Wednesday, November 29
The Tentative Cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians
The call for a cease-fire coming form P.M. Ehud Olmert is a very positive development and one that ought to be encouraged. He had stated quite clearly various points that any reasonable party could accept. The bloodshed and hate between Israelis and Palestinians has been going on for two long and both sides have achieved nothing apart from further destruction, hate, mistrust and unnecessary loss of life and suffering. Enough is enough! As mentioned in a previous article, the time has come for us to lay down arms and start serious negotiations!
While a cease-fire is a welcome development, it is nothing more than that – a cease-fire! Cessation of hostilities, which according to Hamas and its factions, is a temporary measure – a tahida. President Mahmoud Abbas has reacted positively which is a good sign. The question is whether he will be able to convince the various factions in his government to accept the cease-fire. Dr. Saeb Arekat, a veteran Palestinian negotiator, has also expressed support for the cease-fire. He also expressed regret over the sporadic cease-fire violations of the Al Aqsa Brigades.
The cease-fire is very fragile indeed and after all the experiences in the past of failed cease-fires one cannot avoid being skeptical about the implementation of this cease-fire. Nevertheless it is a beginning – hopefully the beginning of better days for both peoples.
Olmert has listed wide ranging concessions to the Palestinian People which at face value seems reasonable and a good basis to make a fresh start in negotiations. Olmert told the Palestinians on Monday that he was prepared to grant them a state; release desperately needed funds and free prisoners if they choose the path of peace. He also said that Israel would pull out of West Bank land and uproot settlements under a peace deal with the Palestinians. One of the sticking problems that will arise is the solution of the Palestinian refugee problem. This painful problem should also be placed on the agenda for solution. It should not be left on the backburner as many Israeli negotiators desire. Perhaps a solution would be in the direction of unification of families and there fore a return of some refugees on these grounds. Another possible solution could be in the direction of financial reparations to those families who are affected. These are possible ideas that should be open for negotiations in a final settlement. Jerusalem should be less of a problem and could be the capital of both Israel and Palestine with various logistic agreements.
The release of the kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit, in exchange for many long-term Palestinian prisoners was also emphasized by Olmert. Olmert even had some positive word to say about the Saudi Plan which could also be considered as part of a wide ranging deal with the Palestinians.
Of course, there will be much tough discussions if the Palestinian Authority accepts the peace initiative. There are some pitfalls in the initiation of talks. The main pitfall is that Mahmoud Abbas does not have majority support of Hamas which is the majority faction in the Palestinian parliament. They remain determined not to recognize Israel’s right to exist. The point is that Israel is still an occupying power and if they remain an occupying power then the chance of them recognizing Israel’s right to exist remains remote. This is the main obstacle. Let us look at the situation hypothetically. If Israel never had the territories occupied in the Six Day War, would Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist? After all one must remember that Israel had an existential problem with her Arab neighbours from the day that she was established in 1948. Wars were waged against Israel’s existence even before 1967. This means that the occupation is not the only reason for Hamas not recognizing Israel’s right to exist. The hate for Israel goes beyond the occupation. If there are any doubts about that, the Hamas Charter makes it perfectly clear. There has to be a party to whom Israel can return the territories occupied in the Six Day War. It is absurd to even think about returning territory to Hamas ruled Palestine if they are going to use the territories to launch attacks on Israel in order to destroy her. Highlights from the Hamas Charter are:
"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it."
"The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgment Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. "
"There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors."
"After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying."
If this mind set in the Hamas attitude towards Israel remains, negotiations and long term maintenance of the cease-fire is going to be more of a challenge than a long term reality. The cease-fire will be evasive to both peoples a long time. In order for the cease-fire to be effective, Hamas – the main players have to come to terms with Israel’s existence and all that goes with it. This means cessation of violence and releasing Gilad Shalit. They must embark on a programme for improving economic conditions for the Palestinian people who elected them into power. This means rebuilding the infrastructure destroyed by violence. Social services for the Palestinians must be improved as well as cessation of hostile propaganda against Israel. If Hamas changes its attitude towards Israel and shows pragmatism in recognizing Israel, then the path to ending the occupation could be paved. A Palestinian state could take her place alongside Israel and both countries could benefit.
The occupation is bad and it is not in Israel’s long term interests to rule over the Palestinians. It is morally indefensible! The occupation must end but it is imperative that the Palestinians take part in serious negotiations with Israel over ending the occupation so that both sides can benefit. A new approach must be made to move towards peace. The success of the cease fire is dependent on the desire of both parties to the conflict to reach a peaceful solution.