Despite Elections Charade, Israel Still Holds Keys to Peace By Ramzy Baroud
Original story at AMIN amin.org/eng/uncat/2005/jan/jan13.html
The atmosphere created by the Palestinian ‘presidential’ elections was nothing but a spurious charade. It was a dishonest representation of the real problem, and unfortunately many Palestinians played along.
The charade however is nothing new. Throughout the years, any hope for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, often born out of some peace initiative cooked jointly by the U.S. government with an Israeli nod, is the upshot of a faulty premise: that Palestinians must show serious interest in peace before Israel is expected to reciprocate. Even the Road Map, which many Palestinian officials lauded, is no exception.
The Road Map was the handy craft of pro-Israeli elements in the US administration, and they are plentiful. It failed to rebuke Israel, even if slightly, for its disproportionate and costly violence against the Palestinian people. As if every word were scrutinized time and again to ensure that Israel would be shielded from any criticism, even if inferred.
The document however, may possibly yield one conclusion: only by reining in Palestinian terrorism can Israel and the Palestinian Authority achieve common ground for a lasting peace. The problem again, begins and ends with the Palestinians. Israel can only be urged to display patience, restraint and symbolic gestures of good will.
The Israeli lobby made sure to exercise every smidgen of pressure it possesses to mold President George Bush’s supposed brainchild to appease Israel. Predictably, the PA responded with a big unconditional “yes”, so that Palestinians would not be viewed once again as the predicament to peace. Israel hesitated, deliberated, and finally agreed with conditions that disfigured the face of the already unsightly agreement. That positive Israeli response was at once celebrated as a victory for peace and symptomatic to Israel’s very compromising nature, which has shown us before that no matter how “painful” its “concessions” might be, it’s a worthy price for peace.
Of course, the Road Map was neither the first nor the last of these Shakespearian dramas. The path to peace in the Middle East is swamped with these staged shows that are hardly linked to reality by any stretch of the imagination. The overstated value of the Palestinian elections fully conforms to these past experiences: only by altering their backward political culture and fully committing to the everlasting principals of democracy can Palestinians achieve peace with Israel; only by being at peace with themselves can Palestinians be at peace with Israel; only by shunning the anti-democratic elements from their ranks, can Palestinians be a worthy peace partner with the “only democracy in the Middle East.” And once again, Israel is demanded to do nothing in return, save some mythical steps of reciprocity that never seem to materialize, and ‘confidence building’ measures devoid of any real political value.
It was almost as if Israel couldn’t help itself, as it carried on with its abrasive and bloody policies even during the elections campaign. As if its insistence to humiliate Palestinians knows no limits, it repeatedly arrested Palestinian candidates, beating them on camera. One candidate was shown on TV being jerked by the necktie, and having his arm-twisted in so painful a way by some thug-looking Israeli-boy soldiers. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti was arrested on more than one occasion during the brief campaign; he was beaten and harassed repeatedly. If this had happened to a presidential candidate anywhere in the world it would be a story to remember for years to come. Coming from Israel is not even worthy of a little rebuke. It can hardly change the fact that the failure is fully Palestinian, that Israel has been an icon of patience and self-restraint.
But how unfair and cunning these designations are. While blaming the victim is nothing new in US Middle East foreign policy and in Israel’s uneven handed conflicts with its neighbors throughout the years, the reality continues to be as appalling as ever.
How could any self-respecting politician, commentator or any other deliberately skip the greatest obstacle to peace in the region, and that is the almost four-decades long Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, added to the never folded episode of dispossession and systematic murder that took place in 1948?
Is it possible that such a vital factor such as Israel’s violations of dozens of UN resolutions, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the International Court of Justice ruling be worthless compared to Palestinians’ need to select a leader for a hollow political institution like the Palestinian Authority?
Why are Palestinian sins, the suicide bombings and such, even if a bloody response to a much bloodier occupation augmented beyond comprehension, while Israel’s killing of thousands of Palestinians obliges no reproach?
Is it true however, that the Bush administration with its pro-Israeli cronies and the ever willing Tony Blair cannot fully see the foolishness of it all, trusting that peace between both parties is possible while Ariel Sharon has made it so indisputably clear that he is neither interested in dismantling his illegal settlements from the West Bank, nor returning captive East Jerusalem to its rightful owners?
According to Sharon, a Palestinian state is only possible on 42 percent of the West Bank, less than ten percent of the total size of historic Palestine, without the refugees ever exercising their right of return, without actual control over the borders, without Jerusalem, without removing the over 200,000 illegal Jewish settlers from the West Bank. And even then, a state can only actualize after the Palestinians guarantee Israel’s security. How could a defenseless nation guarantee the security of its occupier? Is this rational?
But we must render all of that irrelevant at the moment and simply reflect on this golden opportunity where Palestinians have finally seen the light of democracy, even if under the chains of a tank, and a soldier’s boot. This is, of course, the furthest possible scenario from genuine democracy, that is based on freedom and sovereignty, that is an accumulative process that doesn’t begin at the ballot box nor does it end their. What is happening in Palestine is nothing but a construct, an illusion, which only indicates that Palestinians and their deficient political culture are in need of serious revamping, while Israel can only be expecting to exercise restraint. But restraint never meant settlement freezes, and end of land confiscation, house demolitions, tree toppling and a mini massacre now and then. There is nothing new about this charade. It’s as old as the conflict itself, and as always expects to deliver, win Israel time and discredit the hapless Palestinians. It’s the ingenious stratagem that managed to eradicate peace in the Middle East for generations, and is the lucky charm that shielded successive US governments from the wrath of the Israeli lobby for many years.
So if you are holding your breath, expecting peace following the Palestinian elections, you can exhale now, Israel still holds the keys.
* Ramzy Baroud is a veteran Arab-American journalist. A regular columnist in many English and Arabic publications, he is editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com and is a program producer at Aljazeera Satellite Television.