“Let us work together to replace despair with HOPE, fear with human SECURITY and humiliation with DIGNITY”

God Meets Caesar in the Holy Land!

First keep peace within yourself, and then you can also bring peace to others Thomas a Kempis

First keep peace within yourself, and then you can also bring peace to others
Thomas a Kempis

Where do Israelis and Palestinians find themselves in the high-stakes political initiatives that are being played out in the Holy Land today? Indeed, what is the ‘deal’ that has been elusive for so long?  After almost eighteen months of unending confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians, the violence still exacts a heavy toll on both peoples. The fierce clashes, as much as the fatalities, mayhem and destruction have become such a frighteningly routine and recurrent event that the television channels in Europe and the USA hardly give them more than a ten-second span of attention. Sad as it may seem, excess gloom loses its appeal with the media after a while too!

So has all been lost then? Have both sides crossed the Rubicon and can no longer reverse into an agreement?  As an Armenian Christian from Jerusalem, and as a hardcore optimist, I beg to differ! I still maintain that there are some signs of hope in the midst of all the hatred and violence that is spewing out from the land of prophets. In fact, the recent flurry of initiatives and findings sustain my belief in the good faith and good will of many Israeli, Palestinian, Arab or international mediators alike.

In terms of initiatives, the buzzword this week has been the Saudi Arabian plan that offers Israel full relations with the Arab world in return for its withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In fact, the Saudi proposals were floated some two weeks ago in an interview given by Crown Prince Abdullah to Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. One major importance of this plan is that it sends a signal to the Israeli public that peace with the broader Arab world is possible should they make peace with their neighbours first. In fact, if this plan were ever to secure a consensus at the Arab League Summit Meeting in Beirut later this month, it would be a major breakthrough.

Another plan – a non-paper in many ways – was tailored by France and launched earlier last month by the European Union. Described as one of the most radical plans presented by any EU country for almost two years, it envisaged fresh Palestinian legislative elections, a long-overdue Israeli pullback from the West Bank, an Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state and its admission into the United Nations.

And on the ecumenical wavelength, the World Council of Churches agreed last month on an Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel. The participants in this programme will come from different churches and church-related organisations worldwide and are meant to expose the violence of the occupation and help create a viable Palestinian state. In so doing, they will engage in human rights’ monitoring, advocacy and supporting non-violent resistance by local Palestinian and Israeli peace groups. 

However, local movements have also matching those international initiatives in the region. Utilising the Churchillian theme of blood, sweat and tears, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recently addressed the Israeli people and admitted that Israelis ‘were having a difficult time’. He encouraged them to be steadfast in the face of adversity.  Although he spoke of a vaguely formulated plan for ‘buffer zones’ that will achieve ‘security separation between Palestinian areas and Israel’, he offered no vision, direction or incentive to his people that peace was a realisable strategy. See-sawing between right-wing exhortations for a tougher Israeli ‘crackdown’ on Palestinians and left-wing insistence that a pullback from the occupied territories is the sole answer, his speech was long on words and short on ideas.

In fact, his address coincided with an unprecedented declaration {now totalling 300 signatures} by reservist soldiers in the Israel Defence Forces stating their refusal to serve in the occupied territories. At the same time, a peace rally was held in Tel Aviv against the government and drew a modest 15,000 activists – perhaps a faint echo of the mass demonstrations during the Lebanese war some twenty years ago.

Those initiatives, overtures and interventions also reflected a whole spate of statistical findings within Israel.  According to one poll conducted by the Steinmetz Centre for Peace Research in Tel Aviv, only 36% of Israelis believe that the ongoing siege of Chairman Yasser Arafat in Ramallah will help end Palestinian terrorism, and 40% believe that the policy of security clampdown is doomed to fail in the end.  However, 73% continue their support for targeted assassinations, whilst 63% support the peace negotiations and 65% believe it is important to ease restrictions against Palestinians – though not on Chairman Yasser Arafat himself.  According to Tamar Hermann, Director of the Centre, Israelis are beginning to focus more sharply on socio-economic concerns. She also believes that the Israeli governmental accent on security masks increasing unemployment and economic slowdown across the whole country.

Another poll conducted by the Ma’ariv Hebrew daily newspaper in Israel showed that 53% of Israelis are dissatisfied with PM Sharon versus only 42% who are satisfied with him.  73% believe he has not fulfilled his electoral promises, whilst a meagre 20% believe he has done so.  Furthermore, 68% believe that the situation has become worse over the past year, whilst only 7% believe that it has become better. Finally, 42% of Israelis accept the Saudi plan.

Finally, a Gallup poll published last week that surveyed 10,000 people in nine Islamic countries showed the picture of a population deeply at odds with the USA. Interviewees saw the USA as ‘ruthless, aggressive, conceited, arrogant, easily provoked and biased in its foreign policy’. Although there were variations across different countries – ranging from Indonesia to Turkey – respondents displayed a ‘belief that western nations do not respect Arab or Islamic values, do not support Arab causes, and do not exhibit fairness towards Arabs’. This unsettling poll showed that the American attempts at explaining its policies toward Muslim and Arab countries had not yet borne fruit.

But can those initiatives and findings generate a momentum toward peace? And what are the dynamics of peace?

Let me start off by saying that the ‘deal’ being sought as elusively as the Holy Grail is not the ‘amazingly generous’ settlement that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak ostensibly offered to Chairman Arafat at the Camp David talks in July 2000. As Robert Malley, President Clinton’s special assistant for Arab-Israeli affairs has repeatedly stressed out, there never was a formal Israeli offer at Camp David. Nothing was written down, and Israel’s final position was never clear. The story that Arafat refused an offer that any Palestinian interested in peace would have snapped up is a myth conjured up by Israeli spin-doctors.

The real ‘deal’ was put on the table almost six months later, when the ‘Second Intifadah’ was already well underway. It is the settlement proposed by Bill Clinton on 23 December 2000 – described by Robert Malley and Palestinian negotiator Hussein Agha in the New York Review last August, and recently confirmed by the former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami in an interview with the Ha’aretz Hebrew daily newspaper. The ‘Clinton parameters’ outlined roughly a Palestinian state including 94 to 96 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Most of the Jewish settlements would have to go, and Palestine would be compensated for the rest with an equivalent slice of Israeli territory elsewhere. Jerusalem would be the capital of two states, and the holy sites within the old city would be divided so that Palestinians would exercise sovereignty over the Haram al Sharif / Temple Mount complex, and Israel over the Western Wall just below it. Palestinian refugees everywhere could move to the state of Palestine, but they could only return to their ancestral homes within Israel proper with the agreement of the Israeli government (which would not be forthcoming in most cases).  For all the Palestinian refugees who could not go home, and all the Jewish settlers who had to move, there would be generous compensation.  And everybody would live grumpily ever after!

That sort of deal seems utterly beyond reach at the moment, but the two sides will probably be back at the negotiating table within a year or so anyway. In the words of Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, ‘Israel cannot keep three and a half million Palestinians under siege, without income, oppressed, poor, densely populated, near starvation’. And the talks will be based on the ‘Clinton parameters’ since there is no alternative that is viable and defensible.  Or as the Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery writes in his article ‘Politicus Interruptus’, the ‘deal’ that must be struck ought to be faithful to the Taba discussions that followed Camp David II but ran out of time when former Prime Minister Ehud Barak ordered his men to break off the negotiations and return home.

The Palestinian state that is now waiting to be born will be almost identical to the one that would have come into existence fifty four years ago if the bits of Palestine remaining in Arab hands at the end of Israel’s war of independence had become a state. Arab states, and the majority of Palestinians, do not believe that Israel can be driven back from its present borders. In fact, Israel can still seize and colonise lands in the occupied territories, but the Palestinians can impose a price that only a dwindling number of Israelis are willing to pay. I know that peace will take a little longer, and will require men and women of courage and vision to fight for their just and lofty principles. A lot of people may die in the meantime. The global ethics of idealism and realism will fight it out a little longer.

However, regardless of the principal political players on the scene, the game is almost over. All that remains is to acknowledge that it is over!  If Israelis and Palestinians wish it, peace could actually be at hand!

Idealism increases in direct proportion to one’s distance from the problem!
John Galsworthy

(c) harry-bvH @ 2 March 2002


2016-10-24T07:35:58+00:00 March 7th, 2001|Categories: News|