I still remember that afternoon in the fall of 1993 when Palestinian pacifist Mubarak Awad hurled a huge Palestinian flag from the office of the Palestinian center for the study of nonviolence which lies next to the Orient House. Israeli soldiers who had in the past shot at anyone seen with what had been an illegal flag, stood by without interfering. That evening we were pleasantly surprised when we saw that the graphic designer of Israel TV had created a collage backdrop which included a Palestinian flag alongside the Israeli flag.
While Palestinian and Israeli leaders Arafat and Rabin were shaking hands at the White House lawn, we in Jerusalem and other Palestinian areas were celebrating the legitimization of our national struggle by raising our national flag. This recognition of Palestinian nationalism was as important for us as the recognition by Palestinians of the state of Israel. For us we believed that this was the beginning of a historic reconciliation between our two peoples.
This reconciliation was never fulfilled because Israel leaders were unwilling to follow through what their recognition of Palestinian nationalism meant in terms of ceding to Palestinian demands of independence on their land. The Oslo Agreement’s five year interim phase was supposed to prepare the road for a sovereign independent Palestinian state, with territorial integrity, alongside the state of Israel on the areas occupied in June 1967. Seven years later this dream was unfulfilled as Israel’s lust for Palestinian land continued unabated. Illegal Jewish settlement expansion continued and in negotiations Israeli political leaders were not willing to accept the international communities will as represented in a variety of UN laws and resolutions. Even flexible Palestinian positions to exchange portions of land on condition that it be in the same amount and quality were rejected by Israelis who duped the world into believing that they made a generous offer to the Palestinians. An occupier who offers to to keep more than 10 percent of prime West Bank land and all of East Jerusalem is reflecting the arrogance of sheer power. Instead of right being might, Israel displays a policy of might being right.
Israeli military might is now shutting out all political avenues for resolving the conflict. Attempts to restart political negotiations are facing an Israeli-made veto. The right wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon wants the Palestinians to unilaterally stop their resistance- while Israeli continues its occupation, settlements and assassination- as a pre requisite for Israel to consider going back to the talks. Every armed conflict in the world has never seen a cease fire agreement that is devoid of a political element. With the present Israeli government refusing to make any reasonable political offer, Palestinians have little incentive to stop their resistance. Negotiations the world over – from north Ireland to South Africa to even a simple labor dispute- has never succeeded on such one sided demands. Political and military solutions must be agreed on simultaneously. Fighters who lay down their weapons without a political deal get crushed just as workers who end their strike without a labor agreement lose any negotiating power.
Last week the conflict took yet a more dangerous turn reversing gains of the past years When Israeli soldiers occupied the Orient House, the PLO’s unofficial headquarters in East Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers removed the Palestinian flag and hoisted an Israeli flag in its place. And as if to prove that this was not an act of a hot headed soldiers, members of the Israeli army and police continued to remove Palestinian flags raised spontenuously by Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. No longer was the issue a conflict over percentage of Palestinian territory or the right to return, but the latest Israeli action signals a clear Israeli rejection of Palestinian nationalism. Attempting to negate Palestinian national rights is an attempt at de–legitimizing and dehumanizing Palestinians. It closes down a basic tenet in any future Middle East agreement which must include mutual recognition by Palestinians and Israelis of the national right of the other.
In 1988 and as a result of the first intifada Palestinians made the historic decision to recognize Israel when they declared a Palestinian state alongside of Israel. The clauses questioning Israel’s existence in the PLO covenant were removed in a public meeting witnessed by the President of the US and the rest of the world.
Israel, however, has never really recognized the national rights of Palestinians including their right to self determination on their own land. Violently removing Palestinian flags in East Jerusalem might seem a silly act by an arrogant occupying power. But unless Israelis understand the dangers behind this move, we will be in an unending violent cycle that sees no way out. Of the three million Palestinians living in the occupied territories 200,000 proud Palestinians live in East Jerusalem. The only way for Israel to live in peace and tranquility is to yield to the Palestine legitimate political and national rights. In order for a true historic reconciliation to begin once more all Palestinians must be feel proud of their nation.
Almost twenty years ago, Ariel Sharon was involved in a similar struggle aimed at eradicating Palestinian nationalism. His attempts in 1982 to crush the PLO, failed, and he since been tainted with the war crimes of the Sabra and Shatilla massacres.
Peace loving Palestinians and Israelis pray for an end to this vicious cycle of violence. A first step in this direction has to be a genuine recognition of Palestinian nationalism. Only by going this way can we ever hope for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside a tranquil state of Israel.
Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.