Creating people's geographies
Israel Doesn’t Want Peace, Gideon Levy writes. These two picks by Thalif Deen and Gideon Levy here present a sobering and accurate assessment of the state of play with the Israeli government’s stalling, nay rejection, of the Arab League peace initiative. It lays to rest the other major canard trotted out by past apologists, that it was somehow the Palestinian leadership who “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity” (the other major historical one being “a land without a people for a people without a land”).
This opportunity is a great one and the Israeli government is deliberately and willfully giving it a miss, making it guilty of all of its projected accusations (“never a partner for peace” etc). See also Opportunity Knocks: The Arab League Renews Its Peace Plan Offer for a good backgrounder.
Thalif Deen in Arab Leaders Resurrect Land-for-Peace Deal (IPS, 2 April) writes about the sticking point in the resurrected Saudi-led initiative below:
The Arab League summit proposal — which would guarantee not only peace but full normalisation, trade and tourism, and complete regional integration of Israel into the Middle East — is premised on Israel’s withdrawal from all of the territories occupied in 1967, meaning all of the West Bank, all of Gaza and all of Arab East Jerusalem, said Bennis, author of “Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer”.
But it also requires a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on U.N. resolution 194, which guarantees the right of return and compensation.
… In fact, Olmert has escalated his rejection, saying not a single Palestinian would be allowed to go home. …
The real goal of the revitalised discussion is to divert global attention from Washington’s continuing economic embargo against the entire Palestinian population despite the new unity government; to try to raise Olmert’s now three percent approval ratings at home; and to encourage Arab rulers’ backing for a U.S. strike on Iran by providing the political cover for them to be able to claim that a solution on Palestine is at hand.
“Actually ending the occupation, unfortunately, is not on anyone’s agenda,” Bennis said.
Israel’s Gideon Levy comes to the sober realization many of us have, writing in Ha’aretz (8 April 2007):
The moment of truth has arrived, and it has to be said: Israel does not want peace. The arsenal of excuses has run out, and the chorus of Israeli rejection already rings hollow. Until recently, it was still possible to accept the Israeli refrain that “there is no partner” for peace and that “the time isn’t right” to deal with our enemies. Today, the new reality before our eyes leaves no room for doubt and the tired refrain that “Israel supports peace” has been left shattered.
It’s hard to determine when the breaking point occurred. Was it the absolute dismissal of the Saudi initiative? The refusal to acknowledge the Syrian initiative? Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s annual Passover interviews? The revulsion at the statements made by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, in Damascus, alleging that Israel was ready to renew peace talks with Syria?
Who would have believed it? A high-ranking U.S. official says Israel wants peace talks to resume and instantly her president “severely” denies the veracity of her words. Is Israel even hearing these voices? Are we digesting the significance of these voices for peace? Seven million apathetic Israeli citizens prove that we are not.
Entire generations grew up here weaned on self-deception and doubt about the likelihood of achieving peace with our neighbors. In our younger days, David Ben-Gurion told us that if he were only able to meet with Arab leaders, he would have brought us peace in his time. Israel has demanded direct negotiations as a matter of principle and Israelis have derived great pride from the fact that their daily focus on “peace” has concealed their state’s lofty ambitions. We were told that there was no partner for peace and that the ultimate ambition of the Arabs is to bring about our destruction. We burned the portraits of “the Egyptian tyrant” at our bonfires on Lag Ba’omer, and were convinced that all blame for the lack of peace lied with our enemies.
After that came the occupation, followed by terror, Yassir Arafat, the failed second Camp David Summit and the rise of Hamas to power, and we were sure, always sure, that it was all their fault. In our wildest dreams, we wouldn’t have believed that the day would come when the entire Arab world would extend its hand in peace and Israel would brush away the gesture. It would have been even crazier to imagine that this Israeli refusal would have been blamed on not wanting to enrage domestic public opinion.
The world has been turned upside down and it is Israel that stands at the forefront of refusal. The policy of refusal of a select few, a vanguard of the extreme, has now become the official policy of Jerusalem. In his Passover interviews, Olmert will tell us that, “The Palestinians stand at the crossroads of a historic decision,” but people stopped taking him seriously a long time ago. The historic decision is ours, and we are fleeing from this crossroads and from these initiatives as if from death itself.
Terror, used as the ultimate excuse for Israeli refusal, only helps Olmert keep reciting, ad nauseum, “If they [the Palestinians] don’t change, don’t fight terror and don’t adhere to any of their obligations, then they will never extract themselves from their unending chaos.” As though the Palestinians haven’t taken measures against terrorism, as though Israel is the one to determine what their obligations are, as though Israel isn’t to blame for the unending chaos Palestinians suffer under the occupation.
Israel makes a point of setting prerequisites and believes it has an exclusive right to do so. But, time and time again, Israel avoids the most basic prerequisite for any just peace – an end to the occupation. Of all the questions asked during his Passover interviews, no one bothered to ask Olmert why he didn’t react with excitement to the recent Arab initiatives, without preconditions? The answer: real estate. The real estate of the settlements.
It’s not only Olmert who is dragging his feet. A leading figure in the Labor party said last week that “it will take five to 10 years to recover from the trauma.” Peace is now no more than a threatening wound, with no one still talking about the massive social benefits it would bring in development, security, freedom of movement in the region and by establishing a more just society.
Like a little Switzerland, we are focusing more these days on the dollar exchange rate and on the allegations of embezzlement leveled against the Finance Ministry than on the fateful opportunities fading away before our very eyes.
Not every day and not even in every generation do we encounter an opportunity like this. Although it’s not for sure if the initiatives are completely solid and believable, or if they are based on trickery, no one has stepped up to challenge or acknowledge them. When Olmert is an elderly grandfather, what will he tell his grandchildren? That he turned over every stone in the name of peace? That there was no other choice? What will his grandchildren say?