Tekla Szymanski, Foreign Editor/Journalist, New York



No Peace No Process?

The Return to Diplomacy

by Tekla Szymanski


It wasn't long ago that Amos Oz, one of Israel's widely respected and most vocal writers, declared that there was still hope. "We expect a painful separation [of the two peoples], a division of their small house into two even tinier dwellings. The time has come," he remarked. So, it seemed that despite the terrible upswing in violence since the beginning of the second Intifada in September 2000 — dubbed by Israel “The Thousand-Day War” and by Palestinians the “Al-Aqsa Intifada” — the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians (http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/peace process/guide to the peace process/) was again within reach.

But after various cease-fires were repeatedly broken, all efforts to reach peace were abandoned again; even Amos Oz seemed to have given up hope. As many as a quarter of all Palestinians contemplated, whether the struggle for independent statehood should be superseded by a struggle for equal citizenship or a secular one-state solution by turning Israel into a country with a Muslim majority. "The only question is how long it will take, and how much all sides will have to suffer, before Israeli Jews can view Palestinian Christians and Muslims not as demographic threats but as fellow citizens," summarized Michael Tarazi, a legal adviser to the PLO, in an op-ed in the New York Times (Oct. 4, 2004).

Then, Yasser Arafat died. His passing sparked an eager willingness to talk peace with Israel. Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a Abu Mazen), who won the presidential elections that took place on Jan. 9, 2005 after he had temporarily taken over the reign of Fatah after Arafat's death (and who, according to the New York Times, refused to talk to Arafat in the last 16 months of the late Palestinian president's life), took immediate steps to regain Israel's trust. He called for an end to the incitement and a halt of the armed struggle, calling the Intifadah "a mistake."

Israel's daily Ha'aretz quoted Abu Mazen on Dec. 16: " 'The use of weapons in the current Intifadah is damaging and must cease.' That was the important message that [the] PLO chairman delivered in his first statement on the subject following the death of Yasser Arafat. It was not the first time that [Abu Mazen] made such a statement, but its importance this time is derived from his position, and the anticipation that it will be received with understanding and acceptance, by a majority of Palestinians - the same majority that in recent public opinion polls has expressed the view that the negotiations with Israel should be resumed.... Abu Mazen's remarks...were spoken to Asharq al-Awsat, in Arabic - as Israel has often demanded, to the Arab and not only the Palestinian public. It was meant for every Arab and Palestinian movement and school of thought, inside and outside the territories, including Iran and Hezbollah, so that they know the intentions of the person who will be running the PA."

Also Egypt, along with the United States, Russia and the European Union expressed willingness to take another shot at solving the Mideast conflict once and for all.

According to an editorial in the centrist Yediot Aharonot (Dec. 22, 2004) in Tel Aviv, "Arafat’s death, the elections planned in the Palestinian Authority, the democratic reform and liberalism that they have promised to implement and an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza…have created a historical opportunity for an economic and humane solution to the refugee problem in the natural and only place possible: a future Palestinian state. The de-Arafatization process has been quick”

The religious, right wing daily Hatzofeh, however, holds on to the belief (Nov. 24, 2004) that the post-Arafat Palestinian Authority leadership is “more sophisticated,” but not more moderate.

But on February 8, 2005, Palestinian President Abu Mazen and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met in Sharm el-Sheikh and declared a cease fire.

The Second Intifadah has officially ended.

What went wrong during Arafat's reign?

A summit at Aqaba, held on June 4, 2003, between then-Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and U.S. President George W. Bush, was meant to revive the peace process. It opened up new possibilities, and, at first, it seemed that the get-together would make all the difference.

Various peace accords started to circle, were discussed, dismissed, and evaluated again. But could Bush's proposed Road Map (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2003/20062.htm) be the right answer to end decades of mistrust and violence? Can the unofficial Geneva Accord (http://www.heskem.org.il/Heskem_en.asp), a blueprint for a permanent status agreement, signed in October 2003 by prominent Palestinian and Israeli intellectuals and former politicians, restore trust in the region?

With the resignation of the first Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a Abu Mazen), on Sept. 9, 2003, and Israel's determination to eliminate Hamas, the envisioned peace road turned into a bridle path. "Abu Mazen made a fatal mistake, which sealed the fate of his 100-day leadership," commented Tel Aviv's centrist Yediot Aharonot. "As a patriot and a leader, he had the courage to tell the Palestinian people the truth."


Event Follows Event

On June 29, 2003, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah (by direct order of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat) declared a temporary cease-fire (hudna) with Israel. But it collapsed on August 12, when Fatah and Hamas carried out suicide bombings in Rosh Ha'ayin, and, hours later, near the entrance to Ariel (a large settlement in the West Bank), killing two Israelis. Hamas claimed that the attacks hadn't been coordinated between the two militant groups and denied that they marked the end of the cease-fire. Islamic Jihad had already broken the hudna on July 7, by killing a 65-year-old Israeli woman inside her house.

Then, on Aug. 19, 2003, a suicide bombing on a crowded bus in Jerusalem killed 23 Israelis, including six infants and children, and injured more than 100, among them 40 children. Hamas took responsibility for the attack. Israel declared all-out war on Hamas. It began eliminating its leaders one by one, and debated whether to deport Arafat, because, according to Yediot Aharonot (Sept. 7), "[Arafat] led, and is leading, his people from chaos to chaos, from pain to suffering, because only under conditions of destruction and pain can he be sure that the Palestinians will look to him as a god, a savior, and the sole keeper of the seal."

On March 22, 2004, Hamas' founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, dubbed by Israelis the "Palestinian Bin-Laden," was killed in an Israeli missile strike. According to Israeli authorities, Yassin had been responsible for 425 suicide attacks since October 2000 that killed 377 Israelis and injured 2,076.

Hamas vowed, "to open the gates to hell" in revenge. On April 17, 2004, Israel killed Yassin's successor, Abd al-Aziz Rantisi.


Hunting Arafat

On Sept. 11, 2003, the Israeli security cabinet decided to expel Arafat, and stated that the chairman was "a complete obstacle to any process of reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel [would] work to remove this obstacle in a manner, and at a time, of its choosing."

Then, word leaked that the Israeli government had also considered killing Arafat. Again, Israel came under harsh criticism, especially from the U.N. Security Council. The conservative English-language Jerusalem Post was the first Israeli newspaper to officially endorse assassinating Arafat. In their editorial (Sept. 10) the editors argued: "The world will not help us; we must help ourselves. We must kill as many of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders as possible, as quickly possible, while minimizing collateral damage, but not letting that damage stop us. And we must kill Arafat, because the world leaves us no alternative....Killing Arafat, more than any other act, would demonstrate that the tool of terror is unacceptable, even against Israel, even in the name of a Palestinian state. Arafat does not just stand for terror, he stands for the refusal to make peace with Israel under any circumstances and within any borders."

The Israeli public seemed to favor ousting Arafat once and for all. According to a Yediot Aharonot poll, published in the paper on Sept. 12, 37 percent of the polled Israelis wanted to see Arafat killed, 23 percent wanted to see him expelled, 21 percent wanted to continue to isolate him, and 15 percent wanted to see him released and negotiations to continue.

Abu Mazen's successor, handpicked, yet again, by President Arafat, was Ahmed Qureia (left), a.k.a Abu Ala, the man who represented the Palestinians in the secret meetings with Israeli politicians in Oslo in 1993 that culminated in the historic Oslo Accords. But shortly after Arafat swore him in on Oct. 7, 2003, Qureia hinted that he was already on the verge of quitting.


Israel Wants Out: Quagmire in Gaza

In May 2004, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's proposed unilateral disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip and the evacuation of some Jewish settlements in the West Bank was rejected by his own Likud Party in a non-binding confidence vote on May 2. On April 14, U.S. President George Bush had met Sharon's plan with approval and had also called the Palestinian refugees' right of return to what is now Israel and the evacuation of Israeli population centers in the West Bank "unrealistic."

At the end, however, 59.5 percent of Likud members voted against the plan, in what could become Sharon's most humiliating moment in his career. Only barely 40 percent showed up for the vote. In stark contrast, roughly 60 percent of the general public in Israel is in favor of a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon is determined that Israel leaves the Gaza Strip by the end of 2005, with or without support from his coalition. He even would be willing to bring the Labor party, under Shimon Peres, into the government. And indeed, in December 2004, a broad government was formed, with Shimon Peres as deputy prime minister. The path to leave the Gaza strip as planned seems now cleared.

Tel Aviv's mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot defined the results of Likud's referendum as "an earthquake" and said that the magnitude of Sharon's defeat was a political fact that cannot be denied. "If Prime Minister Sharon wants to keep the disengagement plan alive, he will have to face a head-on clash with most of his party." The paper decried "Sharon's arrogance and irresponsibility….After the current political stew has burned the pot, room for new and unexpected political groupings is reopening….The unification of forces that agree on the 'land for peace' formula into a large political alignment will force those who champion 'don't uproot that which has been planted' to find a new political home for themselves."

Sharon refuted allegations that he considered resigning. His "disengagement plan lite," as it is referred to in Israel, will now encompass two, not four, settlements in the West Bank and only three settlements in the Gaza Strip.

On the day of the vote, Palestinians gunned down a pregnant mother and her four daughters in Gaza.

On May 15, more than 150,000 people attended a peace rally at Rabin Square in Tel-Aviv under the slogan “Leave Gaza—Start Talking.” The event began with a minute of silence for the 13 Israel soldiers killed in Gaza that same week. Israel is still trying to locate some of the remains, which were taken by Palestinians after the assault.

In its May 17 editorial, Tel Aviv's liberal Ha'aretz noted on the peace rally in Tel Aviv: "The lesson to be learned from the mass demonstration...is that a wide swath of the Israeli public is hoping for a change in our relationship with the Palestinians and does not accept Likud members' decision to reject the disengagement plan. This message fits with Ariel Sharon's stated intent to bring the plan, in a new guise that does not change its substance, to the cabinet for approval in another two to three weeks....Public responsibility and political wisdom both obligate the Likud and its leaders to listen to the public's deepest feelings, to grasp the dimensions of the opposition to Israel's continued presence in the Gaza Strip and Gush Katif and to give impetus to the prime minister's initiative to withdraw from these areas—and thereby effect a major change in the conflict with the Palestinians. If the Likud's ministers...do not understand this by themselves..., they will reach the necessary conclusion in another way: by observing the growing list of the fallen in Gaza and the public outcry that it elicits."


A Paralyzed Arafat and Anarchy in Gaza

"The Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat has started crumbling. With corruption pervading at all levels of the Palestinian Authority, we don't see any reason for its continuation in power. The Palestinians themselves have started questioning the need for its existence. Arafat and other members of the Palestinian Authority are not willing partners in the Middle East peace process.

On the contrary, they have become a burden on the Palestinian issue and Arab countries, especially Egypt, Jordan and Palestine itself. Arafat has invested the blood of Palestinians for his personal benefits… It won't be possible for us to gain from the Middle East road map for peace if this man remains in power." (July 21, 2004)

—Ahmed Al-Jarallah, Editor-in-Chief,
The Arab Times, Kuwait

July 2004 brought anarchy to the Gaza Strip amid what amounted to the worst leadership crisis within the Palestinian Authority (PA). Ariel Sharon's declaration that Israel would leave the Gaza Strip unilaterally next year—even against the wishes of members of his own governing coalition—threw the PA into turmoil much earlier than expected.

Where would an Israeli pullout leave Gaza? Palestinians found themselves scrambling to face up to the rampant corruption within the PA and its security forces, which are all under the wing of one man—the Ra'is, Chairman Yasser Arafat (http://www.tekla-szymanski.com/engl15arafat.html).

As did his predecessor, Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia submitted his resignation to Arafat, on the grounds that the prime minister's position had an extremely narrow mandate, without any clout and real authority to introduce political changes, combat corruption and execute greater control over the PA's security forces (which are controlled by Arafat).

On July 16, the PA declared a state of emergency. On July 20, Arafat refused to accept Qureia's letter of resignation.
The government was left in limbo. Arafat refused to cede his absolute power.

On July 21, the Palestinian Parliament voted 43 to 3 in a non-binding measure, urging Arafat to accept Qureia's resignation. The vote amounted to a highly unusual move by the parliament against its chairman, Arafat, and a challenge to his dwindling authority.

Both sides were locked in a stalemate. Government officials were kidnapped—among them, on July 16, Gaza's police chief Ghazi al-Jabali, who was later released, unharmed. Legislators, critical of Arafat, were physically attacked. To top it all off, the people of Gaza took to the streets, fed up with the government's cronyism and demanded that the PA clean up its act. The protests were sparked after Arafat appointed on July 17 his nephew Musa Arafat as new head of Gaza's security forces, replacing al-Jabali. Musa, too, is widely known as being corrupt; his appointment was met with disbelief and anger.

On July 27, Qureia rescinded his resignation after Arafat granted him limited powers to carry out reforms and agreed to investigate corrupted officials. The prime minister promised "actions on the ground." Qureia's authority, however, would be limited to the internal security forces—while Arafat would retain control over the bulk of the security personnel: the intelligence service and the armed forces.

Arafat stubbornly refused adjusting to the democratization of the PA. Last year, he reluctantly accepted pressures from abroad and from within the PA to create the prime minister's post, which was first filled in June 2003 by Mahmoud Abas (Abu-Mazen) and in September 2003 by Qureia—after Abu Mazen's resignation in protest of Arafat's strong influence over the prime minister's post.

Israel denied the possibility that it might get involved in the internal quarrels of the PA. "This time, it's entirely the PA's emergency situation—not ours," wrote Yael Gvirtz in Tel Aviv's centrist Yediot Aharonot (July 18). "Israel is better off sitting quietly at the sidelines and not enter the internal battlefield of the PA."

But Israel also realized that the latest events could leave a power vacuum that would give way to the emergence of new militant Islamist groups—alongside Hamas and Islamic Jihad—maybe connecting the Palestinian question in Gaza with the events happening in Iraq. It seemed that the PA was in real danger of collapse, and the internal turmoil could have easily spread over into the West Bank. Sharon is now determined as ever to go ahead with the Gaza pullout as soon as possible. The events in Gaza were, and still are, proof to him that there isn't anyone to talk to in Gaza—and that there isn't anything to talk about.

The crisis was centering on two opposing group—Arafat and Muhammad Dahlan and his renegades. Dahlan is Gaza's former PA minister of security, who resigned last year in protest of Arafat's opposition to revise Gaza's security forces. Ever since, Dahlan had been one of Arafat's most vocal critics and he has become the head of the opposition, advocating free elections within Fatah (the political wing of the PA), as well as sweeping reforms.

"In front of our eyes, Sharon's dream is coming true," wrote Nachum Barnea in an op-ed on Yediot Aharonot's front page (July 18). "The Palestinian Authority is losing its last bit of authority. Arafat is still wiggling a little, but his followers are fleeing in all directions. As Winston Churchill once said: 'This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning' [as part of a speech given on Nov. 10, 1942]."


Abu Ala Against Arafat

Abu Ala, "with his enthusiastic smile, embodied for millions of people on both sides the hope and longing for a better future of peace and serenity, commented Tel Aviv's liberal Ha'aretz in its editorial (Sept. 9, 2003). "Exactly a decade ago, Ahmed Qureia, better known as Abu Ala, burst into the Israeli consciousness....The man who represented the PLO in the secret negotiations in Oslo embodied for millions of people on both sides the hope and longing for a better future of peace and serenity. Now, with the announcement...of Qureia's appointment as the new prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, it is difficult to say his emergence at center stage raises much enthusiasm in Israel.

"There have been too many disappointments since Oslo, too many missed opportunities, too much innocent blood has been spilled in recent years to hang much hope on a change of personnel in Ramallah. However, Qureia's mere readiness to accept the challenge was noteworthy. The conditions he is presenting—more energetic involvement by the United States and Quartet members in lifting the Israeli threat against Arafat—are evidence of political wisdom. Upon assuming office, Qureia will face two tests: He will have to restrain the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror organizations, as well as the Tanzim, affiliated with his own movement, and he will have to preserve his independence from Arafat."

According to Tel Aviv's right-wing, religious Hatzofeh (Sept. 9), however, "Arafat's decision to charge his confidant Abu Ala with the responsibility for forming a new government effectively means that the PLO Chairman has decided to reassume his position at the top of the Palestinian leadership....[S]ooner or later, Washington will have to reconsider its policy and reach the conclusion that as long as Arafat holds the steering wheel, it will be impossible to advance the policy anchored in the road map....It is not only the hudna which has come apart, but the road map ceased to exist at the moment that Hamas and Islamic Jihad toppled Abu Mazen and restored control to Arafat and his cohorts."

Yediot Aharonot concluded that the Israeli government, too, was to a certain extent responsible for Abu Mazen's demise. "What does the government have to offer Arafat's successors? If we look at the precedent set by Abu Mazen, the begging conclusion is that Sharon's government has no real and courageous proposal for the Palestinians in the post-Arafat era....Arafat flourishes when the Palestinians are being suffocated under the burden of occupation. The end of the occupation is therefore the most correct and effective method to end the Arafat era in the Middle East. Any other process will only strengthen him and his cursed grip."


"The Palestinian Leadership Didn't Supply the Goods"

The fall of Abu Mazen's government came as no surprise but was met with disappointment. Yediot Aharonot commented in its editorial (Sept. 8) that whereas most Israelis would say that Abu Mazen did not survive because "Arafat didn't let him and won't allow any chance for a settlement or normalization," most Palestinians would say that Abu Mazen failed because "he simply didn't supply the goods." The editors referred to a Palestinian opinion poll, which indicated that support for Hamas, and other rejectionist groups, increased as support for Abu Mazen's government decreased. "This, if you like, is the true infrastructure of terror, born out of Palestinian desperation, and impervious to any American or Israeli pressure," Yediot Aharonot continued. "The real war on it is not fought with helicopters, but with opening a ray of hope for a people that lives in poverty and humiliation. True assistance to Abu Mazen isn't bombing [Hamas' spiritual leader] Sheikh Yassin, as the security establishment argues, but proving to the Palestinians that his way is to their benefit. Arafat can best be neutralized not by expelling him, but by generosity to those who constitute an alternative."

Hatzofeh suggested (Sept. 8) that Abu Mazen "also disappointed those who didn't expect very much from him in the first place," and the paper suggested that Abu Mazen, Israel, and the United States know that it was Yasser Arafat who undermined Abu Mazen. The editors declared, "The time has come to remove Arafat from the scene and simply expel him from the region....[H]e leads the Palestinian terror machine, prevents any possibility of diplomatic progress by the Palestinians [and] is torpedoing any attempt to stop the wave of terror and violence."

Egyptian political analyst Abdel-Moneim al-Said summarized the deadlock in the peace effort in the liberal Saudi daily al-Watan on Sept. 4: “The lesson we’ve learned about the Arab-Israeli conflict is that it just goes from bad to worse. The interests and future of whole peoples have become contingent upon the conflict. If things are left as they are, leadership will pass to Hamas and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to decide the fate of 300 million Arabs. If leadership passes to the moderate Arab states, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, then the Arab peace initiative (land for peace with Israel and regional cooperation) is the strategic entry point for changing the political culture of the whole region. The general direction of the Arab world depends on decisions we take now and if the road map dies, then the future of the entire Arab region will move the way of suicide and suicide bombers.”

"[T]he deadly suicide bombing in Jerusalem...is proof that [Palestinian militants] did not keep their word," commented Ze'ev Schiff in Ha'aretz (Aug. 20). "[The] attack, the first such incident since the declaration of the hudna at the end of June, marks a personal failure for Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and for [Palestinian Defense Minister Mohammed] Dahlan himself....This deterioration in Palestinian society—which maintains only an extremely thin layer at its top that is called the 'Palestinian Authority'—strengthens those who think that it is impossible to control what happens in the territories."

Jordan's Al-Rai countered (Aug. 21): "If the Israeli army was unable to 'root out terrorism,' how can Dahlan succeed?"

According to the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyasa (Aug. 23), violence by Palestinians against Israel would in the end hurt their own people. “In Jerusalem we saw the terrorist attack and its bloody effects. Does this in any way help the Palestinians? Whoever is behind this attack is a lunatic. The Palestinian prime minister must eradicate these lunatics because they harm the Palestinian people and also Arab-Arab and Arab-West relations.”

Also an editorial in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds (Aug. 21) voiced despair over the renewed carnage. "No one here thinks that the killing of children, mothers or the elderly...helps the cause of Palestinians for liberation. Acts like these, as well as those perpetuated by the Israeli government of assassinations, destroying homes, etc, do show that the conflict is reaching a new level—in which both sides believe that the most awful damage has to be inflicted to the other side to meet their goals and in the process forgoing human civilization. The most important thing seems to be to kill as many of 'the other side' as possible, no matter whether innocent or not, children or otherwise...and it goes without saying that children have very often been the victims. Both sides lose...there will be no winner as the violence starts anew."

"With this inevitability, we must realize that the Palestinian Authority's effectiveness, whether of its officials or institutions, to defy Israeli and American pressures is limited," opined Salih al-Qallab of the London-based Saudi-owned daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat. "Obviously, one of the by-products of this latest bombing [in Jerusalem, Aug. 19] will be an increase of pressure on Arafat and Abbas. The worst-case scenario would be if the Palestinian leadership does ultimately comply with this pressure and it reluctantly accepts the plan to dismember what are called terrorist networks. If this indeed does happen, then the Palestinian civil war will finally erupt despite the long years of trying to keep this possibility in check. Once this becomes a part of the Palestinian reality, it will engender a never-ending cycle of killing. Thus in conclusion, Hamas will bear the historical responsibility for the civil war if it does break out, because Hamas' actions pushed the Palestinians over the brink. And forever more, Hamas will be blamed for its national betrayal."


"No One Will Win"

"One thing has been seared in the mutual consciousness, after 1,000 days and 3,000 killed: No one will win here," wrote Yediot Aharonot on June 30. "Both sides' leaders can still talk about forcing a decision, and try and define it in inflammatory, or just unclear, terms. The peoples already know that everything is rubbish....The more we and they rid ourselves of the illusion of victory, the day will be closer in which the two boxers will finally be able to go back to their corners and lick their wounds."

The Aqaba summit, as Yoel Marcus put it in his editorial in Ha'aretz (June 6), "provided the real test for the leaders on both sides to assess their determination to create a situation that offers no hope to crazies and extremists."

He is right. Both people still want to live in peace, and were it not for extremists, they could have achieved their dream a long time ago. Those extremists, however, don't stand idly by with their hands behind their backs and watch their goals being shattered. After Aqaba, their killing spree continued unabated. It is up to the Palestinians to continue to curb extremists. If they won't, the Israelis will. For Israel, the immediate task is to dismantle settlements and prevent a civil war with hard-line settlers. It won't be easy, but, as the evacuation of Yamit in the Sinai in April 1982 has shown, doable.

And now, with Arafat gone, the Palestinians can finally move forward.

Only strong leaders will be able to make peace in the region, and Israel will have to assist in keeping the Palestinian government, now under Abu Mazen and Abu Ala, together. Only legitimate leaders can achieve anything in the region, and the Palestinians have to decide once and for all in which direction they are heading with their upcoming Jan. 9 2005 presidential elections.


Show Me the Money!

Putting the blame on the main players on the Israeli and Palestinian sides was never enough. Arab nations, too, will now have to do more than give lip service to the Palestinian cause. In 2002, 11 Arab states pledged a mere US$8.2 million to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA - http://www.un.org/unrwa/finances/cont-dec02.html) fund to ease the plight of Palestinian refugees—Bahrain, Brunei, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates; Egypt and Oman did not contribute a single dollar. Just as a comparison: Tiny Norway paid $14 million into the fund and Sweden contributed $20 million. The United States pledged $120 million (which will rise soon to $200 million); the European Commission gave $79 million, and the United Nations $13 million.

"A Road Map Paid for in Euros," read a headline in London's Financial Times (July 18, 2004). The article, written by the European Commissioner for External Relations, Christopher Patten, argues that without assistance from the European Union (E.U.), "There would have been no Palestinian interlocutor for the negotiations now under way." According to Patten, between November 2000 and December 2002, the E.U. gave nearly $280 million in financial aid "to keep the Palestinian administration alive and sustain the most basic of public services." Then, in 2004, the E.U. contributed $245 million to the Palestinians, the United States gave $315 million and Saudi Arabia, the largest donor in the Arab world, paid $115 million.

The meager contribution of the Arab states is a pitiful attempt to keep the situation of the Palestinians as dire as it is. In 1952, the UNRWA set up a fund of $200 million to provide homes and jobs for the refugees, but it went untouched. In August 1958, the former director of UNRWA, Ralph Garroway, proclaimed: "The Arab states do not want to solve the [Palestinian] refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don't give a damn whether the refugees live or die." Jordan was the only Arab country to welcome the Palestinians and grant them citizenship (to this day, Jordan is the only Arab country where Palestinians as a group can become citizens). King Abdullah considered the Palestinian Arabs and Jordanians one people.

The Palestinians receive a little more than $1 billion a year from outside sources, making them the world's largest recipients of international aid, with nearly $300 per person in annual payments for 3.5 million inhabitants.

Where does the money go? Surely not to the refugee camps that breed hatred and terrorism, where 4.5 million Palestinians continue to live in poverty and filth. Sixty percent of the Palestinians live below the poverty line. And yet, UNRWA spends $400 million a year to assist Palestinian refugees. Those refugees, however, are still exploited as martyrs for the Palestinian cause, and their plight is deliberately kept unresolved.

In the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had been considering giving $300 million aid "to help the Palestinian Authority (PA) deal with Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups responsible for attacks on Israelis." The Bush administration also pledged continuing its policy by aiding the PA directly "to improve its intelligence and security apparatus."

On July 9, 2004, the New York Times reported that the initial installment of this first direct U.S. monetary assistance to the Palestinians, amounting to $20 million, "will be given out in the coming days." The money was intended to improve basic services in Palestinian areas being vacated by Israel, including road, sewage, and water projects. In the long run, the goal is to gradually reduce the influence of Hamas, which runs a network of schools and welfare services for Palestinians. In early September, the European Union followed the U.S. lead and declared Hamas a terrorist organization.

In November 2004, after Yasser Arafat's death, the Bush administration announced that it would provide an additional $23.5 million in aid to the PA to help conduct presidential elections (scheduled for Jan. 9, 2005), to establish security, meet the PA's payrolls and to upgrade infrastructure in Gaza.

A July 2004 survey among 1,000 Americans found that an overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens, 74.1 percent, oppose sending what now amounts to $213 million in annual aid to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

According to Abraham D. Sofaer, a legal adviser to the Department of State from 1985 to 1990 and the principal negotiator of the 1989 accord that returned to Egypt the Israeli-held area of Taba in the Sinai, "The U.N. and the United States have allowed these terrible practices [of Arabs and Palestinians exploiting Palestinians] to continue for years....The problem is that the road map...expects to bring an end to Palestinian violence against Israel without addressing the reasons why the Palestinians have deliberately and repeatedly chosen that path." (Commentary, May 2003)

On Dec. 17, 2004, the New York Times reported that the United States, Europe and Arab countries "were considering greatly increasing — maybe even doubling — aid to the Palestinians.... A four-year package of $6 billion would be forthcoming...if the elections occurred successfully and if the new government cracked down on militant groups.... The World Bank says the package would be the largest per person international aid program since World War II."


Unwilling to Listen

Few Israeli commentators (http://www.tekla-szymanski.com/engl11roadmap.html) seemed surprised by the continuing violence immediately after the Aqaba summit. "The war with the Palestinians will only reach its end when both sides collapse," the editors of Yediot Aharonot predicted on June 9. "No one believed anything ended or began at the summit….No one is willing to listen anymore."

Amos Oz has been optimistic that both sides are equally pragmatic about peace talks and follow through. But there are others who have stopped believing in miracles. "[In Aqaba], the American wise man, U.S. President George W. Bush, echoed Shimon Peres in a bygone era, calling on both sides to continue negotiating despite the killings," wrote Ofer Shelach in Yediot Aharonot on June 9. "Tomorrow, maybe the day after that, Bush’s determination will come to an end as a result of the past few months, and he will once again leave us alone with our troubled soul. The noise that you hear now is not the sound of an orchestra accompanying the ceremony [in Aqaba]. It’s just a bunch of terrified people who are whistling in the dark."

There is one thing the critics of peace talks still haven't grasped: Compromise is not a sign of weakness. A country armed to the teeth can be weaker than a country willing to make concessions for peace. The Israelis don't want intimate friendship with the Palestinians, nor do they want Arafat to be their brother. They just want to rid themselves of the burden of being held responsible for every ill that has befallen the Palestinian society. For Palestinians seem to blame everybody but themselves—or, for that matter, their Arab neighbors—for their plight.

A sincere peace process bearing fruits would give the Israelis moral backing to defend themselves if they have to. Peace with the Palestinians would primarily set the boundaries of how to deal with this new unit under international law, should Israel be threatened again. Thus the peace process is not evidence that Israel is falling to its knees; instead, it serves to separate two worlds that neither can nor wish to live together. Within this new reality, another Intifada would be equivalent to a declaration of war—which in turn could be fought with every legitimate means in accordance with the Geneva Convention.


Israel's Fighting the Enemy Within

The failing morale of Israeli soldiers, the lack of will to fight that began with the 1982 Lebanon war, had a deep psychological and very human basis: The enemy was no longer concrete, had no army, did not threaten Israel's borders, but came instead from within. During the first Intifada, Israeli soldiers became police officers, dealing with guerrilla fighters and stone-throwing children. The army, praised for its morality, was expected to "break the bones of civilians." Any attempt to weaken the Palestinian Authority during that time strengthened Israel's new position as an occupying power. The situation was no longer tolerable to most Israelis. The peace talks were begun by politicians who were tired, not of fighting but of having to defend themselves against civilians, against an insubstantial, nonmilitary enemy, and against a biased world opinion.

Politicians in the Middle East came to realize that, given the dangers of fundamentalism, they could not continue as before. It is no longer the old enemies who are ready to attack; new forces are at work. If Israel had attempted to fight Hamas a few years ago, the world would have continued to view Israel as the aggressor. Israel's hands were tied, despite its military strength.

After concessions that did not, in fact, threaten Israel's security, the Jewish state had found in the Palestinian Authority an accomplice that, while it continued to feel sorry for itself, still could be an ally who had the most to lose from terrorism. But with the launching of the second Intifada, the Palestinian Authority chose to set its own people back by decades.


"We Are Sick of a Handful of Terrorists!"

Fighting terrorism is no longer only Israel's problem, as the events of September 11 and the war on terrorism have proved, but neither can Israel rely on the Palestinian Authority to completely eradicate terrorists roaming the autonomous territories. The peace efforts require international cooperation and a sense of solidarity in order once and for all to take a position that makes terrorism unacceptable, wherever it may occur.

Since Oslo, the situation in the Middle East has involved everyone, inside and outside the region, making it no longer just Israel's responsibility. We know that the Palestinians can do an adequate job of stopping the violence—if it suits them—and stem the incitements and justifications for violence against Israel within the Palestinian education system. And we also know that most Palestinians want to live in peace with the Israelis. Ahmed Tibi, Arafat's former political adviser, said many years ago: "I have had enough of Palestinians doing these things to Israel. We're sick of letting a handful of terrorists destroy our dream of peace. We must finally begin to prevent terrorism."

If it should finally become possible, with Palestinian help, to fight Hamas, the Al-Aqsa Brigades, and Islamic Jihad, the world might not become a better place but certainly a safer one. Still, Israelis and Palestinians would not automatically become friends—it will take many generations to build trust—but at least they could be allies living side by side, each within their own borders.


Status Quo at All Costs?

There is still a long way to go until then. Only now will we see how far the Israeli's strength and spiritual power can go. Anyone who has ever lived in Israel knows what sacrifices years of war have demanded from Israeli society. Important domestic issues that challenge every new country—like the status quo between religion and state, social problems, gender equality, and economic challenges—had to take a backseat to security and defense issues. The need for a strong military, for being tough, secured a machismo and chauvinistic outlook on all aspects of life in Israel within the Israeli society.

In the long run, no state can simply ignore pressing social issues. With the start of the peace process 10 years ago, there was a chance for the country to build itself up again from within. For the first time in their history, Israelis had the feeling that they could live in a normal country and could finally worry about other problems. The failure of Oslo and a looming all-out war on many fronts has propelled Israel back into a state of "status quo at all levels, at all costs, and by all means."


Can Terrorists Get Tired of Fighting?

The second Intifada undermined Israeli morale and destroyed any semblance of trust toward the Palestinians. The renewed peace process will not guarantee that there won't be any suicide bombings in Israel. But Israel must be able to defend itself, without isolating itself. Those Palestinians who really want peace must finally raise their voices — and holding on to Arafat's legacy can only backfire.

Much is at stake: The issue is supporting those Israelis and Palestinians who are tired of war. Only then will Israel's existence and dignity and that of the Palestinians be ensured. A peace process can never be the sole cause of terrorism—it is the response to it.

But there can be no permanent peace until: a) the Arabs of the region openly accept the existence of Israel as a permanent, sovereign state; b) Israel accepts the Palestinian right to independence; and c) Israel is finally granted a place in the regional grouping of Middle Eastern states and given the opportunity to serve on the U.N. Security Council (where Israel is the only country that has no say) and other U.N. bodies.

"A road map to peace is a fine thing," summarizes Sofaer in his May 2003 essay in Commentary. "But if it is based in denial and wishful thinking, it will be rightly doomed."



Copyright © 2004, Tekla Szymanski, New York
All Rights Reserved