Some more political observations and thoughts
Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.
SURPRISE, SURPRISE
July 5, 2001

 

Well the cease-fire understandings designed by CIA Director George Tenet haven’t worked. Surprise surprise.  Last week a US Intelligence official that I met at a conference in the UK reminded the conference participants that the US Intelligence hasn’t gotten it right since the beginning of the Cold War. He said that the US intelligence community has been producing wrong analyses of global/international conflicts for as long as he could remember, so if they got it wrong once again in Israel/Palestine they are just sticking to their 100% average.

The failure of the cease-fire should not be a surprise to any thinking person.  Why should it have worked anyway?  Did any of the players come out with any political gains that would encourage them to implement a cease-fire agreement?  The cease-fire agreement left the situation on the ground as it was, no monitors-verifiers, no judges, no buffers.  Well this is not completely true.  The US agreed that Israel would be the monitor, the verifier, the judge and the decision maker regarding implementation and further steps.  Did Israel observe the cease-fire?  The extra-judicial killings/executions of the three “Jihad terrorists” this week, as they were called in the Israeli media – was that within the cease-fire agreement?  Israel radio reported that according to Israeli security sources the car that was hit by seven helicopter fighter rockets was also carrying 20 kilograms of explosives.  They wanted us to think that these three guys were a ticking time bomb – on their way to blow up Israelis that very moment.  It was also reported that the bodies of the victims were found in the car and we saw the skeleton of the car on TV.  Who are they kidding – if after seven rockets and 20 kilograms of explosives there were bodies to recover and a skeleton of a car to be seen – I for one do not buy the story.  Am I the only Israeli who questions the accuracy of our security services reporting?  How can we expect Arafat and the Palestinians to observe a cease-fire when Israel is completely free to shoot rockets and to press the trigger?  Does the Israeli verification time clock stop when it violates the cease-fire? Palestinians perhaps did not intend to fully implement the cease fire from the outset, but certainly when they are under continued Israeli fire there seems to be little reason why they should even try.

            Now don’t misunderstand me.  I think that the security services should do everything possible to stop, detain, arrest, try and imprison any Palestinian who is seeking to kill innocent Israelis.  But I also believe that if Israel wishes to be a member of the international community it must also live by internationally accepted rules – and no, I am not being naďve.  I do not want my Prime Minister to be arrested for war crimes when representing me on visits to other countries and I don’t want to be represented by a government that is committing murder in my name.  Shimon Peres who has gone completely mad is calling it “terrorism prevention” and is once again providing Arik Sharon with a very large fig leaf.  In this country, the unimaginable is usually what comes true – and Shimon Peres never fails to amaze. 

The Political Process

            It’s obvious that if the Tenet understandings for a cease-fire do not work then there is no launching pad to get the implementation of the Mitchell Report off the ground.  The countdown hasn’t even begun for the “cooling off” period to begin.  Bush and Powell decided that the cooling off period would last for six weeks after the first seven days of full quiet demanded by Sharon.  I haven’t been able to grasp what is the meaning of full quiet.  Someone of the Israeli politicians answered rhetorically by asking, “if a gun is fired can you hear it?  If a mortar is launched can you hear it?”.  So if this is the criterion then we are talking about audible quiet?  Can you hear a stone being thrown?  Can you hear a settler uprooting trees? Or an Israeli bulldozer demolishing a home? But these questions themselves are also somewhat rhetorical because I don’t believe that we will get to the cooling off period. After all, what has changed politically for the better?

            The cooling off period is supposed to put the situation on the ground back to where it was prior to September 29, 2000.  That means an end to the closure (well – this is not really true because there has been a closure in effect since the beginning of Oslo – what it means is that the Israelis will once again give out permits for movement to Palestinians as the Israeli army see fits whereas today they are not giving out permits at all).  It means that the siege on the Palestinian cities will end.  It means that the security cooperation will be reinstated and that the Joint District Coordination Offices will once again work.  Does it mean that Israelis will be once again welcomed in Palestinians towns and cities? Does it mean that Palestinian laborers will return to their places of employment in Israel? Does it mean that IPCRI will once again be able to work from our office in Bethlehem?  Does it mean that Israelis will be safe in Palestine?  Does it mean that the PA will once again receive the revenues that Israel is “holding” for them from customs duties and VAT payments against the agreements and even against Israeli law?  Does it mean that Israel will return to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus?  There are a lot more questions, but once again, these seem somewhat rhetorical because the likelihood of implementation of the Mitchell Report seems very slim.

            The next phase of the Mitchell Report deals with Confidence Building Measures (CBM’s), but the report never indicated confidence in what?  CBM’s are part of a process – they are meant to build trust and confidence in that process, but what is the process that we are supposed to gain confidence in?  In this sense, it would seem that we need confidence building measures in confidence building measures as my colleague Dr. Zakaria al Qaq says.  I simply cannot understand what political process we are supposed to be supporting here.  A settlement freeze?????  Will Israel prevent settlers next month from moving into Ras al Amoud in the heart of Palestinian Jerusalem?  Will they stop the occupation of Har Homa in the coming weeks?  Will they stop other building throughout the territories?  In the heart of Hebron?  And even if they did stop (which I don’t believe that they will) so what?  Will this end the occupation?  Will this get us back to the negotiating table?  In my view, the answer is obviously NO!  The present government of Israel was not elected to negotiate; it was elected to destroy the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian aspirations.  This point must be understood and there should be no wishful thinking creating illusions that a peace process might get restarted in the near future.

Where’s the Opposition?
Where are the Peace Camps?

Many of my Palestinian friends have been voicing their deep disappointment and dismay at the disappearance of the peace camp in Israel. They say that that “our friends” in Israel have bought the Israeli line regarding the so-called “generous Israeli offer” at Camp David and the so-called “push button” decision of Arafat to launch a violent campaign against Israel.  Many Palestinians fail to realize the impact of Palestinian violence on the understanding of Israelis regarding peace. Most Israelis fail to realize the realities of life in Palestine under continued Israeli occupation.  The Palestinian peace camp has a responsibility to stand up against those who say they must not engage their Israeli counterparts. How can the Israeli public be receptive to Palestinians if they have no Palestinian interlocutors? There is a huge circle of misunderstandings guided by strong emotions of fear and disappointment of both sides against each other. The resulting emotion from these misunderstandings is the strong desire for revenge on both sides. The failure of the Palestinians to clearly define the intifada strategy as being against the Israeli occupation of the 1967 lands creates a general belief in Israel that the Palestinians are not limiting their strategic goals to peace based on a two-state solution along the 1967 lines. 

Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians within Israel proper has added to the confusion.  Most Israelis are further confused by what is perceived to be Palestinian irredentism. The logic is as follows: the Palestinians have demanded a full withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem according to UN Security Council Resolution 242 – this is understandable and does not cause confusion.  However, the Palestinians are very unclear about questions regarding the right of return.  They say, let Israel recognize the principle of the Right of Return and then they, the Palestinians, would be willing to negotiate its implementation.  But what does this mean?  Most Israeli believe that it means that the Palestinians will want to negotiate how millions of refugees will go back to their homes inside of Israel proper.  For Israelis this means the suicide of the Jewish state and it is completely non-negotiable.  The interpretation of this is that the Palestinians wish to establish their “peaceful state” and then destroy Israel from within by withering away at its Jewish majority. The more ambiguous the Palestinians are on this point the more Israelis don’t believe that the Palestinians are truly interested in real peace. Palestinian leaders that I have spoken with have been much more explicit regarding their understanding of Israeli fears and their willingness to design modicums of implementation that will significantly limit Palestinian return to Israel, however the refusal of these same leaders to make such statements publicly withers away their credibility and builds on thoughts of Palestinian conspiracies and strengthens the assessments that they don’t really want peace – what they want is to destroy Israel through peace.  Palestinians must seriously consider the implications of this thinking and decide how they can assure Israelis that the Palestinian state will not be irredentist.

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 a 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.