Is there reason for hope in Palestine?

When director of policy planning for the State Department, Dennis Ross says that there is reason for hope in the Middle East, (There are reasons for hope in the Middle East, May 28, 2002) I believe what he says. Ross says that there are reasons for hope because “Twenty months of intifada have crystallized this reality for the Israelis and Palestinians: Palestinians won’t settle for less than a state, but the call for a right to return has made Israelis wonder whether Palestinians are prepared to live with Israel as a Jewish state.”

It seems that Ross is saying in this statement that the people of Israel believe the many accusations being leveled against Muslims and Arabs by writers for various Zionist magazines and organizations who have written numerous articles wherein they claim that Islamists, as well as Palestinians in general, and Arabs, are all “anti-Semitic” and hell bent on the destruction of Israel since it is Israel’s desire, and objective to be a Jewish only state. The reality is that the people being charged are the people who most wish that Israel would be a Jewish, rather than a Zionist state, guided by the principles of Torah rather than the political ideals of Zionists ideologues like Herzl and Ben-Gurion. As we understand the teachings of Torah represented by non-Zionist Rabbis and scholars, Judaism could accommodate a pluralistic state, where people of all races, creeds and colors and religions could live side by side in peace with full and equal rights of citizenship.

The only other thing that can be said in response to this concern is that Islamists, like many Jewish people and scholars, do not believe that Zionism is Judaism. Neither do Islamists believe that criticism of Zionism is in fact a critique of Judaism, and this position is supported by such noted Jewish scholars as Alfred Lilienthal, Rabbi Dovid Weiss, Rabbi Elmer Berger, and many others, including Washington Post writer Richard Cohen who wrote recently that one can criticize Zionism without being anti-Semitic the same as one can criticize Yasser Arafat and not be anti-Arab. I add that this is the same with the Islamic movement, which has been subjected to harsh and unfair criticisms, yet Muslims do not say that everyone who criticizes the Islamic movement is anti-Islam.

   As for statehood, the Palestinian right to return is a completely separate issue from the issue of Palestinian statehood in my view, unless and until a state is actually established. The right to return is supported by international law in respect to the rights of refugees to return to their countries of origin. No doubt the way in which Israel came into being, and the steps that it has taken to convince the world of its legitimacy and sovereignty has required that much of the law as we know it be set aside to accommodate Israel, yet even Mr. Ross must know that claims by Israeli settlers that they fear that a Palestinian state will be anti-Semitic, and therefore perpetually seeking Israel’s destruction is not a fear that can be assuaged by denying repatriation and return of the Palestinian people to their land. When and if statehood is ! ever declared and recognized, the issue of Palestinian return becomes a domestic and internal Palestinian issue, the same as will the immigration of Jews to Israel. Of course there are other issues that will impact the feasibility of mass immigrations and resettlement of exiles etc., and these are the issues that in the view of many observers must be priorities in any future negotiations. These include borders, the reconstruction of Palestinian villages destroyed by Israel, restitution for land confiscation and destruction of crops and livestock by Israeli settlers, and of course water rights.

Arab countries that are home to Muslims, Arabs, Christians, and others, who hold disparate views on the status of Israel surround Israel on all sides. Yet, unlike their Zionist counterparts in Israel who admittedly hate and despise Arabs and Muslims, and whose public officials publicly call them animals, beasts, and other vulgar names, the people of these countries have never sought to destroy all Jews, in fact many Jewish people live in religious communities undisturbed in these same countries, and in some instances even participate in government and other civic institutions. There is no basis for the concern that a right to return for Palestinians is a threat to the Jewish character of Israel, especially if we are considering the right for Palestinians to return to an independent and sovereign Palestinian state.

Recognizing that the Israeli people might feel at this juncture, that Palestinian statehood is somehow predicated upon their acceptance or rejection of the idea, the challenge exists to address their concerns that even if a Palestinian state is established Israel will live under a continuous threat of annihilation at the hands of anti-Semitic Arabs and Muslims. Yet, one might also ask, what ability Islamists and Arabs have to address such fears, when it is Zionists in Israel, and also here in the United States creating, and perpetuating these fears. Arabs and Muslims, who say over and over again that they are not anti-Semitic and not out for the destruction of Israel are ignored, while Zionists instigators of hate continue to spread the seeds of hate and fear with false allegations against Muslims and Arabs.  Hope in Palestine rests in the fact ! that as Ross says in his article, the Israeli people have recognized that the only real answer to the fear that Israel will loose its Jewish character is that an independent Palestinian state be established, this guarantees homelands for both peoples, to which they can turn their attention and refocus their energies. 

Borders is another area where Ross sees hope. In his article he suggests that Israelis are willing to make substantial land concessions that would allow Palestine to be united, rather than broken up into various Bantustans and encircled by illegal Jewish settlements, check points, and roads constructed for the use of Jews only, yet he doesn’t address the numerous proposals submitted from the Arab side that offers Israel acceptance and normalized relations in exchange for its withdrawal to its 1967 U.N. mandated borders. Even the Islamic resistance movement Hamas has stated that it would accept a cease-fire agreement, and a negotiated political settlement with Israel based on the principles of the Saudi sponsored land for peace deal, which offers the same. The deal, in principle, sets the stage for meaningful discussions on other peace related issues, since it represents a sort of restitut! ion, and long awaited Israeli compliance to the international law that prohibits land acquisition through military conquest. Granted that people can concede rights granted by law, in exchange for negotiated agreements, yet, when one considers the very difficult job of finding a fair and reasonable solution to the question of borders, and the fact that someone, must somehow satisfy the Palestinian peoples desires for almost immediate relief, time seems more the enemy of protracted negotiations on border issues than anything else, especially when we consider that each day Israel continues its raids on Palestinian villages and refugee camps, and that Palestinian retaliation will likely continue in spite of Israel’s rounding up young men, killing activists, etc. Even if Yasser Arafat arrests those accused of acts of retaliation, and Ariel Sharon constructs fences, there is a strong possibility that with each day that passes without hope, or signs of relief, the possibility for a! successful negotiated peace is diminished.

The hope that Dennis Ross has observed in Israel, is also alive in Palestine, this is evidenced by the collective show of support for a negotiated political rather than a military resolution to the current crisis voiced and demonstrated by Arab nationalists, Muslims, Christians and Islamists alike. Yet with each day that passes, and each Israeli raid, the hope dims, and unless we are ready for 35 more years of violence, broken agreements, and further entrenched hatreds and distrust, we must seize the time.

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women.