Israel should use ‘fair play, not stalling tactics’

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The window of opportunity that the European Union leaders see for peace in the Middle East exists. But opening that window is clearly an Israeli responsibility. If the Israelis believe that their military superiority over the Palestinians is the way to impose peace in the region, then they are mistaken. As such, the European Union should follow up its optimistic view of prospects for peace in the region with concrete action.

In fact, all eyes are optimistically focused on Europe to break the deadlock in the Middle East. We all know that the current US-brokered ceasefire is at best wobbly and it would take a simple incident for it to collapse. The reason is also simple: a ceasefire for the sake of averting violence does not work unless it is made in good faith, in an atmosphere where both sides have the good will to turn that truce into a pillar for negotiations based on justice and fairness.

The Palestinians are ready to negotiate in good faith with the expectations that their usurped land would be returned to them and their political rights would be respected in the final agreement. But the Israelis want to use the ceasefire and subsequent negotiations to advance its quest for its own version of peace in Palestine. That version has little semblance of the Palestinian aspirations for freedom, independence, statehood and life in dignity.

All of us are ready to accept that historic injustices cannot be put right by simple agreements; it needs a mindset to accept, recognise and respect the reality, regardless of bitterness. But the Israelis have shut off themselves against the reality that there existed a people in Palestine who had as much right to the land as anyone long before the state of Israel was created. The Israelis have to realise that it is illogical for them to expect the Palestinians to simply accept the Israeli version of an agreement that denies the Palestinians their historic rights, which are indeed upheld by UN resolutions and international conventions.

We all know that Israel does not feel it has to negotiate peace in good faith, and it believes that it would be doing the Palestinians a favour by agreeing to grant them whatever it wants to give them. Israel knows that it does not have to worry too much about international anger over its blatant violation of all laws, conventions and norms of behaviour because it has the world’s sole superpower as the guardian angel.

A clear example is right here. The Bush administration sent Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) chief George Tenet to broker the latest ceasefire. Tenet met with Israeli as well as Palestinian leaders and somehow cobbled a truce that may or may not lead to a resumption of peace negotiations. The going was getting too tough on the internal front for Israel, what with suicide blast after suicide blast, and the heat was felt in Washington. When it was announced that Tenet was coming to the region, it did not cause much ripple in the Arab and Palestinian circles since it was known that whatever plans Tenet was bringing with him would be tailored to Israel’s needs.

Whomever Tenet met, whatever he discussed and however persuasive he was, the impression a majority of the Arabs had was that here was an American official who was carrying Israeli-made recipes with a dash of an American colour aimed at intimidating the Palestinians into accepting them. It may not have been the truth; perhaps there was a strong element of Washington’s sincerity in the initiative. But the track record of the US, as seen from the Arab perspective, tells us to look behind the shoulders of any American approach to the Middle East.

It was not the Palestinian satisfaction over US fairness and honesty that led to the wobbly ceasefire; it was a realisation on the part of the Palestinian leadership that its authority was being eroded in the surging violence and that it might find itself out of the corridors of power – whatever little is indeed vested in it. That realisation was coupled with whatever coercive methods were used by Tenet to drive home the point that the US initiatives had the might of the CIA behind them; it would have been a folly for the Palestinian leadership not to accept them if they wanted to continue to retain their positions.

Now that Tenet has come and gone, the next phase is a tug-of-war between the Palestinian leaders and the rank and file who have seen little assurance that the ceasefire would lead to genuine negotiations, aimed at working out the technicalities of Palestinian independence rather than focusing on whether they would have independence.

The Israelis have made a few token moves here and there but they still occupy strategic positions to “punish” any Palestinian who is suspected of resistance activities. They now want the Palestinian leadership to resort to summary arrests of the heroes of resistance. But the Palestinian leaders are smarter than that. They realise that any crackdown on Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any other resistance group would only backfire at them. The Israelis should realise that. They should make the atmosphere conducive to peace negotiations by turning away from issuing non-starting demands, like summary arrests of resistance activists, and instead building some sense of confidence.

That is where the European Union’s call for reviving the Sharm Al Sheikh agreement comes into play. But then, all said and done, the Israelis would only revive those elements of the Sharm Al Sheikh agreement that meet their needs and narrow interests.

So the ball has not actually been delivered from the European court. The Europeans should make sure that the ball they serve is weighted enough to convince the Israelis of the need for fair play and not stalling tactics.

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

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