Rarely since the creation of the state of Israel has peace between Israel and the Palestinians seemed as unattainable as it seems to be right now. Recent days have seen many Israelis killed, including children in Palestinian attacks, and many Palestinians killed, including children, in Israeli attacks. Israel has reoccupied much of the West Bank and has been threatening a large assault on Gaza. And against this backdrop came our very own George W. with his long-awaited speech, given to illustrate his “vision” of Mideast peace.
Few speeches could be considered to be as destructive as today’s address from the American president. The primary message Bush sent was that his “vision” of the Palestinian future did not include Yasir Arafat. Surely, the message is not lost on Ariel Sharon, who has made clear his hatred of Arafat, to the extent that he has even expressed his regret at not killing him during the Lebanon invasion twenty years ago. While Sharon is likely not foolish enough to make a martyr of Arafat, it is clear that Bush has given a green light to eliminating him as the leader of the Palestinians, whether through exile, or some other means.
It hardly even needs to be mentioned that this is unacceptable to the Palestinians. For a long time, it has been clear that Arafat enjoys diminishing support among the Palestinian people. While a cynical push for Palestinian reform has been issued both from the United States and Israel, there has also been a growing movement from within the fledgling Palestinian civil society for a real democratic reform of Palestinian governance, such as it is, under occupation. Whether intentional or not, this speech, declaring a veritable open season on Arafat, short circuits those efforts. The Palestinian people are surely not going to pressure their leadership to step down when this is what is being demanded by Israel and the US.
What people could tolerate their leaders being assigned by an external power, especially one with which it is locked in an increasingly heated conflict? And these cynical developments have completely overshadowed the important statement of many Palestinian leaders calling for an end to attacks on Israeli civilians. The smug hubris of the United States and Israel that tells them they have the right, through their undeniable superiority in power, to dictate the form and content of Palestinian government.
Few things are as blinding as unbridled arrogance. In this state, the US and Israel are moving only toward a continuing escalation of the conflict. It is this sort of colonialist mindset that continues to impede progress of any kind. Indeed, it was the fatal flaw at the very root of Oslo, that one side had all the power, and approaches any negotiations in those terms. Only when the Palestinians and Israelis can dialogue as equals can there be any true spirit of compromise and coexistence.
Bush, in his speech today said, “… if all parties will break with the past and set out on a new path, we can overcome the darkness with the light of hope.” Beyond the obvious silliness of the terminology, this reflects an unrealistic and untenable view of the Israel-Palestine conflict. It is an understanding of the past, of the roots of both Jewish and Palestinian nationalism; of the long and bloody conflict that has generated such hatred among the people in what was once Mandatory Palestine; of the root causes that make Israelis feel like a permanently besieged people and some Palestinians resort to suicide bombings; and what still drives many on both sides to seek peaceful coexistence can lead to the understanding between both peoples that can bring them to a reasonable resolution to the violence and, over time, to the healing needed for building a future for both peoples together.
It can happen, if people of good will in Israel, Palestine and the United States raise their voices loudly enough.
Mitchell Plitnick Newsletter Editor A Jewish Voice for Peace