Walls. Electric Fences. Eliminations. Dogs. Closure. Collective Punishment. Tanks. Assault Helicopters. F-16s. Reciprocity. Retaliation. War. Welcome to the new Israeli lexicon concerning the Palestinians. The “new speak” of the post Oslo period. And like the Orwellian “new speak”, there is no longer any real discussion of issues and options, no plurality of opinions among the Israeli public, let alone the political “leadership”.
Like a mantra, repeated daily by commentators, analysts, military officers, the papers and the TV news, Israelis are told endlessly that there are “no partners for peace”. This claim is repeated over and over again, across the political spectrum remaining unquestioned and un-refuted even by those that formerly supported the peace process. The more it is said, the more it is believed, like some perverted marketing slogan. But what is being marketed is not a new soft drink, but war.
All the intellectuals from the center to the left have become willing puppets of Israel’s minority, known collectively as settlers. In fact, the settler movement would provide an excellent case study of how a mere handful (225,000) of people can dictate policy at all levels — security, foreign affairs, internal policy — to a entire country and even a superpower like the US. And yet almost no one questions the logic behind the claim that there are “no partners for peace”. The question begging to be asked is why?
Certainly part of the problem lays with the Palestinian leadership and its failure to explain to the Israeli public and the world why the supposed concessions offered by Barak were turned down. In fact, even today, most Israelis that see themselves as left wing still have no idea why these supposedly historic Israeli concessions were turned down. The fact that the Palestinian lands within these “concessions” were to be divided into four separate geographic areas effectively creating South African style Bantustans in a nascent Palestinian State. The issue of the illegal settlements, which were to remain in place for the most part, the issue of the Palestinian right of return which Israel categorically denied, all contributed to the Palestinian rejection. A rejection that was expected by anyone with even a meager understanding of the roots of the conflict. Had Arafat accepted these concessions, it is doubtful whether he would have been able to “float” this among the Palestinian people, let alone Israel being able to “sell” the issue to its politically fragmented citizenry. Yet the Israelis, like the proverbial three monkeys, not seeing, hearing or talking, place the blame squarely on the Palestinians, “disappointed” by them, while not taking a long hard look at themselves.
The word “disappointment” goes a long way in explaining why the talks, be it those at Camp David or prior, have failed and why the violence broke out, and why it has continued. It carries with it a certain hubris, a certain sense of paternalism, of patronage, of expectations from the weaker side. Its use denotes what was apparent throughout the talks — this was not negotiation, it was dictation. It was an issue of Palestinians deciding which of the jagged pills being offered “graciously” by Israel they would swallow. There was no sense of partnership, no real sense of joint building on the part of the Israeli side, but rather copying the traditional way of dealing with Palestinians, that is, from a position of power. And Israelis, for their part, were convinced that the Palestinians had turned down the “deal” of the century.
Much like colonialists, Israelis always knew better what was best for the natives. After all, the Israeli political establishment is convinced that the Palestinians are not capable of deciding things for themselves. And this arrogance has carried itself into the press — we read how Palestinians “send” their children to the slaughter, while no mention is made of the settlers placing their own children in danger in settlements that violate international law, the Geneva Conventions, and common sense. When Israel strikes to maintain an illegal occupation it is a “military” operation, when Palestinians resist, it is simply called terrorism.
When pressed, Israelis will say “we have seen no hands extended by the Palestinians…” Again, an expectation based on the context of master and servant, borne out of ingrained paternalism and patronage. When one side holds all the power, all the force, how can it expect the weaker side to even consider extending a hand? No, if anything is to be extended, it must be put forth by the Israeli side, unilaterally, unconditionally and if necessary, without US approval. An end to the occupation, the withdrawal of all forces to the 1967 borders, the evacuation of the settlements, the settler infrastructure and houses to be left for Palestinian use as partial reparation, and a commitment to help build the Palestinian State. All this as measures of goodwill on the part of Israel, prior to any return to negotiations.
Israel has no choice but to end the brutal occupation and subjugation of the Palestinian people. Not to do so clearly spells the beginning of the end of the State of Israel as it is known today, and will lead to the creation of a fanatical pariah state built upon the agendas of a radical minority. The sooner the better, before the vision of these merchants of death and destruction becomes the only option that Israel has. Welcome to the “new speak”.
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). Mr. Michael Dahan is an Israeli political scientist currently conducting postdoctoral research at the University of Cincinnati. Mr. Bahour and Mr. Dahan are co-founders of MEViC, the Middle East Virtual Community.