by Ziad AbuZayyad
and Victor Cygielman
Never before, since the printing of the first issue of the Journal in December 1993 following the Oslo agreements, have we experienced such terrible times. Though Israeli-Palestinian talks have resumed, blood is still being spilled and the dead — mainly Palestinian — are piling up. Can one be surprised if feelings of hatred, of despair, and calls for revenge prevail in both camps? As a result, Israeli-Palestinian cooperation is almost at a standstill, and many voices, especially on the Palestinian side, demand an end to all forms of joint activity by NGOs on both sides.
Some Israeli peace activists say they are disappointed by Palestinian behavior. They are angry with the Palestinians for interrupting the peace negotiations after the failure of the Camp David summit and, instead, launching the Al-Aqsa Intifada. They accuse the Palestinian leadership of having broken the obligation — undertaken by both sides — to settle all differences by negotiations and not to resort to violence. However, those peace activists are taking an easy way out of a complex situation. The Palestinian uprising (Intifada) did not occur suddenly, like a thunderstorm in the midst of a sunny summer day. For months, international as well as Israeli and Palestinian media had been warning of the danger of an explosion among the Palestinian people of the West Bank and Gaza, if the peace talks were to fail.
One cannot be oblivious to the fact that Palestinians and Israelis live in a different reality. When Israeli negotiators travel to Washington, Paris or Sharm el-Sheikh, they leave behind a country living de facto at peace, with a thriving economy and a decent quality of life. The Palestinian leaders, on the other hand, leave behind a people suffering from severe unemployment; a people embittered by the constant harassment meted out to them daily at roadblocks by Israeli soldiers — Ami Ayalon, former chief of Israel’s internal security services (the Shin Bet) has called the Palestinian laborers’ daily journey to work an “ongoing nightmare.” This is a people helpless to thwart the repeated confiscation of tracts of Palestinian land by Israel to make way for more and more bypass roads for the exclusive use of Jewish settlers; a people exasperated by the continued expansion of Jewish settlements.
In short, Israel can easily afford to negotiate indefinitely, using its superior force to create unilateral facts on the ground. While the Palestinian leadership, which exerts authority over a West Bank and a Gaza Strip carved up into separate Bantustans lacking territorial contiguity, fails to see any trace of progress on the ground. A humiliated, frustrated and angry people has lost hope of seeing the fruits of peace, and, at last, ridding itself of the Israeli occupation: after seven years of cumbersome negotiations, was it really possible for Yasser Arafat to prevent the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising, following the yet-another failed round of negotiations at Camp David? The answer to the question came following Ariel Sharon’s “visit” to the Haram al-Sharif, and the next day’s killing of seven Palestinians by Israeli police shooting at Palestinian youngsters who, allegedly, had started throwing stones at Jews praying in front of the Western (Wailing) Wall.
There can be no doubt that violence won’t solve anything. In the end, the two parties have to sit down at the negotiation table. Sometimes, however, violence is unavoidable. Nonetheless, it is essential to remember that, even in the midst of the maiming and killing, one must be ready for renewed peace talks. In this respect, and in order to promote a favorable climate for those talks, people of good will, peace activists, on both sides, have a special duty: to keep alive the various forms of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and cooperation. To give in to despair will only add oil to the flames that threaten to devour us all, merely strengthening the extremists in both camps, who are opposed to any and all compromise that may lead to a just and realistic peace. It is only this kind of peace, based on the emergence of a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel, that can eventually lead to a historic reconciliation between the two peoples.
To Our Readers:
We were completing work on an issue of the Journal focusing on “Settlements or Peace,” when the Al-Aqsa Intifada broke out at the end of September 2000. We decided, therefore, to publish this double issue (Vol. VII No. 3&4) with two focuses: settlements and the Intifada.