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A flashing red light from Malaysia



I am writing from Malaysia where I am participating in an international conference of people from 34 countries under the title "Peace in Palestine." Five Israelis are attending the conference. The government of Malaysia facilitated our entry with our Israeli passports, making us the first delegation of Israelis here.

Malaysia is an inspiring country. Decades of internal conflicts between the various ethnic and racial groupings have been overcome through a process of building national consensus. Through national solidarity and broad tolerance, Malaysia has been living in peace, stability, prosperity and real development benefiting all of Malaysia's peoples.

The overwhelming majority of the participants cannot understand why the Jews must have a state of their own. They think that Israel is a racist state that was founded on pillars of injustice. They don't understand why Jews, Christians and Muslims can't live together in peace in a single democratic state. The Malaysian prime minister, Abdullah Badawi, addressed the conference, veering away from this general opinion, stating that the Palestinians must have a state of their own. The way to get to that state, he said, is through the road map. But he also stated that Israel should cease to be "an exclusively Jewish racist state" in other words, there should be one Palestinian state in the occupied territories and another Palestinian state where Jews could live with the Palestinians where Israel is today. Those moderate speakers who were willing to accept Israel's existence prefaced this with the implementation of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

The conference aims at the creation of an international campaign for divestment, sanctions and economic boycotts against Israel. The representatives of the 34 countries here believe that Israel must be treated today as apartheid South Africa was treated. They believe this is the only way today to bring about the end of the occupation. They support Palestinian resistance to occupation, excluding violence against civilians.

The most moderate voices at the conference were those of most of the Palestinians from the occupied territories. They accept Israel as a Jewish state and they are willing to find workable solutions for the refugee problem. They are supporting Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his attempts to get the peace process moving again. They voiced grave concerns about the lack of progress since Sharm e-Sheikh. They are very doubtful that Abbas will be able to continue, losing his legitimacy daily, while the Israeli transference of authority and territory back to the Palestinians is taking place at a snail's pace. They presented very dramatic and graphic presentations about Israel's settlement drive and the disastrous humanitarian effects that the Israeli wall is having on Palestinians throughout the occupied territories.

These presentations were not merely more "Israel bashing," but a real cry for help to anyone who was willing to listen. They fear that a failure of the current process will lead to another round of senseless violence. I share their assessment that the pace of progress is frighteningly slow. Negotiating over every checkpoint, while Israel continues to announce plans for thousands of more housing units in settlements, is completely unacceptable and dangerous.

If Israel really wishes to achieve peace with the Palestinians, the current process must be changed. The road map was designed as performance-based because words alone are no longer good enough. But where is the performance? Where is the Quartet that is supposed to be monitoring the performance? Israel cannot expect that only the Palestinians should perform on their obligations. Prime Minister Sharon cannot declare that the Palestinians must perform on their obligations while Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem.

Palestinians are seeing their hopes for a viable contiguous Palestinian state fade away as the separation barrier and more settlements continue to eat away territorial contiguity. What can Palestinians understand from these actions? Only that Israel has no intention that the Palestinians will get territory where those settlements are being built and where the separation barrier is being constructed. Palestinians see the painful process of the disengagement from Gaza. They clearly understand that if Israel intends to disengage from the West Bank in the future, it would not be building more settlements at the same time.

Simple mathematics and geography point to a future Palestinian state that would be in some 60% of the West Bank and in Gaza. This mini-state would be pocketed with large patches of Israeli settlements. Palestinian territorial contiguity would be created by a complex system of bridges and tunnels and not through real control over land. Furthermore, the Palestinian state would be paved over with roads for "Israelis only" enabling the settlements to be integrated into Israel.

This is not viable. It would also guarantee the national suicide of the Zionist vision and hope for a Jewish and democratic state.

If this is the true intention of Israel, then there can be no doubt that the international community will view Israel as an apartheid state. A campaign against Israel would be waged throughout the world. While the US government may never join that campaign, there should be no doubt that many Americans would join and may even lead the way. Some American church groups and civil society organizations have already begun the campaign, reaching out to others around the globe and resounding loud and clear here in Malaysia. This is the same way that the anti-apartheid campaign began.

The conference in Malaysia is a flashing red light. In the interest of Israel and out of a firm conviction for the right of Israel to exist as a state of the Jewish people, I plead with Sharon to understand what most of the world understands. It is not that the whole world is against us and alone we must stand. It is the message that our very survival as a Jewish and democratic state is linked to a real peace process and to our ability to extricate us from the occupation.

Disengagement from Gaza is a bold move, but it seems that Sharon believes that in exchange for Gaza, Israel can retain 40% of the West Bank and exclusive control over Jerusalem.

Menachem Begin believed that in exchange for Sinai Israel would be able to keep the West Bank and Gaza. That miscalculation brought us the first intifada. Ehud Barak thought that he could trick or force the Palestinians to accept a state in 89% of the West Bank surrounded by Israeli control and continued Israeli settlement building. That miscalculation brought us the second intifada. Sharon's miscalculations will not only bring about another, perhaps even more severe round of violence. They will also lead to Hamas coming to power in Palestine and to an international anti-Israeli-apartheid campaign against Israel. The last international anti-apartheid campaign brought an end to apartheid and the creation of the new multiracial democratic South Africa.

Israel will not remain a Jewish and democratic state if it fails to really disengage from the West Bank and Palestinian east Jerusalem. Disengagement in the form of negotiations for peace is possible with the current Palestinian leadership.

I hope and pray that Sharon will hear the message of Malaysia.

The writer is the Israeli coordinator of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.

www.ipcri.org


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