It’s Not as Hard as it Seems

Some people just don’t get it. Reaching a lasting peace with Israel is a difficult, arduous and detailed-riddled feat, but it is not impossible, unless of course, the Palestinians (and Israelis) stay on the path they have been on for years. Much has been said about the Palestinians returning to direct talks with Israel, mostly critical. The criticism, in all fairness, is appropriate given that the Palestinians are diving head first into the talks with nothing to fall back on other than faith in President Obama’s good intentions. Israel, on the other hand, is more confident given that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid down his conditions prior to accepting the invitation. Hence, despite the ‘optimism’ Washington has expressed about the start of talks, most are in consensus that the hullaballoo is really "much ado about nothing."

It doesn’t have to be this way, however. Palestinian society is complex and political pluralism has always been a source of pride for us. There are opinions across the spectrum, many of which have not been given a voice. In short, Palestinian society is not as polarized as it would seem to be. There is a sector in between the rejectionists in all their glory and between those perceived to be bending over backwards to international pressures. This writer is going to take the liberty of representing this middle-of-the-line.

In Palestine, a serious problem has arisen, largely due to the political split between Hamas and Fateh, which of course also manifests itself in the geographical divide between Gaza and the West Bank. One ramification of this has been that the world –” the US, Europe and Israel mostly –” now classifies the Palestinians in much the same way. There are those who support President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority and government in Ramallah and there are those who support Hamas and its de facto government in Gaza. Those in the middle are either completely disregarded or simply marginalized to the point of ineffectiveness.

This is unfortunate, to say the least. As Abbas and his team of negotiators delve into the murky waters of US-brokered direct talks with Israel, there are those who may criticize the methods and the circumstances surrounding these talks but not necessarily the principle of a negotiated peace deal. This group, which includes Palestinians working in civil society, in the private sector and even in the government has something to offer but is just not being heard enough.

A peace deal is not impossible. Most Palestinians have long ago resigned themselves to the fact that Israel will eventually be a neighbor in some capacity or other. This, my friends, was not an easy recognition and not one to be taken lightly. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homes in 1948 never to return. Today over five million Palestinians can call themselves refugees, an unenviable plight that has yet to be rectified. For a real peace deal to be reached, the refugee problem must be addressed, based on their right to return. Once this right is acknowledged by Israel and the world, the details of implementation or compensation can be discussed between the parties. Without this, no lasting peace can ever prevail just like no person can survive for long with an unattended gaping and bleeding wound.

Jewish settlements in the West Bank are another point. President Abbas has insisted that Israel must continue its settlement freeze for talks to continue, but honestly that is not nearly enough. Settlements are and always will be illegal under international law. Nothing can and should change that. Even some Israelis know this to be true. Over 150 Israeli artists have signed a petition saying they would not perform in Ariel –” one of the West Bank’s biggest settlements –” or in any other Jewish settlement for that matter. Another 150 American artists followed suit.

"We support the theater artists refusing to play in Ariel, express our appreciation of their public courage and thank them for bringing the debate on settlements back into the headlines," the petition reads. "We’d like to remind the Israeli public that like all settlements, Ariel is also in occupied territory."

Then there is Jerusalem, the city of gold. Palestinians have already been kicked out of more than half of it and have resigned to the status quo. However, Israel is an occupying power in the east side, international law says so and even the US cannot refute this fact. If Israel does not accept for Jerusalem to be an international capital for all (unfortunately so) then Palestinians will have their capital in the eastern sector. This does not mean that an arrangement for worship in the holy sites can not be made or that the Palestinians will begin bombing the western sector of the city the moment they take power. If peace is reached, it will be lasting.

Of course there is a list of other issues that must be hammered out but these could all be settled if a sound framework is set. The negotiations in and of themselves are not the problem. On the contrary, they are the best tool utilized in any conflict resolution scenario. How many sticky conflicts in history have been resolved through a negotiated settlement? US special envoy to the peace process George Mitchell himself was party to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement for Northern Ireland in 1998. So, the majority of Palestinians who are opposed to the negotiations with Israel are only opposed to the framework and conditions (or lack thereof) of these negotiations and not the principle itself.

This is not to say that there is a sector of Palestinian society (namely Hamas) that is completely isolated from the entire negotiating scene because of its rejectionist nature. Even they, however, can be persuaded if a fair and just solution is reached.

That is the key phrase though – "fair and just". The negotiating experience so far has failed for this reason –” the solutions proposed were neither fair nor just. The leadership now has an opportunity to tap into this energy among its people to strengthen its own position and realize that its nation will rally around them only if and when they truly represent them.