Shimon Peres, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel, told reporters that one must be honest and fair when dealing with the prevailing situation between Israel and Palestine.
I intend to be honest and fair with Israelis through this call. We realize that Israelis nowadays have strong convictions about the following:
First- That the Palestinian Authority had rejected a “generous offer” that was submitted by the Prime Minister of Israel General Ehud Barak. This is in reference to the Camp David talks, that were attended by Barak, President Arafat and sponsored by the U.S Ex-President Bill Clinton. This impression among the Israeli public might have led them to believe that the Palestinian Authority and President Yasser Arafat don’t want a solution, nor do they want peace.
Second: The Israeli public is under the impression that the insistence of the PA to implement the right of return of Palestinian refugees, means that the PA is planning to flood Israel with four million Palestinians. This in turn would mean diluting the State of Israel by creating a situation quite similar to a bi-national State, in place of the Hebrew State of Israel.
Third: The Israeli public is also under the impression that the Intifada of 28 Sept. 2000 was a planned activity, and that its aim is to destroy the State of Israel.
Fourth: The Israeli public does not know what really is going on in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. That is why they are under the impression that the Palestinians are the aggressors, and that the Israelis are the victims.
These are very serious and dangerous impressions. If these impressions continue to influence public opinion in Israel, the repercussions will be catastrophic. Violence begets violence, and escalating violence will mean that there will be a counter-escalation.
The result will definitely be: More Palestinians and Israelis killed.
We do not want this nor did we plan for it. That is why I am making this call to the Israelis; I want to be honest and fair but also truthful. Palestinians want peace with the Israelis. They don’t want war. Their strategic and tactical choices are to establish peace between them and the Israelis, through a peace agreement to be signed by the Independent Sovereign State of Palestine and the State of Israel.
The Palestinians recognize the right of Israel to live behind safe and secure boundaries, and they expect the Israelis to recognize the same for the Palestinian state.
The Palestinians aim at establishing peace with Israel, on the basis of a political solution and through negotiations (not through fighting), with the direct aim of implementing the international resolutions leading to:
Ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands that has been strangling the Palestinians for the past 34 years.
Establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the land of Palestine occupied on 5th June 1967, according to international resolutions.
Signing a peace agreement with Israel that will define the future cooperation in relations between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.
Palestinians have no intention (now or in the future) to call for or strive for the destruction of Israel.
As for the prevailing painful conditions, we would like to make clear to the Israelis that we do not approve, in fact we condemn, and strongly disapprove of all military or paramilitary activities committed against civilians, whether carried out by Israeli soldiers or Palestinian extremists. Moreover, we believe that terrorist activities carried out against civilians harm to a great extent the peace process and any potential agreement.
Specifically, we think that through targeting civilians both sides have destroyed their image in the world and have turned the Holy Land into a bloody one.
The impression that President Arafat rejected the ” generous offer” of Barak, at Camp David, was denied vehemently by the special advisor of President Bill Clinton on Middle Eastern affairs. This is documented in his article that was published in the New York review of books.
Israelis can ask Minister Shahak, Ben Ami and Yossi Belen about that too. Arafat was asking for the implementation of the agreements signed between Israel and Palestine before getting to the final status which is the full implementation of Security Council resolution 242.
Barak had preconditions and conditions that would have made the agreement practically impossible. In Taba, things moved forward to a great extent, but Barak ordered a stop to negotiations for purely electioneering purposes.
The Palestinians did not plan the Intifada, nor had it prepared. It was a spontaneous reaction to provocation, mistrust, indignation, confiscation of Palestinian land and the construction of more colonialist settlements on their land. The provocative visit of Sharon to Al Haram Al Sharif was the last straw.
The strategy of the Intifada is in fact its declared aim: to put an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands occupied in 1967; not to destroy Israel.
The Israelis are invited to come to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem to see with their own eyes the crimes committed by the Israeli occupation forces against the Palestinians.
They are demolishing the houses of thousands of civilians on any pretext.
They are uprooting fruit trees which provide a livelihood for tens of thousands of families (so far 196,000 fruit trees have been uprooted)
They are using tank shells to retaliate against stone throwers and Molotov cocktails, which the Palestinians are using to defend themselves.
They are using Appache Helicopters to assassinate political activists.
They are torturing and humiliating Palestinians at Israeli military checkpoints.
They are imposing an economic and logistical siege on the whole people of Palestine. 60% of the population now lives below the poverty line, losses are estimated at 7.0 billion dollars, and 70% of the workforce has been rendered unemployed.
We are not listing these practices for the sake of argument, but to inform the Israelis of the actions of their soldiers and officers on our land.
This we do in order to move to the important and main point:
Israelis ask yourselves é what is the Israeli army doing on the soil of Palestine? Why are the Israeli soldiers everywhere enslaving the Palestinians?
The Palestinians do not want them on their soil. They want them to leave and go back to their homes and families in Israel.
Can the Israelis understand that the Palestinians have the right to freedom, self-determination and independence as much as they themselves have these rights?
No nation on earth will accept to be occupied and enslaved, not even the Israelis themselves.
We do not accept it and we would like to put an end to it and to establish peace with Israel.
Therefore, we have to work together, Israelis and Palestinians, to break this vicious cycle of violence. Let’s get together, let’s sit down and negotiate peace, let’s save the lives of Israelis and Palestinians and move to peace and cooperation.
Let’s exert pressure on both the Israeli Government and the PA to move to final status negotiations.
Two states can live together in peace and cooperation: The State of Israel and The State of Palestine.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special e=Nesor to President Arafat.