I was in Jerusalem on November 4, 1995, the day Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Next day, the Jerusalem Post‘s front page headlines read, “Rabin: War hero and peacemaker,” “A black day for the whole Jewish nation,” and “Assassin: ‘God told me to kill Rabin’.”
Sadly and tragically, those headlines summed up the essence of the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict: heroes make wars, not peace; individual leaders can make a big difference; and the name of God is always invoked.
Talking to both Israelis and Palestinians shortly after the assassination, I was convinced back then that hopes for any genuine peace had been set back at least a decade. I believed those difficult times called for a new Israeli leader to emerge whose commitment to peace would be trusted by both Israelis and Palestinians. I was right.
Now with yet another new initiative, this one billed as “a road map“, I wonder if there is any greater chance for success than in 1995. Yet against all odds, I continue to hope, not for peace alone, but for peace with justice. For peace is not merely the absence of violence: justice must pave the way for it.
Unfortunately, I find that justice seems totally absent from America’s ambitious “road map” concept.
For example, the first task of the map’s proposed three-year plan has been loaded squarely on the shoulders of Palestinians, the very people under occupation — not on Israel with its vastly greater political and military power. Nevertheless, Palestinians are being told they must “immediately undertake an unconditional cessation of violence,“ in return for “supportive measures undertaken by Israel.“
The latter “supportive measures“ refers to an Israeli freeze on illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, combined with a “progressive“ Israeli military pullout from the autonomous Palestinian zones its troops have reoccupied since the intifada of September 28, 2000.
The “road map“ also specifies that Palestinians must promptly respond to an Israeli troop pullout with “comprehensive political reform in preparation for statehood, including drafting a Palestinian constitution.“ But Israel itself has no constitution, more than 50 years after its founding.
Therefore, why has Israel, with its far greater power, not been obligated first to freeze the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, since they were illegally established in the first place? And why were the Israelis not asked first to demilitarize the autonomous Palestinian zones they’ve been occupying for more than 30 months? Perhaps this “road map” is trying to hide the ugly truth that whether settlements are halted or not, and whether troops are pulled out or not, Israel can re-settle and re-invade Palestinian lands again any time it wishes.
In fact, America’s road map is a logistical and ethical non-starter whose only use is to fill a precarious political vacuum and show that the world seems to care about resolving the conflict. While I am deeply convinced that both Palestinians and Israelis do want peace, their visions of what peace means are very different.
Israel thinks that with its overwhelming military power and almost unconditional U.S. support, it can unilaterally dictate terms to the weaker Palestinians. It does not mind if Palestinians manage their own internal affairs or administer both Christian and Islamic holy sites in occupied East Jerusalem, for example, but it does not accept Palestinian sovereignty on land, sea and air.
Israel also wants most of its illegal armed settlements to stay where they are, on traditional Palestinian lands, protected by the Israeli army. Moreover, it rejects any rights of return for Palestinians who fled in 1948, or in 1967.
To the Palestinians, peace means having their own independent state, with full sovereignty over all land, sea and air space occupied by Israel in 1967, including Arab East Jerusalem. They want all armed Jewish settlements in these lands to be disbanded, but are willing to accept Jews as citizens of the new Palestinian state, just as some Palestinian Muslims and Christians are accepted by the current state of Israel.
Palestinians feel they are offering a very generous compromise, since they have already given up close to 80 per cent of historical Palestine to the state of Israel and deserve to live free in the 20 per cent that remains.
Extending justice toward the Palestinians is a necessary condition for establishing genuine peace and security for Israel. And real sustainable security can only be attained through the good will of all of Israeli’s neighbors, especially the Palestinians.
The sad fact, however, is that Israel, which holds the key for establishing justice in the region, has not yet recognized that the courageous approach would be to extend healing and reconciliation toward the Palestinians — not closures, sanctions, incursions, home destructions, and bloodshed.
Israelis and Palestinians do not need a “road map” to peace, but leaders who are themselves true peacemakers. Until then real peace; that is, peace with justice, must take a holiday… not a holy day.