Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Peacemaking in Palestine

Anisa Abd el Fattah

Palestine seems to be at that place in history where things can go delightfully right or miserably wrong, based upon a single decision to either re-engage with Israel in peace negotiations, or not. Of course the use of the word peace is deceptive in this respect, because negotiations as far as Israel is concerned are not really a quest for peace as one might imagine. Israel is not interested in peace as in withdrawing to its pre war 67 borders, and removing its illegal checkpoints, stopping military raids, kidnappings, and ending apartheid, the siege on Gaza etc. In fact these issues have never been negotiable as far as Israel is concerned. Keep in mind also that Israel has never lived up to a negotiated agreement.

It seems that at least as far as Israel is concerned, the word peace is little more than a way to express a desire for Palestinians to decide whether they will submit to being displaced through a process of negotiated agreements, or if they prefer to be displaced forcefully. In other words, Israel seems to believe that through negotiations it will determine how the cleansing of Palestine will take place. In the past, whenever Israel failed to get what it wanted at the negotiating table, it has punished the Palestinians with violent massacres and brutal military assaults.

For those who think this opinion is too cynical let’s look at the facts. The Knesset could vote to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and peace, as understood from the traditional definition, would be immediate. After all, Palestinians are not attacking Israel, or Israelis. They are not shooting them, bombing them, confiscating their land, demolishing their homes, destroying their farms, killing their livestock or literally chasing them from their homes and moving into them. The Palestinians mostly threaten to retaliate in return for Israel’s acts of violence, but seldom do. If we were to look only at the facts and ignore Israel’s incendiary rhetoric, it would become quite cleat that Israel is the reason that there is no peace, and they are the only people making perpetual war. The reality is that negotiations are not required for there to be peace, and no violence is required for peacemaking. Israel could withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza, remove its checkpoints, buy out the illegal settlers, ( and all are illegal) then relocate them to Israel proper. What would be left to be negotiated after that might be water rights and security arrangements that would prevent Israel from breeching its borders again, and attempting to confiscate the natural gas and oil reserves that belong to Palestine.

Unfortunately, neither Mahmoud Abbas nor any of the PLO team has suggested to Israel that if Israel wants to have meaningful negotiations, there should first be peace, at least in the sense that all Israeli violence against Palestinians should end as a gesture of sincerity. That, to most people would be more important and urgent than an end to settlement building which is really almost meaningless when we consider that anyone can live in those buildings, but no one can bring the Palestinians that are being murdered almost daily back to life. The lives and security of the Palestinian people would be the priority in the real world. Only in this conflict are the rights of the illegal occupier and war criminal more important than the rights and protection of its victim.

It is not difficult to understand why the US is pushing for renewed negotiations. The US is bankrupt and simply cannot afford to sustain Israel’s appetite for violence and weaponry much longer. On top of that, the US, which is fighting two other wars for the sake of Israel, cannot take any more risk that blow back from these Zionist inspired misadventures will manifest on America’s shores, or against its interests abroad. The US might be ready for that theoretical Clean Break that is the underlying purpose for all of these wars, occupations and violence. The Clean Break, as far as the US is concerned can’t be realized except through a negotiated process that saves face for Israel who would rather be seen as a top flight negotiator and peacemaker than a violent warmonger, even though in the past Israel has only been successful at war, and these wars were carried out and victories realized with the help of the US and other world powers who are committed to Israel because of religious fervor and fanaticism, and not based upon any logical, strategic or even remotely just idea.

The trouble in Palestine will only be resolved when the Palestinians themselves stop playing Israel’s game and figure out what their own unique interest is. What is their objective?

The Palestinians must realize that they will never be free of Israel without a decisive victory, either military or diplomatic that will force Israel to abandon the idea that it can achieve its desire to take all of Palestine militarily should Israel not get what it wants through negotiations. That means that Palestinians must accept that they cannot be free of Israel without a fight, unless some power that can balance the influence of the US, Israel and the EU gets involved and commits to Palestinian security with the same enthusiasm that the US and EU has committed to Israel’s. Iran, Turkey, Russia and China can do that, but will they?

The Palestinians must also be willing to state what issues are negotiable and, limit those issues to those not already the subject of UN resolutions, or issues that can be resolved by adhering to international laws, conventions and treaties. In other words, Israel should not be allowed to evade the law, or rewrite the law through negotiations. This is in fact prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. Only issues that are not addressed by law should be subject to negotiation and it might be worth it for Palestine to create a commission to review all relevant conventions, laws, treaties and resolutions in an effort to determine what can be legally negotiated and what cannot, and should not be included.

Last but not least, Palestine must decide what it wants as a reasonable gesture of sincerity from Israel before agreeing to renewed talks. I would suggest that it be that all violence against Palestinians, including kidnappings, raids, torture etc. end immediately, without exception, along with land confiscations, home demolitions and settler violence. I would suggest that Israel be put on notice that a single act of settler violence will end all negotiations. I would also demand that Israel end its illegal siege on Gaza. Minus any of these changes, there would be no negotiations.

The trouble in Palestine stems from either an unwillingness or inability of the Palestinians to identify and act in their own interests without feeling obligated to please either the US or the EU.

There is also without doubt, some fear based upon past experience, that just as the US pretends to play peacemaker, it is equally capable and has also played war maker, providing tacit approval and providing weapons and also financing for Israel’s illegal attacks on Palestine, carried out as punishment for refusing Israel’s advances at the negotiating table. The US is not an honest broker in this conflict and the Palestinians know it, but really haven’t been able up to this point to do much about it. The only way to solve this problem is for other players to become involved who are capable of leveraging Israeli, US and European power, taking the side of the Palestinians. These must be countries who have the capacity and are willing to exact punishment on Israel, and also the US and EU if and when they carry out acts of illegal and unjust violence, and aggression against Palestine.

The way to make and sustain peace is to balance power, and the way to negotiate is to limit negotiations to your own, not your opponents interests, to the extent possible. In respect to Israel’s illegal military occupation, those issues related to its withdrawal, its borders, etc., have already been addressed, either by UN resolutions or the law, and Israel should respect and conform to the law. What would be left in that case is for Israel and Palestine to work out the terms for sharing the land in ways that are fair, just and that sustain peace. This is the real purpose of peace negotiations and a legitimate peace process. This would take real Palestinian leadership and cannot be carried out by people who are only interested in pleasing the US and Israel, or who are seeking power and money, and fame, or who fear displeasing the US and Israel.

While waiting for the Palestinians to prepare for such negotiations, Israel should end all violence against the Palestinian people, including settler violence, home demolitions, destruction of agriculture and livestock and confiscation of land, and also its excavation under Al Aqsa mosque. Israel must also end its illegal embargo of Gaza, and remove the illegal settlers from the West Bank and prepare for complete withdrawal.

Those who are really interested in peace between Palestinians and Israel need to encourage and assist Israel in conforming to the numerous UN resolutions that address the illegal occupation, Israel’s persistent violence, the illegal economic siege on Gaza and settler violence, etc. The Geneva Conventions and other international laws provide guidance and limits for both the Palestinians and the Israelis that can clear the pathway to a negotiated agreement explaining how these two people will share the land in real peace once the illegal occupation has ended and the people are clear that they are preparing, or rather being prepared for co-existence, and not the domination of any group of people over the other.