The option left to the Palestinians

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UN Secretary general’s words could not but be applauded by all Arabs hearing him condemn the extrajudicial killing of Palestinians and usurpation of their land by Israeli occupation forces.

It is at this crucial juncture that we miss Assistant Secretary of State William Burns who knows the keys to open opportunities for dialogue, as well as the exact location of all political landmines that might engulf the whole region into another cycle of suicide bombing.

The Arabs are accusing the United States of having thrown in its lot with Israel in the Middle East conflict. The Israelis claim the US is not doing enough to support them. In a typical situation, the US has every right to claim that its stand is correct, and that is why it is under criticism from both sides. But it is not a typical situation at all.

The words of displeasure coming from Israeli commentators against what they describe as an unsatisfactory stand on the part of the US are aimed only at deceiving the international community. Those comments serve, to an extent, the purpose of giving Washington a pretext to argue that it is on the correct, unbiased direction in the Middle East, while dealing with internal public opinion and international forums.

However, we in the Arab world know differently. We know it as an outright lie when Israelis accuse the US of “protecting” Palestinian President Yasser Arafat. We know so because the facts on the ground clearly show otherwise.

Since the day it became clear that Arafat would not sign on the dotted line of an Israeli version of a peace agreement, as outlined at Camp David in the summer of 2000, the US has been supporting every Israeli action aimed at wrecking the political structure that Arafat built towards conditioning his people to accept compromises with the Israelis in order to achieve the elusive state of peace and stability.

Indeed, the American support for Israel did not come to us as a bolt from the blue. We have known all along that when it comes to a crunch, we would find Washington on the Israeli side of the fence; and that is what has happened? Today, Arafat’s strategies and approaches have little credibility among his constituents. He is indeed the symbol of the Palestinian struggle, but the Palestinians have realised that Israel had all along sought to use him to serve its purposes and now it has simply dumped him since it found that he could not be expected to be the Muslim, Arab or Palestinian who would bargain away the legitimate rights of his people.

As such, the Palestinians have realised that under the present balance of power in the region, they could not hope for a fair and just deal from Israel; because Israel has to undergo many changes in its mindset so as to accept the inevitability of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians as being the only solid foundation for peace, and because Arafat has lost almost all the ground he stood on during his effort to wrench a deal with the Israelis.

So the Palestinians are determined to continue their struggle, and Israeli actions, such as assassinations of Palestinian leaders like Abu Ali Mustafa, are only toughening their determination. By briefly reoccupying Beit Jala by military force on the pretext that the Gilo settlement needed to be protected from Palestinian attacks, Israel meant to send the message afresh that it has the firepower to retake the areas now under the administrative control of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Retaking the territory obviously means a total collapse of whatever had been agreed upon by the two sides under the Oslo agreements and what had actually been implemented on the ground by the Israelis.

The Israeli argument goes that the Palestinians reneged on their commitment under Oslo to renounce armed struggle (Israelis call it terrorism) as the means to liberate themselves and their pledge to negotiate a final peace agreement. “The wholesale Palestinian breach of its side of the bargain should certainly release Israel from treating Oslo’s categories as sacrosanct,” says an Israeli commentator.

It might sound neat and compact. But has any thought been given to the reality that it was Israel’s refusal to accept the legitimate rights of the Palestinians as the basis for a peace agreement that triggered the renewal of the Intifada 11 months ago? Wasn’t it one of the fundamentals in the Oslo accords that the final agreement will be based on UN Security Council resolutions that enshrine the inalienable rights of the Palestinians? As such, was it totally wrong on the part of the Arab world, and indeed the international community, to expect the US, effectively the sole mediator in the peace process, to step in and enforce what was agreed upon in black and white in the Oslo accords? Now we know it is not going to happen and that our expectations were ill-founded.

The toned down American response to Israel’s reoccupation of Beit Jala was only a reaffirmation of the US position. I refuse to believe or accept that it was Washington’s pressure that led Israel to evacuate Beit Jala. The withdrawal was part of an Israeli strategy to dilute international criticism. No doubt, the mighty Israeli army will walk in again into any PNA-controlled land, at will, in its continued effort to beat the Palestinians into submission.

When that happens, the only option left to the Palestinians is to make it as costly as possible for Israel to use military power and to challenge its efforts to subdue Arab will. But do the Palestinians have the means to do so? And how are they going to make it clear to Israel that its army would not be able to simply walk over and reoccupy the West Bank?

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

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