GUYANA UNDER SIEGE
Palestinian Vision of Peace
But first, let me be very clear. I condemn the attacks carried out by terrorist groups against Israeli civilians. These groups do not represent the Palestinian people or their legitimate aspirations for freedom. They are terrorist organizations, and I am determined to put an end to their activities.
The Palestinian vision of peace is an independent and viable Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, living as an equal neighbor alongside Israel with peace and security for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. In 1988, the Palestine National Council adopted a historic resolution calling for the implementation of applicable United Nations resolutions, particularly, Resolutions 242 and 338. The Palestinians recognized Israel's right to exist on 78 percent of historical Palestine with the understanding that we would be allowed to live in freedom on the remaining 22 percent, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. Our commitment to that two-state solution remains unchanged, but unfortunately, also remains unreciprocated.
We seek true independence and full sovereignty: the right to control our own airspace, water resources and borders; to develop our own economy, to have normal commercial relations with our neighbors, and to travel freely. In short, we seek only what the free world now enjoys and only what Israel insists on for itself: the right to control our own destiny and to take our place among free nations.
In addition, we seek a fair and just solution to the plight of Palestinian refugees who for 54 years have not been permitted to return to their homes. We understand Israel's demographic concerns and understand that the right of return of Palestinian refugees, a right guaranteed under international law and United Nations Resolution 194, must be implemented in a way that takes into account such concerns. However, just as we Palestinians must be realistic with respect to Israel's demographic desires, Israelis too must be realistic in understanding that there can be no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if the legitimate rights of these innocent civilians continue to be ignored. Left unresolved, the refugee issue has the potential to undermine any permanent peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis. How is a Palestinian refugee to understand that his or her right of return will not be honored but those of Kosovar Albanians, Afghans and East Timorese have been?
There are those who claim that I am not a partner in peace. In response, I say Israel's peace partner is, and always has been, the Palestinian people. Peace is not a signed agreement between individuals it is reconciliation between peoples. Two peoples cannot reconcile when one demands control over the other, when one refuses to treat the other as a partner in peace, when one uses the logic of power rather than the power of logic. Israel has yet to understand that it cannot have peace while denying justice. As long as the occupation of Palestinian lands continues, as long as Palestinians are denied freedom, then the path to the "peace of the brave" that I embarked upon with my late partner Yitzhak Rabin, will be littered with obstacles.
The Palestinian people have been denied their freedom for far too long and are the only people in the world still living under foreign occupation. How is it possible that the entire world can tolerate this oppression, discrimination and humiliation? The 1993 Oslo Accord, signed on the White House lawn, promised the Palestinians freedom by May 1999. Instead, since 1993, the Palestinian people have endured a doubling of Israeli settlers, expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and increased restrictions on freedom of movement. How do I convince my people that Israel is serious about peace while over the past decade Israel intensified the colonization of Palestinian land from which it was ostensibly negotiating a withdrawal?
But no degree of oppression and no level of desperation can ever justify the killing of innocent civilians. I condemn terrorism. I condemn the killing of innocent civilians, whether they are Israeli, American or Palestinian; whether they are killed by Palestinian extremists, Israeli settlers, or by the Israeli government. But condemnations do not stop terrorism. To stop terrorism, we must understand that terrorism is simply the symptom, not the disease.
The personal attacks on me currently in vogue may be highly effective in giving Israelis an excuse to ignore their own role in creating the current situation. But these attacks do little to move the peace process forward and, in fact, are not designed to. Many believe that Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, given his opposition to every peace treaty Israel has ever signed, is fanning the flames of unrest in an effort to delay indefinitely a return to negotiations. Regrettably, he has done little to prove them wrong. Israeli government practices of settlement construction, home demolitions, political assassinations, closures and shameful silence in the face of Israeli settler violence and other daily humiliations are clearly not aimed at calming the situation.
The Palestinians have a vision of peace: it is a peace based on the complete end of the occupation and a return to Israel's 1967 borders, the sharing of all Jerusalem as one open city and as the capital of two states, Palestine and Israel. It is a warm peace between two equals enjoying mutually beneficial economic and social cooperation. Despite the brutal repression of Palestinians over the last four decades, I believe when Israel sees Palestinians as equals, and not as a subjugated people upon whom it can impose its will, such a vision can come true. Indeed it must.
Palestinians are ready to end the conflict. We are ready to sit down now with any Israeli leader, regardless of his history, to negotiate freedom for the Palestinians, a complete end of the occupation, security for Israel and creative solutions to the plight of the refugees while respecting Israel's demographic concerns. But we will only sit down as equals, not as supplicants; as partners, not as subjects; as seekers of a just and peaceful solution, not as a defeated nation grateful for whatever scraps are thrown our way. For despite Israel's overwhelming military advantage, we possess something even greater: the power of justice.
Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996 and is also
chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The world is closing on us, pushing us through the last passage, and we tear off our limbs to pass through. Thus Mahmoud Darwish, writing in the aftermath of the PLOs exit from Beirut in August 1982. Where shall we go after the last frontiers, where should the birds fly after the last sky? Nineteen years later, what was happening then to the Palestinians in Lebanon is happening to them in Palestine. Since the al-Aqsa Intifada began last September, Palestinians have been sequestered by the Israeli Army in no fewer than 220 discontinuous little ghettoes, and subjected to intermittent curfews often lasting for weeks at a stretch. No one, young or old, sick or well, dying or pregnant, student or doctor, can move without spending hours at barricades, manned by rude and deliberately humiliating Israeli soldiers. As I write, two hundred Palestinians are unable to receive kidney dialysis because for security reasons the Israeli military wont allow them to travel to medical centres. Have any of the innumerable members of the foreign media covering the conflict done a story about these brutalised young Israeli conscripts trained to punish Palestinian civilians as the main part of their military duty? I think not.
Yasir Arafat was not allowed to leave his office in Ramallah to attend the emergency meeting of Islamic Conference foreign ministers on 10 December in Qatar; his speech was read by an aide. The airport fifteen miles away in Gaza and Arafats two ageing helicopters had been destroyed the previous week by Israeli planes and bulldozers, with no one and no force to check, much less prevent the daily incursions of which this particular feat of military daring was a part. Gaza airport was the only direct port of entry into Palestinian territory, the only civilian airport in the world wantonly destroyed since World War Two. Since last May Israeli F-16s (generously supplied by the US) have regularly bombed and strafed Palestinian towns and villages, Guernica style, destroying property and killing civilians and security officials (there is no Palestinian army, navy or air force to protect the people); Apache attack helicopters (again supplied by the US) have used their missiles to murder 77 Palestinian leaders, for alleged terrorist offences, past or future. A group of unknown Israeli intelligence operatives have the authority to decide on these assassinations, presumably with the approval on each occasion of the Israeli Cabinet and, more generally, that of the US. The helicopters have also done an efficient job of bombing Palestinian Authority installations, police as well as civilian. During the night of 5 December, the Israeli Army entered the five-storey offices of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in Ramallah, carried off the computers, as well as most of the files and reports, thereby effacing virtually the entire record of collective Palestinian life. In 1982 the same Army under the same commander entered West Beirut and carted off documents and files from the Palestinian Research Centre, before flattening the structure. A few days later came the massacres of Sabra and Shatila.
The suicide bombers of Hamas and Islamic Jihad have of course been at work, as Sharon knew perfectly well they would be when, after a ten-day lull in the fighting in late November, he suddenly ordered the murder of the Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud: an act designed to provoke Hamas into retaliation and thus allow the Israeli Army to resume the slaughter of Palestinians. After eight years of barren peace discussion 50 percent of Palestinians are unemployed and 70 per cent live on less than 2 dollars a day. Every day brings with it unopposable land grabs and house demolitions. The Israelis even make a point of destroying trees and orchards on Palestinian land. Although five or six Palestinians have been killed in the last few months for every one Israeli, the obese old warmonger has the gall to keep repeating that Israel has been the victim of the same terrorism as that meted out by Bin Laden.
The crucial point in all this is that Israel has been in illegal military occupation since 1967; it is the longest such occupation in history, and the only one anywhere in the world today: this is the original and continuing violence against which all the Palestinian acts of violence have been directed. Yesterday (10 December), two children aged 3 and 13 were killed by Israeli bombs in Hebron, yet at the same time an EU delegation was demanding that Palestinians curtail their violence and acts of terrorism. Today five more Palestinians were killed, all of them civilian, victims of helicopter bombings of Gazas refugee camps. To make matters worse, as a result of the 11 September attacks, the word terrorism is being used to blot out legitimate acts of resistance against military occupation and any casual or even narrative connection between the dreadful killing of civilians (which I have always opposed) and thirty plus years of collective punishment is proscribed.
Every Western pundit or official who pontificates about Palestinian terrorism needs to ask how forgetting the fact of the occupation is supposed to stop terrorism. Arafats great mistake, a consequence of frustration and poor advice, was to try to make a deal with the occupation when he authorised peace discussions between scions of two prominent Palestinian families and Mossad in 1992 at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge. These discussions were all to do with Israeli security: nothing was said about Palestinian security, nothing at all, and the struggle of his people to achieve an independent state was left to one side. Indeed, Israel security to the exclusion of anything else has become the recognised international priority, which allows General Zinn and Javier Solana to preach at the PLO while remaining totally silent on the occupation. Yet Israel has scarcely gained more from these discussions than the Palestinians have. Its mistake has been to imagine that by conning Arafat and his coterie into interminable discussions and tiny concessions it would get a general Palestinian quiescence. Every official Israeli policy thus far has made things worse, rather than better, for Israel. Ask your self: is Israel more secure and more accepted now than it was ten years ago? Can its current war of attrition be any more successful than the one it lost in Lebanon?
The terrible and, in my opinion, stupid suicide raids against civilians in Haifa and Jerusalem over the weekend of 1 December should of course be condemned, but in order for the condemnation to make any sense the raids must be considered in the context of Abu Hanouds assassination earlier in the week, along with the killing of five children by an Israeli booby-trap in Gaza to say nothing of the houses destroyed, the Palestinians killed throughout Gaza and the West Bank, the constant tank incursions, the endless grinding away of Palestinian aspirations, minute by minute, for the past 35 years. In the end desperation only produces poor results, none worse than the green light George W. and Colin Powell seem to have given Sharon when he was in Washington on 2 December (all too reminiscent of the green light Al Haig gave in May 1982). With their support went the usual ringing declarations turning the people under occupation and their hapless, inept leader into world-wide aggressors who had to bring to justice their own criminals even as Israeli soldiers were systematically destroying the Palestinian police structure which was supposed to do the arresting.
Arafat is hemmed in on all sides, an ironic consequence of his bottomless wish to be all things Palestinian to everyone, enemies and friends alike. He is at once a tragically heroic figure and a bumbling one. No Palestinian today is going to disavow his leadership for the simple reason that despite all his wafflings and mistakes he is being punished and humiliated because he is a Palestinian leader, and in that capacity his mere existence offends purists (if thats the right word) like Sharon and his American backers. Except for the health and education ministries, both of which have done a decent job, Arafats Authority has been a dismal failure. Its corruption and brutality stem from Arafats apparently whimsical, but actually very meticulous, way of keeping everyone dependent on his largesse: he alone controls the budget, and he alone decides what goes on the front pages of the five daily newspapers. He knows whats going on and has a few people well placed to stir up a little rock-throwing in the streets. Above all, he manipulates and sets against each other the 12 or 14 some say 19 or 20 independent security services that he created, each of which is structurally loyal to its own leaders and to Arafat at the same time without being able to do much more for its people than arrest them when enjoined to do so by Arafat, Israel and the US. The 1996 elections were designed for a term of three years, but Arafat has shilly-shallied with the idea of calling new ones, which would almost certainly challenge his authority and popularity in a serious way.
He has had a well-publicised entente with Hamas since the latters June bombings; Hamas wouldnt go after Israeli civilians if Arafat left the Islamic parties alone. Sharon killed off the entente with Abu Hanouds assassination: Hamas retaliated and there was nothing to stop Sharon squeezing the life out of Arafat, with American support. Having destroyed Arafats security network, his jails and offices, and having physically imprisoned him, Sharon made demands that he knows cant be fulfilled (even though Arafat, with a few cards always up his sleeve, has managed, astonishingly, to half-comply). Sharon stupidly believes that, having dispensed with Arafat, he can make a series of independent agreements with local warlords and divide 40 per cent of the West Bank and most of Gaza into several non-contiguous cantons whose borders the Israeli Army will control. How this is supposed to make Israel more secure eludes me, but not, alas, the people with the relevant power.
That leaves out three players, or groups of players, two of whom in his racist way Sharon gives no weight to. First, the Palestinians themselves who are far too intransigent and politicised finally to accept anything less than unconditional Israeli withdrawal. Israels policies, like all such aggressions, produce the opposite effect to the one intended: to suppress is to provoke resistance. Were Arafat to disappear, Palestinian law provides for 60 days of rule by the speaker of the Assembly (an unimpressive and unpopular Arafat hanger-on called Abul Ala, much admired by Israelis for his flexibility). After that, a succession struggle would ensue between other Arafat cronies such as Abu Mazen and two or three of the leading (and capable) security chiefs notably Jibril Rajoud of the West Bank and Mohammed Dahlan in Gaza. None of these people has Arafats stature, or anything resembling his (perhaps now lost) popularity. Temporary chaos is the likely result: Arafats presence has been an organising focus for Palestinian politics, in which millions of other Arabs and Muslims have a very large stake.
Arafat has always tolerated, indeed supported a plurality of organisations that he manipulates in various ways, balancing them against each other so that no one predominates except his Fatah. New groups are emerging, however: secular, hardworking, committed, dedicated to a democratic polity in an independent Palestine. Over these people, the PA has no control at all. It should be said that no one in Palestine is willing to accede to the Israeli-US demand for an end to terrorism, although it will be difficult to draw a line in the public mind between suicidal adventurism and resistance to the occupation so long as Israel goes on with its bombings.
The second group are the leaders in the rest of the Arab world who have a vested interest in Arafat, despite their evident exasperation with him. He is cleverer and more persistent that they are, and knows the hold he has on the popular mind in their countries, where he has cultivated both Islamists and secular nationalists. Both feel under attack even though the secular nationalists have hardly been noticed by the vast number of Western experts and Orientalists who take bin Laden rather than the much larger number of Muslim and non-Muslim secular Arabs who detest what he does to be the paradigm Muslim. Now that Arafat is cornered, his popularity in Palestine has shot up. But until very recently, he and Hamas were about level in the polls (hovering between 20 and 25 per cent), with the majority of citizens favouring neither. The same division, with the same significant plague-on-both-your-houses majority, exists in Arab countries where most people are put off either by the corruption and brutality of the regimes or by the extremism of the religious groups most of whom are more interested in the regulation of personal behaviour than they are in matters like globalisation or producing electricity and jobs.
Arabs and Muslims might well turn against their own rulers were Arafat seen to be choked to death by Israeli violence and Arab indifference. So he is necessary to the present landscape. His departure will only seem natural when a new collective leadership emerges among a younger generation of Palestinians. When and how that will happen is impossible to tell, but Im quite certain that it will happen.
The third player is Israel, where an audacious Knesset member, the Palestinian Azmi Bishara, has been stripped of his Parliamentary immunity and will soon be put on trial for incitement to violence, because he has long stood for the Palestinian right of resistance to occupation, arguing that, like every other state in the world, Israel should be the state of all its citizens not just of the Jewish people. For the first time, a major Palestinian challenge is being mounted inside Israel (not on the West Bank) with all eyes on the proceedings. At the same time the Belgian Attorney Generals office has confirmed that a war crimes case against Sharon can go forward in the countrys courts. A painstaking mobilisation of secular Palestinian opinion is underway which should slowly overtake the PA. The moral high ground will soon be reclaimed from Israel, as the occupation becomes the focus of attention, and as more and more Israelis realise that it wont be possible to keep it going indefinitely. Besides, as the US war against terrorism spreads, more unrest is almost certain: far from closing things down, US power is likely to stir them up in ways that may not be containable. Its no mean irony that the renewed attention on Palestine came about because the anti-Taliban coalition made it necessary.