(Jerusalem, 2001) – Today, for the first time since 1948, the Middle East woke up to its future. Late into the night, hawkish Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, surprised even the most radical Palestinians, and ordered the Israeli Defense Forces to end 34 years of military occupation of Palestinian lands. Israel has militarily controlled every aspect of Palestinian life ever since it illegally occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in 1967. The operation of withdrawing Israeli forces to their pre-1967 borders has been coined, “Operation Face History” and is expected to be completed in 48 hours.
Prime Minister Sharon went on national Israeli television and called for a 3-day curfew in Israel and Palestine while Operation Face History is implemented. Reporters were the only ones there to witness truckloads of Palestinian political prisoners being set free and Israeli soldiers, military assets and settler families being hauled toward Israel proper. In his 20-minute address to the nation, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon made three references to similar blunt actions taken by the South African regime in 1994 that ended Apartheid once and for all.
Israeli settlements, once a major obstacle to peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, are surprisingly being left behind for Palestinian use in housing the surge of Palestinian refugees expected to return from their Diaspora. Sharon, who as a General in 1977 ordered the bulldozing of the Israeli settlement Yamit in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula prior to the ending of Israeli occupation there, was quoted today as saying, “The settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip were once our hope and dream. A dream that was based on Eretz Israel [Greater Israel]. Today, we are facing the historical reality that this fantasy has utterly failed and during our attempt to force our will upon the region we have caused tremendous human suffering to the Palestinians. Keeping these housing units behind for Palestinian refugee use is the least we can do to start and mend 53 years of oppression.”
Concerning the complicated issue of the Palestinian Right of Return (to their homes in Historic Palestine that they were expelled from in 1948 by Israel), the Israeli Prime Minister stated for the first time ever that Israel acknowledges this as a Palestinian political and human right. Sharon affirmed that Israel, which created the Palestinian Diaspora, would do its utmost to ensure that an equitable resolution takes place within an internationally led commission. Sharon stated that this international commission, led by the UN, would oversee the practical implementation of Palestinian’s Right of Return and would be bound by a definite timeline which will be fully respected. In the meantime, Sharon announced that, since the Palestinians are now in full control of their own borders, they have the unilateral option of accepting any person they wish into their country.
As for another historical sticky point, Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian President Arafat issued a joint communiqué stating that they have both accepted that the city would remain open and be the capital of both States. Likewise, a second international commission will hold the responsibility to manage the interaction between East and West Jerusalem for as long as it takes until both sides agree to a governance model that brings lasting stability. This international commission will be comprised of representatives of all of the recognized supranational political bodies of the world such as, The League of Arab States, United Nations, European Union, Organization of African Unity, and the Organization of American States. In addition to these regional bodies, representatives from the three monolithic religions, including the Holy See, will be equal partners in this International Jerusalem Management Commission as will a team from Palestine and another from Israel, guaranteeing the access to all holy sites, including Muslim, Jewish and Christian. As for immediate security concerns, both leaders acknowledged their acceptance of a 10,000-strong UN Peacekeeping force that will start to arrive within 48 hours.
The world’s reaction to these extraordinary developments has been one of joy and relief. Expectations are that tourism over the next 5 years in the region will rise by over 3,000%. Corporations from all corners of the globe are competing to get a piece of the peace dividend.
Corporate America alone has offered hundreds of millions in financial, material and in-kind support to the State of Palestine to facilitate its rehabilitation following its bitter years under U.S.-funded Israeli Occupation. A group of 100 American Fortune 500 firms issued a joint statement today stating that, “our government was on the wrong side of history in the Middle East for the last 50 years, we owe it to our nation and to the Arab World to bring Palestine into the 21st century as rapidly as possible.”
In related news, dovish Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres committed suicide today in his New York hotel room following a speech that he gave at a gala dinner of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is the pro-Israeli lobby in the U.S. It was reported that Foreign Minister Peres left behind a note explaining how he could not face returning home to confront the Israeli people after accepting to be sent to the U.S. by Prime Minster Sharon to cover up for the last 7 months of Israeli aggression on Palestinians civilians.
Mr. Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman, born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, who relocated to his family’s home in Al-Bireh, West Bank immediately following the signing of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994).