An Opportunity To End All War
By Mustafa El-Barghouti
Negotiations in Washington have once again entered the same phase of haggling over bits and pieces and percentages. Despite three months of Intifada, no substantive change has occurred in the framework of the negotiations. Indeed, Israel has resorted to its former ways to foil any initiative the Security Council takes to dispatch international observers, and to curtail the already enfeebled mandate of the fact-finding committee.
While negotiations were underway, Israel proceeded with its military siege of every Palestinian city and village, reducing the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to a landscape of prisons. Meanwhile, assassinations and military operations are killing and injuring more Palestinians by the day.
In other words, like military repression, and siege, the negotiations are systematically being used to break the will of the Palestinian people, and to circumvent the possibility of establishing a genuine and lasting peace based on a minimum level of justice. We are living at a critical time, which could leave an indelible mark on the future of the region. Israel can choose to end the conflict by responding to the requirements of international law and recognizing the rights of the Palestinian people to repatriation, independence and the exercise of true sovereignty over their own land.
With regards to Jerusalem, US and Israeli proposals have nothing to offer beyond converting Palestinian sovereignty over the occupied eastern part to mere civil self-rule exercised by certain scattered Palestinian entities with no physical link or common borders on the ground. Israel is tirelessly pursuing its attempts to convert sovereignty over the religious sites into some obscure "administration" whereby the Palestinian mandate over Jerusalem would not exceed self-rule within a framework of Israeli sovereignty.
Concerning settlements, Israel insists on the annexation of massive Jewish colonies, a plan that simply tears the West Bank apart into fragments reminiscent of Bantustan entities under apartheid regimes.
The settlements are used by Israel as a tool to render the Palestinian state void of any real content, effectively a self-rule system rather than a sovereign state. By the standards of international law, the annexation of illegal settlements is tantamount to conferring legality on piracy and theft. The settlements were built on Palestinian land confiscated from its rightful owners.
Israeli proposals regarding the refugees are no more than endeavors to abrogate the historical rights of Palestinian refugees through a decision signed by Palestinian negotiators. In the event that an agreement is concluded, Israel claims that two to three years would be required for its implementation. The proposals provide no guarantees that what has been agreed upon will be implemented, particularly since the Israeli opposition, a runner in the forthcoming elections, will not honor any agreement signed by Barak. Naturally, the US president, who has barely three weeks left in office, has no power to give any firm guarantees. Nor can the US itself, which has chronically failed to bring Israel to implement any agreements (even when sponsored by the US), be expected to come up with collateral.
There is unanimous agreement that international law must be the basis for peace. Yet no one can persuade the Palestinians of the reason for which Resolutions 242, 338 and 425 are interpreted as a call for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from all occupied land in Sinai, Lebanon and Syria, but, in the case of Palestinian occupied land, are interpreted as the division of the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza between Palestinians and illegal settlers.
Despite the high cost in human life, the Intifada provides the Israelis with an opportunity not to be missed: an opportunity to return to the path to real peace, renounce their military arrogance and abandon their illusions about dictating their own terms for peace.
The road to peace is open: Israel must withdraw to the 1967 borders, the occupation must end, the independent state of Palestine exercising full sovereignty must be established, and the refugees must have the right to repatriation. Israel is surely aware that any agreement imposed on the Palestinians (a highly improbable eventuality) that fails to achieve that much will never be a basis for true peace. It will only postpone the conflict, as Oslo did, leaving it to flare up at some point in the future.
Palestinians today are tired of promises, illusions, procrastination, fragmentation and discrimination. With the onset of the 21st century, it is time for this people to regain its freedom, its dignity and its independent state.
Those who would still wish to trade statehood for a self-rule entity called a state – those who would perpetrate apartheid -- are committing a gross error. The Palestinians are far too aware to go along with such concessions.
Just as it is the right of Israelis to subject all agreements, as well as the governments that signed them, to the will of the people by holding democratic general elections, the Palestinian people are equally entitled to sanction whatever agreements are reached in general elections. They too have the right to elect national bodies, whether parliament or the Palestinian National Council, to approve those agreements.
Europe's record of war and peace is sufficient evidence that partnership and democracy work together to establish a lasting peace for all nations, without exception or discrimination.
*The writer is president of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees.
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