will need to be revised and amended to reflect the changes on the ground. With the mistrust that exists between Palestinians and Israelis, how can an agreement be permanent if Israeli soldiers exercise their sovereignty over who enters or doesn’t enter this mosque. The faster that the leaders of Israel accept this and work on dealing with the remaining issues, the closer we will be to reaching a permanent solution. Such a solution will not be a solution that will satisfy Palestinian aspirations nor fulfil their rights, but it will be a solution that Palestinians can live with. Until then, just like in the case of the financial dispute between Ahmad and Shlomo, the demand will be for the full rights until and unless there is agreement to the contrary.

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