Colin Powell repeated, in an interview with CNN broadcast on Monday, what he had announced time and time again; that putting an end to the violence is a precondition and a necessary preface for the return of the U.S. envoy to the Middle East General Anthony Zinni.
There is no doubt that putting an end to violence and returning to negotiations is not only Powell’s request, but an Israeli and Palestinian request as well.
Now after matters have worsened and the escalation in violence is accelerating, everyone has the right to ask Colin Powell a frank question: Can the violence in the Middle East be stopped by blaming Yasser Arafat and by continuing to demand that he alone exert effort to stop the violence?
Does Colin Powell not believe that bombing Palestinian civilians and institutions with F-16 fighter planes and Apache helicopters, destroying Palestinian homes with Israeli tanks on a daily basis, shelling houses, uprooting trees and the suffocating siege the Israeli government is imposing, is a methodical violence the state of Israel is practicing against a people with no army é the Palestinian people? How then can the violence be stopped if both sides do not stop practicing violence together?
We are not talking about right, crime and vengeance, we are talking in an absolute manner. Putting an end to violence requires that both sides refrain from practicing it, not just one side. This in terms of principle, as for the core matter, Secretary Powell is very much aware that the main reason for instability in the Middle East region is the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands occupied in 1967, Israel’s refusal to implement resolutions 242 and 338, and its refusal to implement the American Land for Peace formula, just as it had rejected all other American initiatives.
If he needs a clear testament regarding this, let him ask James Baker about his experience in this field, especially since James Baker is one of the leading figures of the Republican Party, and has had experience with the Middle East. James Baker faced, in a direct and tangible manner, the Israelis’ obstinacy and their rejection of the United States’ attempts to find a political solution to the conflict. This drove him at one point to expressing the United States’ anger at this position by saying “here is the White House’s phone number, have the Israelis phone us when they change their position”.
The prime and main cause of the violence and terrorism was, and still is, the Israeli occupation, which is gradually confiscating Palestinian lands and is forcefully depriving the Palestinian people from their freedom and their basic rights, especially their right to self-determination and the establishment of an independent state on their lands and to enjoy complete sovereignty over it. This is the truth that no sane person can ignore, regardless of how complicated the current developments are, or how much the current developments complicate the situation.
Secretary Powell knows that the Palestinian tanks are not occupying Israel’s lands, are not storming Israel’s cities and are not demolishing Israelis’ houses on top of their heads because the Palestinians do not have any tanks. The Israeli tanks are the ones that are occupying Palestinian lands, besieging cities, infiltrating Palestinian controlled areas and demolishing Palestinian houses over the heads of peaceful families. So how can Secretary Powell see matters upside-down? Since 1967 the Palestinian people have been subjected to a hideous occupation, daily humiliation, depredation and enslavement.
The Palestinians did not occupy Israeli lands, confiscate them to build settlements on them, and they did not dig up the Israelis’ agricultural lands with bulldozers. The current campaign of violence, which is escalating at a dangerous pace, was planned by the Israeli Chiefs of Staff during the last days of Prime Minister Barak’s term, and is now being executed by Sharon’s government and the Israeli Chiefs of Staff. This plan, which was given the name Field of Thorns, was drawn up under the banner of lowering the Palestinian aspirations and expectations; that is, to force the Palestinians, through the use of military might, to accept what Sharon is offering é to accept the annexation of 48% of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Israel and having only the remaining 42% under Palestinian administrative control, but under the Israeli occupation’s security and military control.
It is only natural for the Palestinians to reject this injustice and these ideas, just as the Americans had rejected them, particularly Secretary Powell é if we consider what he announced regarding the American vision of a solution in the Middle East to be the official American position. In addition to the Israeli occupation being the main source of violence and terrorism in the region, carrying out a military aggression and escalating it is the main cause for the current wave of violence and counter violence.
This is exactly what Secretary Powell and the current American administration believe. The American vision for the Middle East is a balanced one. The establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the lands occupied by Israel in 1967 in return for the guaranteed security and safety of Israel is a formula that in whole constitutes a historic bargain that will lead to the stability and prosperity of the region é this is exactly what is needed.
What Prince Abdulla bin Abdel Aziz announced to Thomas Freedman of the New York Times regarding the Arabs’ willingness to guarantee the security and safety of Israel, and to normalize relations with it in return for its complete withdrawal from the lands it occupied in 1967, undoubtedly clearly indicates the readiness of the region to respond favorably to any serious effort to achieve peace and stability.
So where are Secretary Powell and President Bush in this?
This is a historic opportunity for everyone, especially the United States for whom the Middle East constitutes a major strategic interest from all aspects. If Secretary Powell should ask why Prince Abdulla bin Abdel Aziz recanted this position, the answer is obvious, and should be obvious to Secretary Powell. Prince Abdulla saw a lack of seriousness on part of the American administration regarding using its influence to ask Israel to implement resolution 242 and to withdraw from the lands it occupied in 1967 in return for its guaranteed security and a normalization of its relations with the region.
Although the basic and fundamental position is ending the Israeli occupation in order to end the violence, terrorism and hatred, we will nonetheless discuss with Secretary Powell after that a tactic for stopping the current violence and linking it to the American vision of the solution in the Middle East. We will take matters at face value and say that violence is going on and is escalating between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and each side will hold the other side responsible for this violence and its escalation. So what should the American administration do in order to begin final status negotiations reaching to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, guaranteeing the security of Israel and spreading stability and security in the region?
The answer to this question will not come from out of nowhere; it will be based on facts and positions. The Americans have, both before and after Sharon came to power, sought, together with all sides, to find a way to stop the violence and return to negotiations. All sides agreed to the Tenet accord and the Mitchell recommendations, both documents were planned and engineered by the U.S. Thus, if the American administration is unable to find a way to stop the violence, we will point it out to it again é the immediate implementation of the Tenet accord and the Mitchell recommendations.
We say this because the current cycle and each side holding the other responsible will lead only to a worsening of the situation.
This is not the place to list for Secretary Powell the events of the region for the past sixteen months, but it is enough to point out thirty-nine statements issued by the U.S. State Department and the White House condemning the assassinations, the use of F-16 planes and Apache helicopters, the demolishing of houses, the infiltration into PA areas, the uprooting of trees and the suffocating economic siege imposed on the Palestinian people. We also point out the tens of statements that condemn the violence and terrorism against Israeli civilians.
Matters are clear to the American administration, so why does Secretary Powell insist on not sending General Anthony Zinni and not intervening to stop the violence until the violence has been stopped when he knows that Sharon’s government, as it informed him last week, is forced to escalate the attacks for fear of the government coalition breaking down?
The American administration takes great responsibility for the continued cycle of violence by not taking the step that must be taken, which is informing the Israelis and Palestinians that it, together with the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, has decided to begin the immediate implementation of the Tenet accord and the Mitchell recommendations, and that both sides must abide by that.
Finally, we say to Secretary Powell that surrendering to Sharon’s positions will only lead the region to the abyss, because demanding that Yasser Arafat stop the violence has become ridiculous in light of the siege he is facing in Ramallah, the tightening of the siege on all Palestinian villages and cities, preventing Palestinian political and security officials from travelling and continuing to destroy police headquarters and prisons in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
So how do you want the Palestinian Authority to control matters in light of all of this?
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to President Arafat.