Peace is the only option


Just as His Majesty King Abdullah told the BBC this week, both Palestinians and Israelis must put an end to violence if both want genuine peace in the region.

Hopes are now pinned on the planned meeting between Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres this week, on paving the way for a resumption of peace negotiations.

Indeed, the meeting is clearly designated by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as an exercise at checking the “violence” and “terrorism” assumed to be waged by the Palestinians, and no negotiations will take place until they accept his conditions without question and abide by them. But the hopes that we attach to the meeting stem from our realisation and acceptance that there is no other option but negotiations to restore peace and stability to the area.

Let us make no mistake. The Arabs are not ready for war with Israel on behalf of the Palestinians. The reasons are many, depending on the political, economic and strategic priorities of individual Arab countries and regimes. These clearly rule out the possibility of a new Arab-Israeli war, least of all prompted by Arab frustration over the deadlock in the peace process and the denial of justice for the Palestinians.

We know that there is only one option – negotiations – and we continue to harbour hope against hope that a miracle will occur to end the bloodshed, and the Israelis and Palestinians will simply sit down and start negotiating again. But within ourselves we know that those hopes are unfounded.

Arafat and Peres have dealt with each other diplomatically and otherwise for more than seven years now, and both know their priorities and each other well, and, as such, there is hope that the two might come up with some form of a compromise that might eventually lead to renewed peace talks. But that is perhaps the farthest of all possibilities as we take note of the realities on the ground.

Whatever Arafat and Peres might agree on, will not be implemented. There are many reasons why Arafat and Peres will be unable to make any real difference to the situation. Lack of political clout on the part of Peres and the internal feuding between Likud and Labour in the Sharon coalition will ensure that whatever ideas Peres carries with him from his meeting with Arafat will be stillborn.

Peres is even accused of showing “diplomatic ambivalence” by his desire to meet Arafat and of undermining Sharon’s stated policy of “not negotiating under fire.”

This only means one thing: Israel’s mind is made up against any negotiations and it is in a mood to wage a “contained” war against the Palestinians until they succumb to pressure and appeal for peace in whatever form and content.

Sharon is determined that the past eleven months of violence should be turned into Israel’s advantage. That can only be achieved if the Palestinians are oppressed further, with the noose of occupation tightened round their necks.

The strangling blockades, military assaults, assassinations and army incursions into the areas handed over to the Palestinians under agreements signed since 1993, are clearly aimed at hammering down the message to the Palestinians that they are at Israel’s mercy and no one can help them.

The decision by the Palestinians not to press for the adoption of a resolution containing their legitimate demands at the UN Security Council, is indeed another victory for Israel, and it was known from day one this would be the outcome of the heated but meaningless-in-action debate at the council for the past week.

Obviously, Israel sees the defeat of the Palestinians to secure Security Council support for their legitimate struggle, as another strong message that they better accept as inevitable the Israeli version of a “peace” agreement.

If that was not enough, read US President George Bush’s declaration that his country would boycott the upcoming Durban conference if the Arabs as much as mention Zionism as an issue there.

And Israel is ready to press home the point further by stepping up its military assaults on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza for as long as it takes them to see things the Israeli way.

Of course, Sharon expects more Palestinian resistance attacks, including suicide bombings that might kill more Israelis, but they see those actions as a convenient and strong argument that could be used to augment their case of “Palestinian terrorism” and justify their brutality against the Palestinians.

That is the picture in a nutshell. What is the way out of this quagmire? There are no miracle solutions coming our way. The basis for a just and comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians has to be mutual trust and willingness to recognise each other’s rights.

The Palestinians did their part when they signed the Oslo agreements and waited in jubilation for the peace talks that followed to lead to their cherished goal of independence, freedom and life in dignity.

Their expectation was that the Oslo agreement signalled the beginning of a historic reconciliation and they believed that the Israelis were ready to make the compromises necessary for the cause of peace, just as the Palestinians and Arabs did when they accepted the Oslo accords.

We now know that Palestinian hopes were totally misguided and Israel had no intention of recognizing their rights to independence and statehood. But where does that awareness lead us? What are our options?

The answer clearly lies with the powers that be in the Arab world.

Mr. Musa Keilani contributed this article to the Jordan Times.