Encountering Peace: Next year in Palestine
Sixty years! Rising from the ashes and faced with six decades of struggle and war, Israel certainly has a lot to be proud of. Not only is Israel one of the world's largest producers of news and interests around the world, given our size, and the real problems with which we are faced, Israel has emerged to be a leading nation in so many fields - agriculture, water technology, high tech, medical treatments and research, bio-technology, communications, computers, and more. Recently even Israel's film industry has attracted international attention and fame. I look forward to our Independence Day celebrations every year. I am proud and pleased that we have this day to celebrate.
Many organizations on the far left have begun to combine Independence Day celebrations with ceremonies to mark the Palestinian Nakba - their national day of tragedy. There are some on the radical left who even call for boycotting Independence Day entirely. While I am considered a veteran "leftist" by many, I will not be there with those who suggest that we should not celebrate our day of independence.
It is very common for me to share wishes for happy holidays with my Palestinian friends. Several times a year Jewish, Christian and Muslim holidays take place around the same dates. It is customary for me to receive good wishes from many Palestinians and to wish them happy holidays in return. One of the more humorous of these is the annual Pessah greeting I receive from a Fatah leader who extends his wishes in the traditional Jewish form: Wishing you a happy and a kosher Pessah!
On Independence Day 2001, at the height of the second intifada, I received a telephone call from a Palestinian friend from Bethlehem who called to wish me a Happy Independence Day. This was a first for me. I was literally dumbfounded. I am not one who is often at a loss for words - but I was taken off guard and didn't know what to say. One year later, being prepared for his phone call, I was able to respond with "I hope that you too will soon be able to celebrate your independence!".
I WILL be very happy to see the day when the Palestinians have their own Independence Day to celebrate. That day too will be a celebration for Israel and for Zionism. Today being pro-Israel by definition must mean that one is also pro-Palestinian. The fate and future of these two people are linked to their ability to find a way to live side-by-side in peace - in two separate states. George W. Bush has put out his challenge that we reach agreement on this by the end of his term of office in January 2009. At the same time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will also be finishing his term of office. No one knows for sure when Ehud Olmert will face the end of his term of office.
Negotiations are ongoing, there are contradictory reports on their progress. If no agreement is reached by the end of the terms of the two Presidents, it is very unlikely that Abbas will seek another term. Even if he did seek another term, without an agreement in hand, it is very unlikely that he would win an election. The most likely political scenario for Palestine without an agreement is the development of what the Palestinians call "fitna" or chaos. Fitna will include more intifada, more violence, more suffering and very likely the rise of the Hamas in the West Bank as well.
The only clear potential Palestinian leader in the eyes of the public after Abbas is Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison. If the Palestinian territories do break down into renewed fighting and violence, it is very unlikely that any Israeli leader would consider releasing Barghouti. Of course, nothing is impossible and unfortunately we have learned in our history that Israeli leaders often make decisions under violence that they refused to make under much better circumstances (e.g. disengagement from Gaza unilaterally rather than as part of a negotiated agreement).
ACCORDING TO the public mood in Israel today and from public opinion research it seems apparent that without an agreement in hand, Olmert stands little or no chance of winning an election. Binyamin Netanyahu is the most likely next prime minister in Israel. There seems little chance that Netanyahu would succeed in negotiations where Olmert failed. If the moderate Abbas is no longer in charge, and there is fitna or a Hamas takeover, the chances for the two-state solution would diminish beyond hope and Israel would find itself in the tragic situation of continuing to rule over territories and a people that it has no desire to occupy.
Under those circumstances, Israel could go back to some form of unilateralism - withdrawing to positions that are defensible - perhaps leaving the army but withdrawing civilians. But the aftermath of unilateralism in southern Lebanon and in Gaza should have taught us something. Israel could call on the international community to step in and create an international regime there in place of the chaos - but with continued violence there it would be very unlikely that foreign soldiers would volunteer to come and perhaps die so far away from home in what continues to be an intractable situation.
Netanyahu has his theories that if we improve the economic situation of the Palestinians we can buy their quiet. It should be reminded that both intifadas broke out at times when the Palestinian economy was on the rise and there seemed to be a lot of hope (economically) among most Palestinians. Nonetheless, the hope of economic prosperity was not enough to squash the lack of hope for political freedom and independence. We would have behaved in exactly the same way - we would never rest if our political freedom and independence was being denied to us even if our pockets were full of money. There are some things that money just can't buy.
This year on Independence Day the papers are full of articles about the next 60 years. I am more concerned with the next year or the next two years. If we do not find a way to depart from our control over the Palestinians in the next year or two, then in 10 years from now or twenty we will be celebrating the independence of the state that will emerge here through bloodshed and struggle - a very different state. It will not be a Jewish state. It will not be a Zionist state. It will not be a state where the Jewish people are a majority.
So on this Independence Day I wish wholeheartedly to all of my Palestinian friends, "I hope that you too will soon be able to celebrate your independence!"
This article can also be read at http://www.jpost.com /servlet/Satellite?cid=1209627018144&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
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