It is time we shift gears

The Palestinians, in general, have been extremely patient so far with their leadership. In good faith, we have tried our best to give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to knowing what is best for our people and cause. When late President Yasser Arafat declared a Palestinian state in 1988, the Palestinians, both inside Palestine and in the Diaspora, hesitated for a moment (given the concession of agreeing to accept only 22 percent of the historical homeland) before rallying around the leadership and jumping on board of a two-state solution.

Then came the negotiations and Palestinians again showed their support. After the Oslo Accords were signed, most Palestinians here in the West Bank and Gaza were swept up in the euphoria of the PLO’s homecoming, of the withdrawal of Israeli troops from their cities and the arrival of the first ever Palestinian police force on our soil.

Then we waited. We waited for years as Israel continued to breach these and other accords, as Jewish settlements continued to grow and swallow up more and more of our land and still no independent state could be seen on the horizon. As the general population began to grow weary of the broken promises and the continued entrenchment of an occupation it thought these agreements and negotiations would bring to an end, the wariness and frustration set in. Perhaps talks with Israel were futile, perhaps the leadership (at least the one headed by President Mahmoud Abbas) should try another tack, suddenly became food for thought among many Palestinians.

Today, the proximity talks, which started up mere months ago, have already faltered. Is it not time for the Palestinians to reassess this so-called peace track? Not only have the negotiations produced one flop after another, one can only construe Israel’s recent behavior as the proverbial straw that should break this camel’s back.

Take the most recent "scandal" of Israeli politics that surfaced a few days ago. "Scandal" must be parenthesized in the Israeli context because there has yet to be an Israeli one that hasn’t blown over in a matter of days (or months at most) without any real damage to its image. The "scandal" in question is a video tape of Benjamin Netanyahu nine years ago during a visit to a family in the settlement of Ofra. Clearly, the former Prime Minister at the time, but soon to be finance minister, did not know he was being taped. If he did, even he would have glossed over some of his words. As fate would have it, Benny was taped, uncensored, his true intentions towards the Palestinians unmasked.

"Now, they [Clinton Administration] did not want to give me that letter, [in reference to declaring the Jordan Valley an Israeli military site] so I did not give [them] the Hebron Agreement. I stopped the government meeting, I said: ‘I’m not signing.’ Only when the letter came … did I sign the Hebron Agreement. Why does this matter? Because at that moment I actually stopped the Oslo accord.”

Netanyahu goes on to boast about how the US is basically "in Israel’s pocket" and how he was not afraid to "maneuver" President Clinton, whom he calls "extremely pro-Palestinian".

"America is something that can be easily moved. Moved to the right direction … They won’t get in our way … Eighty per cent of the Americans support us. It’s absurd.” Nine years later, back in the seat of premier, Netanyahu has not changed his tune, only modified it for public consumption.

This videotape, disturbing as it is, is hardly an isolated glimpse into the psyche of Israeli government officials. Over the past month, Israel has given blatant indicators of why a Palestinian state, with east Jerusalem as its capital, is far from its agenda. Apparently, the state of Israel is now considering yet a new law to "legally" take over land in Jerusalem that falls into the obscure category of "abandoned property." This would include those who were forced from their homes in 1948 and later in 1967 and could not return. This is hardly "abandonment" given that they were forcefully kept from returning, but alas, this is Israel where anything goes. The more land Israel takes over in Jerusalem the less there will be for any future capital of Palestine, if such an entity is in the cards at all.

Then there is the new regulation passed in the Knesset on July 18 demanding that all those seeking citizenship to pledge allegiance to the state of Israel as a Jewish democratic state. This is not only a slap in the face of those who marry Palestinian-Israelis inside the Green Line, but is also a demeaning requirement for those who live in Jerusalem and need citizenship or permanent residency in order to remain "legally" in their own city. Again, this is one more hallmark of Israel’s efforts to discourage any Palestinian presence in Jerusalem in particular. And if there are less Palestinians with even less land in the eastern sector of the city, east Jerusalem itself will cease even to exist as a Palestinian populated area, swallowed up by pockets of Jewish Israeli presence.

No Israeli leader to date has ever concealed their reluctance if not outright rejection of a viable independent and contiguous Palestinian state. Some, it might be said, have done a better job than others in diplomatic marketing, but the endgame for Israel has always been the same. And there is no doubt the Palestinians have been working against an impossible current for too long.

That is why no one can ever say the Palestinians didn’t give the path of negotiations their best shot. But instead of frustrating themselves and their people by continuing to participate in this moth-to-the-light bashing, perhaps now is the time for our leaders to shift courses and rethink strategy. Instead of fruitless proximity talks, conditions never met and promises broken, how about a clear, focused and intensive campaign aimed at one thing and one thing only: ending Israel’s occupation, holding it accountable for its crimes and establishing that which is long overdue: a free Palestine.