Five years of intifada - look back, looking forward (2005)

A new Israeli-Palestinian public peace campaign should be launched by activists on both sides working together. But we must also recognize that given the very real limitations of the leaders of both sides to lead, this process will take a very long time. Therefore, we must also consider the possibility of more limited measures that could help put us back on course.

By: Gershon Baskin in: AMIN

On July 5, 2001 less than one year after the outbreak of the intifada I wrote the following:

Re-engagement

If the peace camp in Israel and the peace camp in Palestine are to reengage each other, they must embrace a political platform that is agreeable and sensible. This platform must be accompanied with a strategy for rebuilding public trust in peace – on both sides. We must agree that the enemy of peace is the occupation. The occupation must end. This does not mean a settlement freeze – it means the dismantling of settlements. We must support a call for the Government of Israel, and if need be, the international community, to provide funds to buy the settlers out. This is the primary responsibility of the government of Israel, yet if international funds were also available it would only help to speed up the process. I believe that there are a large number of settlers who would leave, lock their homes and move back to Israel if someone would buy them out. We must support that process and call for its implementation.

Settlements are the target. If the enemy of peace is the occupation, there is no greater manifestation of the occupation than the settlements. If the Palestinians are really advocating peace along the 1967 borders then the target of their intifada must be the settlements and not Israeli civilians inside of the State of Israel. Now don’t misunderstand me – I do not advocate violence against the settlers. I am opposed to the used of violence by both sides. I do, however understand that there cannot be an occupation deluxe. There can be no peaceful occupation. The settlers must be made to understand that they are the primary obstacle to peace.

A Palestinian strategy that will focus attention on the ways that the settlements destroy their freedom and ruin their lives – pointed to Israelis and the international community, will increase empathy with the Palestinian cause worldwide and within Israel and will gain more support for peace than attacking and killing settlers. There are very effective means that can be employed to make the lives of the settlers “hell” without killing them. Already today 52% of Israelis support removing settlers by force in order to separate from the Palestinians. However, the killing of settlers only increases worldwide and Israeli sympathy for them – this is counter productive.

The Israeli peace camp and the Palestinian peace camp must agree on a clearly worded and explicit peace declaration as a political platform. This declaration should reiterate the principles of mutual recognition and commitment to lasting peace. It must include the demand for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the lands of the June 4, 1967 boundaries. It must call for the sharing of Jerusalem as a joint capital of the two states with open boundaries between Israeli and Palestinian Jerusalem. It should call for recognition of Palestinian sovereignty over the Haram al Sharif while Palestinians must also recognize the historic and religious heritage of the Jewish People to their most Holy Site – the Temple Mount. The status quo of Muslim Waqf control over the Haram al Sharif does not have to change, but Palestinian recognition of Jewish connections to the site would be both historically correct and would mend the terrible error made in Camp David when Arafat tried to deny that there were any Jewish connections of this type. The document must also call for the final resolution of the refugee issue, addressing refugee needs for justice while assuring that Israel will not be overrun by returnees. The document should call for economic, environmental and water cooperation between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. The document should demand the end of incitement on both sides and a call for implementing effective peace education strategies in the schools of Israel and Palestine. The document should call on the media of both sides to play a positive role in generating public support for peace. The document should call for finality of the conflict and a commitment to lasting peace.

A new Israeli-Palestinian public peace campaign should be launched by activists on both sides working together. But we must also recognize that given the very real limitations of the leaders of both sides to lead, this process will take a very long time. Therefore, we must also consider the possibility of more limited measures that could help put us back on course. I know that the idea of new interim agreements sounds very distasteful, to say the least, and I have been very opposed to this strategy, however, the time for rethinking is here and this is what I propose.

We should support a plan that would include the approach of “Gaza first” – as was thought of originally in the beginning of Oslo. However, when we say Gaza first now, we mean a complete and total Israeli withdrawal from Gaza including the dismantling of all of the settlements in Gaza and IDF bases. The settlements should be used for housing of refugees and not PA political cronies. We must demand that the Palestinians have control over their international borders in Gaza – this includes the sea port, the airport and the Rafah crossing with Egypt. We can provide for security guarantees for Israel by trusted third party involvement and real-time reporting to Israel. The mechanism are quite complex but workable and there would be international willingness to make it work.

We must support and call for Israel removing and dismantling of isolated settlements in the West Bank, in the first stage, and enlarging Palestinian territorial control so that there is contiguity and free movement possibilities for Palestinians. Within this framework we must support the involvement of international bodies in the negotiating process, the implementation of the agreements, the verification of implementation and buffer forces. The Palestinians have no need to declare statehood – they must enact their statehood. Elections for a Palestinian Parliament and Government must be held. Institutions of the revolution must be done away with. A Constitution should be enacted. The international community must make development support funds contingent on real democracy building and standards of good governance. This is much more important and effective than providing funds for good governance and civil rights programs carried out by NGO’s while the Palestinian government has no real intention to be democratic. Benchmarks must be set in consultation with the Palestinian government and support for the Palestinian state must be linked to performance. Real Palestinian democracy is, in my view, one of the preconditions for real peace. In this regard we must also demand the immediate end to Israeli collaboration in Palestinian corruption.

The interim agreement must be limited in time. It must provide each side with the political collateral necessary to ensure that there is a ceasefire and that continued negotiations commence until reaching a real final status agreement. During this time, the peace camps must rebuild their links and cooperation and serve as a true model of peace building. We must reach out to the millions of Israelis and Palestinians who no longer believe in peace. We must recapture hope, logic and sanity. In the absence of leaders and leadership, we must lead!

The struggle for peace has never been more difficult. But it must start with us – the peace camp – the activists who have not lost our hope and our belief in peace. We must reengage. We must say to those who put fear in our hearts that they are the enemy of our peoples. We must not give in to those who raise boycotts and threaten us when we are seeking to talk to the other side. In short, we must come out of the shell-shock of the past nine months. We must be proactive, clear, explicit in our demands – of our own sides and of each other. The reengagement must be honest and direct, forceful and courageous. We cannot afford to waste a single day.

As we look back to September 2000 and look forward to the coming months, it seems to me that the observations that I wrote in July 2001 and all still relevant. I initiated an effort on the fourth night of the intifada, on October 1, 2000 to try and bring the intifada to an end. Sitting in the office of Jabril Rajoub late that evening with two members of Knesset, Avshalom Vilan and Mosi Raz, having Arafat on one phone and Barak on the other, we tried to break the deadlock and bring the violence to an end. Jabril Rajoub was anxious and willing to take action to stop the violence, if he would have only been given the order by Arafat. Barak wanted to know what Arafat wanted, Arafat issued six demands:

  1. An immediate end to the closures
  2. A return of all forces to their positions of September 27, 2000
  3. A removal of all the extra Israeli police forces from Jerusalem, the Old City and around the Haram al Sharif
  4. A reopening of all of the crossing points – Allenby Bridge, Rafah crossing, and the Gaza airport
  5. An end to the siege of the Palestinian cities
  6. An international investigation of the events of the past four days

Barak accepted the first five and rejected the last. Arafat proposed a meeting between the two, but Barak rejected a meeting until the violence ends. Instead he sent his special emissary Yossi Ginosaur to meet Arafat at 2:00 in the morning. Ginosaur, speaking for Barak, threatened that if Arafat did not act to immediately stop the violence, Barak would kill him. Arafat threw Ginosaur out of the compound.

All of those who took part in that mediation effort were convinced that the intifada could have ended that evening. Even though there were already 40 Palestinians killed by then and two Israelis, a well placed ladder could have enabled both sides to step down from the heights they were speaking from. A face-to-face Arafat Barak meeting that evening with an Israeli agreement to investigate what had happened could have put a swift end to the violence. Barak eventually accepted both – the face-to-face meeting and the international investigation, but by that time so much damage had been done and so much suffering and anger existed on both sides that revenge became the order of the day. Five years later there are 1,330 Israeli and 3,333 Palestinian casualties. All of these people have died in vein. Nothing was accomplished by their death. Nothing was gained. Thousands of lives for nothing.

It can end now, it must end now.

The Gaza disengagement has provided the fuel for moving the process forward. The loss of control and the re-emergence of violence over the past two weeks must cease. The success of Gaza is a pre-requisite for any better future. The Palestinian Authority must take control. Yes it is weak, yes there are many objective reasons why it is difficult. No, the occupation has not yet ended and East Jerusalem is still under occupation and settlements are still being built in the West Bank, and the separation barrier is continuing to suffocate Palestinians there and the economy is still in the dumps, and more. All of this is true, but if the Palestinians cannot control Gaza, why should Israeli continue the process? Why should the Israeli public support moves for withdrawing from more territory and for removing more settlements. If every area that Israel withdraws from becomes Hamasistan then why in the world should Israel withdraw?

This is the moment of truth for the Palestinian Authority and for the Palestinian people; it must rise to the occasion or fall. The Israeli public has demonstrated that it will support more withdrawals; it is now the chance of the Palestinian public to demand from its government to govern and to remove the societal safety net for the hamas that allows it to shoot qassam rockets into Israel.