May 11, 2006

What the Palestinian people need to tell their leaders

By: Gershon Baskin *

Palestinian public opinion polls consistently show that the overwhelming majority of Palestinian citizens want peace with Israel.  The polls show that the public wants the peace process to be renewed and that the solution must be the creation of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.  The public also wants to achieve a just solution to the refugee problem based on UN Resolution 194.  The majority of Palestinians do not support attacks against Israeli citizens as they have come to understand that killing innocent Israelis is both morally wrong and strategically works against finding a just solution to the conflict.

The Hamas victory in the last elections was not a referendum on the political platform of no recognition and no negotiations, as some people would like to think.  The Palestinian people are wiser than that; they understand that Israel cannot be wiped off the face of the planet as the Iranian President has argued. But Palestinians are proud people and they do not wish to see their elected government humiliated. In fact, the attempts by the international community to humiliate the elected government have boomeranged in terms of public support for the government.  The most recent opinion polls show an increase in support for the government in the face of the international pressure.

There is a contradiction in Palestinian public opinion.  The public wants negotiations and peace with Israel while their government is opposed to this. International pressure may be successful in creating an impossible situation whereby the PA Government will not be able to govern.  The suffering that has already been caused to the public will only increase if there is no change in the position of the Hamas government. The international community may find ways to transfer funds directly to Palestinians for health and education services, but the international boycott of the PA Government will remain firm until the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority accepts the international conditions for recognition.

There seems to be a clear preference of the international community to bring about a change in the political platform of Hamas rather than the total destruction of the Palestinian Authority.  The question is how can Hamas adopt a more acceptable political platform and also save face?  The best way for this to happen is for the public to let the Hamas leadership know what it wants.  Many people are asking: where are the Palestinian moderates?  The answer must be: they are taking to the streets to demand change!

When Israeli Prime Minister Menechem Begin was resistant to accept the outstretched hand of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the Israeli public created Peace Now and took to the streets.  It is time for a Palestinian Peace Now to stand up and be counted! The acceptable political platform for the Palestinians is well known and most Palestinians do not have a problem stating it loudly and clearly:

  • Two states for two peoples based on the June 1967 borders

  • Jerusalem as the capitals for two states

  • A just and agreed solution to the refugee problem

  • Yes to negotiations

These statements are also the basis of the Arab League Peace Initiative which even calls for normalization and diplomatic relations with Israel if the above solution is reached. The Palestinian public should call upon the PA government to join the Arab League initiative.

Palestinians, when backed into a corner, often choose the wrong options. When Palestinians have felt rejected or ignored or have failed to achieve their rights through diplomacy have moved towards violence.  This is what happened in the second intifada, and as Abu Mazen has repeated said, the Palestinians have not gained any strategic assets as a result of militarizing the just struggle of the Palestinian people for freedom and liberation. Likewise, the continued launching of Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel is completely counterproductive.  It is time for the people to stand up against those who have no respect for Palestinian lives and for whom Palestinian blood is cheap to say: Stop it. We want Gaza open to the world, we want to be able to market our goods and for our workers to be able to work in Israel.  We want to travel from Gaza to the West Bank.  Israel has left Gaza settlers and all.  Our struggle is to get Israel out of the West Bank and to fully recognize Palestinian rights.  We have no conflict with the innocent citizens of Sderot or Ashkelon. The battle against the Qassams will not be won with Israeli artillery or by one faction of the Palestinian police fighting against another.  It will only be won when the Palestinians of Gaza say enough is enough (kifayeh!!!!).

You want negotiations and peace with Israel say to your government that they must recognize Israel, they must accept the agreements already signed, they must denounce attacks against Israeli civilians.  You want real peace and recognition of your legitimate rights distance yourself from the insanity expressed by the Iranian President.  His interests are not your interests.  The Palestinian people are not crazy fanatics, they are normal, moderate, peace seeking people who have suffered too much. 

We are working to tell our government in Israel that they must get back to the negotiations for peace with the Palestinians.  It is time to raise that same voice in Palestine.  If there really are Palestinian moderates and they really are the majority of the Palestinian people, it is time for their voice to be heard and for them to be seen in the streets of the West Bank and Gaza.  We see the extremists in the streets with their guns and masked faces all too often.  It is time for the people of Palestine to demonstrate to the world what the real face of Palestine is.

* Gershon Baskin is the Israeli Co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information Jerusalem.