Before there is any real hope for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, Americans must confront two major myths. It may seem paradoxical to begin a discussion of peace in the Middle East with Americans, but like it or not, we are right in the thick of it.
Myth #1: Americans are neutral. In fact the war could not be fought at its present intensity without the $1.8 billion in military aid that we give Israel each year. Every time a US made F-16 bombs Gaza, a US Apache helicopter assassinates a Palestinian with a US-made rocket, or a West Bank demonstrator is gunned down with a US made M-16, we are there. When the Israeli Self-Defense Forces (IDF) flattened Yasir Arafat’s headquarters, they did so with a 500lb MK82 guided bomb made in Garland, Texas.
So we Americans bear some responsibility for the 1,000 plus deaths, and tens of thousands of wounded, among Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
Myth #2. That the Palestinians were offered a great deal at the July 2000 Camp David talks, and Arafat turned it down, thus setting the stage for the latest bloodletting. This tale is particularly dangerous because it perpetuates the fable that the Palestinian side of the peace equation is unreliable.
For a chronology of fact vs fiction, Israeli journalist Amnon Kapeliouk’s “Constructing Catastrophe” in the Feb. 2, 2002 Le Monde Diplomatique, as well as Robert Malley’s commentary in last July 6 New York Times, make revealing reading. While there are multiple interpretations of what happened in those disastrous talks, what is clear from any unbiased reading of the events is the following:
The Palestinians never wanted to go to Camp David, not because they didn’t want peace, but because Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak refused to establish a framework for the discussions. The Palestinians smelled a squeeze play, between President Clinton’s search for a legacy (and his need to get Monica off the front pages), and Barak wanting to look tough for the upcoming Israeli elections.
When the Palestinians got to Camp David they were presented with a settlement they could only refuse: Israeli sovereignty over the Haram al Sharif, Islam’s third holiest site, continued Israeli presence in the West Bank, and no specific plan for 3.1 million Palestinian refugees. And Barak insisted nothing be written down.
The Palestinians were burned in the 1993 Oslo Agreements by not insisting on specific language about the settlements. While the Palestinians assumed there would be a freeze on settlements while a final agreement was worked out, the Israelis doubled the number of settlers and built 40 new settlements. So any talk of “oral agreements” was a non-starter.
The Palestinians responded with a proposal to give up 9 percent of the West Bank, allow Israeli sovereignty over settlements in East Jerusalem, full recognition of Israel, and a solution to the refugee issue in a way “that would not threaten Israeli demographic and security interests.”
The US-Israeli response was “take it or leave it,” and when the Palestinians wouldn’t, they took the fall.
No one in Europe believes the Camp David proposal was fair. If there is to be any progress in future talks, Americans are going to have to put that fairy tale aside and recognize that both sides have legitimate demands and concerns, and that military strength will solve nothing.
Israel has security needs, but as Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi (a sensible voice in all this madness) points out, “The occupation itself is the source of insecurity for everyone, including the Israelis. Sharon still thinks that massacres, gratuitous cruelty and killing can produce results. He has not learned that armies can defeat other armies, but can never defeat a nation or peoples’ will to be free and to live in dignity equal to other nations.”
The Palestinians need a nation, free of settlements, roadblocks, and occupiers, with part of Jerusalem as a capital. The refugee question will be tricky, but if Israeli settlements are left intact, and the international community ponies up some bucks, it ought to sort itself out.
As for the terrorism, no one should have illusions that extremists on either side won’t make trouble. But the best answer to terrorism is not to allow it to hold the peace process hostage.
Time is the enemy here. Cease-fires without a political agreement will simply not hold. No country will allow another to occupy it for 35 years without fighting back. And just as this Intifada is deadlier than the last, things will get a lot worse if they continue. As Gideon Levy, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ former aide, wrote in Ha’aretz, “All the injustices and evil perpetuated against the Palestinians will eventually blow up in our faces. A people that is abused in this way for years will explode one day in a terrible fury, even worse than what we see now.”
As of 3/19/02, the number of Israeli soldiers refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories is now 349.