Saturday, September 11

The Renewed Peace Negotiations

                                                              President Mahmud Abbas and P.M. Benyamin Netanyahu

Rosh Hashanah is upon us and at the same time Eid El Fitr - the conclusion of the month long Ramadan Fast. Both holy days for Jews and Moslems respectively are significant as they fall at the same time. Both holydays symbolize repentance and purification of the soul for both peoples. The Ten Days of Penitence also begins for the Jewish People culminating in Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement.

My gut feeling is that both peoples need to realize that their respective faiths have more in common than what divides them. Surely the time has come to understand that the Arab and Jewish people are closely linked in a common destiny. This rings true for both Israelis and Palestinians who must organize themselves and move towards a conclusion of the Palestinian - Israeli Conflict which has embroiled them for generations. After all, both sides wish for a better future for themselves and their children.

Now with the renewal of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians under US patronage perhaps there is a flicker of hope for both sides. Maybe there is no room for great optimism as both sides have so many grudges against each other for historical reasons whether it is Al Naqba (the catastrophe) from the Palestinian side and with it the historical non-recognition of Israel's right to exist and the ongoing tragic Palestinian refugee problem which has defied a solution since 1948 when the State of Israel was established. The Palestinian violence against Israel with its tragic consequences for both sides have resulted in hatred and total lack of trust that will make negotiations for peace between the two sides almost impossible to achieve.

The establishment of the State of Israel had received the legal stamp of the United Nations Partition Plan adopted overwhelmingly on November 29th 1947 by a vote of 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions.[1]and therefore Israel's right to exist is unquestionable and irrefutable.

The Arab leadership (in and out of Palestine) opposed the plan.[88] The Arabs argued that it violated the rights of the majority of the people in Palestine, which at the time was 67% non-Jewish (1,237,000) and 33% Jewish (608,000).[89]
Arab leaders threatened the Jewish population of Palestine, speaking of "driving the Jews into the sea" and ridding Palestine "of the Zionist Plague".[90] On the eve of the Arab armies invasion, Azzam Pasha, the General Secretary of the Arab League, "describing the fate of the Jews" is said to have declared: "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades".[91] However, Joffe and Romirowsky report that this "cannot be confirmed from cited sources".[92] Six days later, Azzam told reporters "We are fighting for an Arab Palestine. Whatever the outcome the Arabs will stick to their offer of equal citizenship for Jews in Arab Palestine and let them be as Jewish as they like. In areas where they predominate they will have complete autonomy."[93]  (From Wikipedia)

The time has arrived for the Palestinian People to come to terms with Israel’s existence. The character of Israel is that of the majority of the people which is Jewish. Any denial of Israel’s identity as a Jewish state is tantamount to delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist. This does not mean denial of equal rights to Israel’s non-Jewish citizens which comprises 20% of the total population. Of course, the issues arising from the occupation and the Israeli Government's encouragement of settlements in lands conquered since the 1967 June War have to be addressed and a solution found acceptable to both parties in this unending conflict.

There are so many problems and pitfalls as well as the fact that Gaza is not involved in the negotiations because of the intransigence of Hamas in its uncompromising hate for Israel and its continuation of terrorist acts against Israelis. Hamas is an evil organization that terrorizes the Palestinians in Gaza especially those opposing Hamas. Their methods of torture are cruel and relentless in their desire to turn Gaza into an Islamic state under Iran's patronage.

The absence of Gaza at the negotiating table weakens the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas who will be under constant threat and harassment by the Hamas regime in Gaza as well as the Hamas cells in the occupied West Bank.

At the same time, Israel must also show some flexibility by maintaining the settlement freeze or else President Mahmoud Abbas's rather tenuous standing in the negotiations will be further weakened and he will pull out of the negotiations which would result in total collapse of the new US sponsored peace initiative.

However, with all the best intentions of the Obama Administration to achieve a peace settlement, the odds are stacked heavily against an end to this tragic conflict. It could end up like all the numerous attempts in the past that have failed. All that remains of past failures are photographs of forced smiles on the faces of the leaders of their respective peoples and their representatives in the negotiations.

Both Netanyahu and Abbas have huge problems even in the preliminary stages. Netanyahu has a right wing coalition which is supportive of the right wing settler movement and the continuation of building new settlements in the occupied territories. It is unlikely that the coalition will agree to continuation of the settlement freeze even though it was and still is cosmetic. Any signing of a peace treaty with the Palestinians could severely endanger Netanyahu’s coalition and result in its break up.

Abbas also has a large problem. He is weak and does not have much popular support from his own people. An added problem is Hamas which is breathing down his neck waiting for the kill if he signs any agreement with Israel.

These two severe problems are a great threat to a successful outcome of any form of peace negotiations. It is hard to overlook these facts and carry on smiling in the negotiating rooms in the midst of photo opportunities.

How does one overcome these almost insurmountable problems? I really am at a loss for answers. Perhaps there is none.

Maybe a possible change of approach could be an answer. Some years ago I wrote about the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission similar to the South African model but modified to suit the situation between Israelis and Palestinians. The TRC was very successful in South Africa. It may not be the ideal solution but it could create a movement towards reconciliation and building up of trust between the two sides. The head of the commission could come from a neutral country. Representatives of both Israelis and Palestinians could be invited to appear before the commission and each should seek forgiveness from each other for the wrongs committed towards each other. The perpetrators of injustices on both sides should be encouraged to come forward and give evidence without being prosecuted and thus a healing process could be initiated prior to peace negotiations. This of course would be symbolic but if done with sensitivity and understanding could go a long way in building up trust and motivating both sides to achieve peace. It is a dynamic rather than a solution. What better time is there than now, even when viewing it from the Jewish ethic? A process of forgiveness for the wrongs and injustices done to both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples could begin. Both sides need to adopt the difficult and challenging path of reconciliation and a desire to make peace.
Three simple words are so important to solve the conflict without which no dynamic could ever begin - HOPE, TRUST and COEXISTANCE.






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