Archive for November, 2004

Arafat and the Mirage of Peace

November 15, 2004

By Samia Khoury
Monday, November 15, 2004

It certainly was a new experience for me to have been in the U.S. during President Bush’s reelection. I could not have envisaged the extent of the power of the media there until I read the papers and watched the TV during that period. What bothered me the most was when so-called “moral issues” seemed to have played an important role in such a close fight between the two parties — and I was especially bothered by what was not said or written about that theme.

As a Christian from the Holy Land, the cradle of Christianity, as well as Judaism and Islam, I was unable to relate to those “moral issues” because they actually lacked honesty, truth and justice. How moral is it to wage a war based on false information and in defiance of the international community? How moral is it to support an occupation when all the rhetoric focuses on democracy and the right of people to self-determination? That is why I have the feeling now more than ever that it is hopeless to look to the U.S. administration in search of justice and peace in the Middle East. As long as justice is not a basic “moral value,” but going to church and judging others is, it does not necessarily mean that one’s faith is being translated into honest and honorable action.

But then, soon after the elections, it was officially announced that the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, had died. Of course I spent all night listening to commentaries on his struggle and on the “missed opportunities, and failure to deliver a state to his people.” Not once did I hear a comment pointing a finger at Israel for not implementing United Nations resolutions or for not abiding by the Oslo Accords. Never was it mentioned that despite all the concessions that Arafat made to accommodate for peace, including the amendment of the PLO charter, Israel continued with its oppressive measures of confiscating more land and of building more colonies in violation of the Oslo Accords.

“Arafat is an obstacle to peace” was the buzzword. As long as Israel thought so, then its master’s voice — the U.S. administration — was bound to see it that way. And so this myth, just like all Israeli myths (the first one having been “a land without people for a people without land”), took root in the ground of politics and became the “de-facto” understanding despite all the Palestinian explanation about “Ehud Barak’s generous offer.”

Prior to that point, Palestinians had already relinquished their right to 78% of historic Palestine for the creation of the State of Israel. The “generous offer” from Barak called on the Palestinians to relinquish a further 30% of the remaining 22% of the land. That certainly was no generous offer, but because the Israeli and the American media played a big role in making that platter of peace look so sumptuous — when it was only a platter of pieces and crumbs – Arafat had to pay the price for the rest of his lonely and marginalized life. To add insult to injury, Arafat was blamed for all the “terrorism” in the Occupied Territories, when the state terrorism of Israel was justified in the name of security. It was that latter form of terrorism which was the root cause of the violence in the Occupied Territories, which erupted after 37 years of military occupation, when Palestinians had nothing more to lose.

I think Arafat genuinely believed that he could achieve his goal if he were to accept the step-by-step peace, and to settle for “Gaza and Jericho first.” He was so anxious to have a foothold in Palestine that he could not, or did not want to envisage that Israel had no intention of relinquishing the land – that which was the basis for engaging in a “land for peace” peace process. Those of us who had been living in the Occupied Territories since 1967 were already aware that unless Israel was forced to withdraw from the Palestinian Occupied Territories no lasting peace could be achieved. Even when his peace partner Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli extremist, and it was very clear that Israel was not interested in peace, Arafat still thought it would be possible to resurrect the already dead peace process.

Israel, which accuses Arafat of having been an obstacle to peace, could not have found a better partner to make all the concessions that were made under the pretext of peace. It has used the peace process as a steppingstone to the Arab World and it changed its image as an occupier, oppressor, and colonizer into a peacemaker. In the meantime, the biased media helped in developing that image and in creating the “terrorist” image of the Palestinian. For Israel, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, could not have come at a better time, as it forced the U.S. to empathize with Israel and to consider the security of Israel a top priority, irrespective of what it did.

It is too late now to say that Arafat should have resigned after Israel made it impossible for the peace process to go on. His pursuit of a mirage of peace was futile, and only his death has saved him by the grace of Allah from further humiliation. But now that Arafat is dead, let us watch and see what pretext Israel is going to come up with to avoid making peace, and how that pretext will be endorsed by the U.S. Of course, it is not beyond Israel to already start creating wedges between potential new Palestinian leadership, just as much as they have encouraged between Palestinian Muslims and Christians.

But if Israel is genuinely interested in peace, it does not have to look for pretexts. It can try, for a change, to abide by United Nations resolutions. It can accept the generous offer initiated by Saudi Arabia at the Arab League meeting in Beirut in March 2002, which guaranteed full acceptance of Israel in the Middle East if it were to withdraw from ALL the Arab territories occupied in 1967. That should be the test for Israel now, and it is a much cheaper one than the cost of Israeli and Palestinian human lives.