Today, 15 months after the Al-Aqsa Intifada started, it is even
more pertinent to ask whether peacemaking is still a
The Intifada this time has gone beyond stone-throwing and burnt
tires. All the antagonists are employing deadly weapons and
strategies unused before, whether by the Israeli army, the
Palestinian movements, or Israeli settlers in the West Bank and
Gaza. These developments have not only raised the level of violence
and the number of victims, they have also created reactions filled
with much more intolerance and hatred than ever before.
Israel does not seem to have learned from the first Intifada
(1988-93). It was then Yitzhak Rabin who failed to quell its
intensity, although he ordered the army to break the bones of
stone-throwers. More than two thousand martyrs, jails filled with
detainees, and Ketsiot concentration camp in the Naqab/Negev
Desert-all were to no avail in Israel's effort to break the
Intifada. A series of events in the region diminished the intensity
of the first Intifada: the Gulf War and its international
repercussions, the Madrid conference, and the development of an
atmosphere of negotiations following it.
Forgetting Past Lessons
Yes, the Israeli authorities seem to have forgotten that experience
because they are attempting to break the second Intifada, now using
even more excessive force than before, including F-16 jetfighters,
Apache attack helicopters, tanks, and other heavy weapons and
ammunition. Israel has further escalated the strategies of violence
by bombing residential areas, uprooting trees, demolishing homes,
and sending in undercover assassination squads (like the so-called
Duvdevan and Egoz).
Israel is attempting to strangle all Palestinians by imposing
arbitrary closures, isolating villages and towns, destroying roads,
dismantling facilities and disrupting infrastructure. Almost every
Palestinian town, villages or refugee camp is now a prison unto
itself. Meanwhile, the Israeli government continues to intensify
settlement activities in the West Bank and Gaza, thus taking
actions that are deliberate undermining any chances for
Such actions are having an opposite effect to what Israel wants to
achieve. The will of the Palestinian people has not been broken;
the Palestinians have not surrendered. On the contrary, the results
have only diminished the voices of moderate Palestinians, weakened
the Palestinian Authority, and increased the influence of extremist
elements-in effect, Palestinian society has been pressured into
Meanwhile, the Israeli rightwing has succeeded in gaining assets.
Rightwing politicians have, for example, exploited the Right of
Return issue, raised at Camp David and Taba, to cast doubts about
the Palestinian desire for peace. They argue that any insistence on
the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes would mean, in
effect, turning Israel from a Jewish state into a state with a
Palestinian majority. This contention has been helped by rightwing
efforts to lump all Palestinians into one camp, manipulating the
occurrence of suicide attacks as proof that Palestinians don't make
any distinction between a Jew in Tel Aviv and a settler in Gaza.
Thus, the rightwing seems to have succeeded in paralyzing the
Israeli peace camp and causing confusion in its ranks.
A Historic Opportunity
The new US initiative arrives in this debilitating environment to
try to achieve a cease-fire and a resumption of negotiations. It
seems encouraging that Colin Powell's recent speech stated certain
US positions never announced before. Notable among them is the
acknowledgement that the objective is to end the occupation and to
establish a viable Palestinian state. Powell intimated that such an
outcome would mean painful concessions on both sides.
The present US initiative is a historic opportunity for both sides
to extricate themselves from the vortex of death and destruction.
This should be the more evident to both sides now: Sharon has not
succeeded in breaking Palestinian resistance and imposing his
conditions, and more Palestinians seem convinced that the Intifada
alone and various forms of violence are not the best path to
Colin Powell outlined a road map: the Tenet plan, the Mitchell
report, negotiations, final settlement. Such a road will be neither
quick nor easy. However, the US Administration must also realize
that Sharon has no peace plan, that his political preference is to
keep the status quo in order to accelerate a program of expansion
and to preserve a rightwing coalition that views more land as
preferable to peace.
The US, therefore, must also set a time limit for the process of
final settlement negotiations in order to achieve the objectives it
says it supports. In the meantime, all settlement activities must
be ceased. If such parallel conditions can be maintained, there is
hope of ending occupation and establishing a Palestinian state. A
state formed through this process would, I believe, be the best
guarantee of permanent security and stability for the State of
Israel and the State of Palestine, both of which will coexist one
beside the other.
More immediately, to activate the US initiative by Anthony Zinni
and William Burns two things should happen. First, Sharon's demand
for one week of complete calm should be rejected as impossible;
otherwise, the Tenet plan may never get a chance to get started.
Second, the Tenet plan and Mitchell recommendations must be
implemented immediately and speedily. Otherwise, a continuation of
the status quo and Israeli expansion will keep Palestinians in the
belief, based on the recent past, that more and more "facts on the
ground" will make it impossible for a Palestinian state to be
established alongside Israel.
On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority should do its utmost
to prove that it is making 100% effort to stop violence.
The US peace effort is not an easy mission. However, both peoples
seem to have grown tired enough of the present destruction to want
to end their mutual sufferings. Some of their politicians may not
want that, but perhaps the people do. Peace remains the only
option, and it must be the only target.