Archive for September, 2003

Who is the Obstacle?

September 16, 2003

Who is the Obstacle?
By Samia Khoury
Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The first time the expression “an obstacle to peace” was mentioned, it was in reference to the Israeli settlements, and it was expressed by the U.S. administration.

It’s amazing that there was no serious effort on the part of the U.S. administration to remove that obstacle. On the contrary, the statements of the administration got softer as Israel continued to build more settlements and to create new realities on the ground. More Palestinian land has been confiscated to make room for the expansion of settlements. Settlers have been terrorizing the Palestinian population living around the settlements and preventing them from reaching their farms and groves. Not only have Palestinians been deprived of the produce of their land, but thousands of trees have been uprooted. As if that was not enough, the separation wall has started to actually separate Palestinians from their land. This is a process that cannot be anything but an obstacle to peace.

How ironic it is that Mr. Arafat should be considered an obstacle to peace when he was the one to make so many concessions for the sake of peace. And Israel knows that they could have never struck a better deal than the one they had with Mr. Arafat as chairman of the PLO. He gave Israel legitimacy in spite of the grave injustice that was inflicted upon the Palestinians by the creation of Israel. He called a mini-Palestinian National Council to amend the PLO charter in the presence of President Clinton, and accepted the offer to create a Palestinian state on only 22% of historic Palestine. All for the sake of peace.

Did Israel ever dream it would be accepted in the Middle East that easily without having to make one concession? Nor even did it have to admit responsibility or apologize for the dispossession of the Palestinians. Truly it was Egypt and Jordan that rushed to sign treaties with Israel. But the Palestinians got the worse deal of all, because the Oslo Accords — supposedly a peace process — turned into an endless process of concessions.

If Israel was genuinely interested in peace it would have jumped at the idea and implemented the Accords without any further delay. But the policy of stalling may have been to our advantage, since Israel did not have either our inalienable right of return or the issue of Jerusalem on its agenda.

Again we now hear that the resignation of Mr. Abbas — who was supposed to help implement the Road Map — is going to be problematic and will affect the efforts toward peace. It suggests that peace was simply around the corner. However, Israel had only accepted the stages of the Road Map after unilaterally appending to it a list of 14 reservations and conditions, while the Palestinians accepted it “as is.”

Mr. Abbas was even committed to implement the Road Map by clamping down on “the terrorists.” Well, he did try in his own diplomatic way to strike a hudna (cease-fire) with Hamas. So if Israel was concerned about peace, it would have seized the great opportunity of that calm period, which lasted for fifty days, to lift some of the restrictions on the Palestinians. Such a gesture would have helped Mr. Abbas in his mission, and would have encouraged Hamas to continue their dialogue with him.

But it has almost become a pattern that whenever there has been a period of calm, Israel breaks this calm with a targeted killing. And that is exactly what it accomplished by killing the Hamas activist in Hebron, knowing very well that doing so would provoke Palestinians to react. So the cycle of violence goes on — to the satisfaction of Israel because it absolves it from any commitment to the peace process.

Again, one cannot but wonder who is really the obstacle to peace. On the day when two suicide bombings took place in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem in retaliation to the attack on Sheikh Ahmad Yaseen, three apartment buildings had earlier been demolished in Hebron, Nablus and Gaza leaving scores of people homeless. Is the terrorizing and killing of civilians by regular military forces considered legitimate, whereas the killing of civilians by a resistance force a “terrorist act”? Or are Palestinian civilians subhuman, to the extent that killing them is justified in the name of security; whereas the spilling of Jewish blood becomes a human and world tragedy. Not that I condone either. But one must stop and pose these questions, and reflect on the double standards by which the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been handled.

Did the international community really believe that the appointment of a Palestinian prime minister was going to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and like a magic wand bring peace to the region? We did not need the pressure of the USA and Israel to appoint a prime minister. The interference with Palestinian internal affairs simply made things worse and more difficult for the prime minister. We were very well aware that we needed reforms and new elections. If there were genuine efforts to help the Palestinian Authority, Israel would have lifted all the barriers and road blocks and allowed the Palestinians to have the long overdue elections. It is the elections that will determine who is redundant and who our next leadership would be. Maybe we do not have the leadership that we deserve after all those long years of dispossession, or a legislative council that is capable of bringing about the necessary changes, but it is the Palestinians who should have the say on the matter.

In its latest decision to remove Mr. Arafat, Israel has in fact helped boost his popularity, which had dropped sharply due to the deteriorating situation on all fronts; politically, economically and socially. Palestinian hope for liberation and prosperity has dwindled away. And the poor performance of the Palestinian Authority, the lack of democratic procedures, and the latest squabble with Mr. Abbas left both men unpopular.

We do not need any new initiatives to salvage the region. And I do not know why the Palestinians keep falling in the same trap, and end up being accused of obstructing the peace process that was never able to take off in the first place. What good is the Road Map when all the roads are blocked and the map of the land has been disfigured?

There are certainly enough United Nations resolutions to help redress the injustice and bring about peace. Israel’s record of defying the United Nations resolutions (over 69 Security Council resolutions, and over 300 General Assembly resolutions) will continue to be a disgrace to the international community. So let us hope the United Nations will rise to its responsibility and force Israel to implement the United Nations resolutions and put an end to this brutal occupation, which is the real obstacle to peace.