Tuesday, June 12, 2001

Letter to the editor

Dear friends at the English edition of Ha’aretz

You may publish this as an op-ed piece or a letter to the editor. The writer, Reuven Kaminer, is a peace activist in Jerusalem and the author of “The Politics of Protest – the Israeli Peace Movement and the Palestinian Intifada.”

Procedure Must Give Way to Substance

Though seemingly reasonable, diplomatic efforts aimed at getting the sides back to the negotiating table, are doomed to failure. Sharon at the negotiating table would be forced to divest his carefully crafted image as a moderate. It is also highly questionable that any Palestinian leadership could agree to an extended cease-fire and a long cooling off period simply in order to create an opportunity to hear from Sharon directly that Israel is unwilling to return more than 40% of the territories, that it intends to keep all of Jerusalem and more of the same.

It is time for a radically different approach by international diplomacy. The United States, Europe, the UN and other interested parties must work out the contours of a final status solution and the steps that must be taken to reach it. This is less difficult than it sounds since the main contours of any reasonable solution to the conflict have been clear to the international community for quite a while. These include return to the 1967 borders, with a possible exchange of territory to allow Israel to annex many of its settlements over the 1967 border, division of Jerusalem on a demographic basis and a serious effort to solve the problem of the Palestinian refugees, including a degree of repatriation that would not seriously impair the demographic character of Israel as a Jewish state.

Whatever the reasons for the present impasse, people of good will, including Palestinians and Israelis, would accept the logic that the time has come to talk about peace, that is about the final status of the relations between Israel and Palestine. Those international forces engaged once again in an attempt to revive the peace process would be well advised, if they are sincere in their efforts, that the procedural approach which is aimed at getting the two sides to negotiate - has exhausted its potential. The international community, if it seeks and end to the conflict and the tensions in the region, can and must come up with the reasonable and fair solution to the conflict. Certainly, there will be room for diplomacy and tact in implementing the will of the international community and allowing the sides to reposition themselves. But then, and only then, will we be on the path that can avert further violence and an eventual full-scale war in the region.

Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Arafat is to Blame

It is hard, almost impossible to exaggerate the role of media gloss in public discourse. In Israel, the media usually pick up on a specific assertion by the government or the establishment and convert it from just another assertion in the daily coverage of events into a statement of fact. The assertion, which has been converted into a virtual article of faith becomes a pivot of public discourse. If there are some poor souls out there who have not interiorized this nugget of truth and hope to participate in the public discourse on the basis of any other interpretation of the recent past, the priests of the media temple have the full right, or even duty, to discontinued any dialogue with the misinformed right then and there. Thus, we are all supposed to know the simple truth that Arafat is to blame for the failure of the peace process, and hence, for the ensuing violence.

Of course the ‘assertion turned axiom’ is steeped in accuracy and built on the sands of baseless assumptions. But the examination of the assumption turned axiom’ takes place, if at all, on the periphery of the more academically inclined observers. Life has a kind tendency to turn many of these ‘articles of faith’ into some sort of sad commentary on the period of their gestation. Remember if you will the assertion/objective truth that Israel’s conquest of the territories after the June 1967 War was the beginning of the most liberal occupation. And the ‘Six-Day War’ is still going on now after 34 years, isn’t it.

There happens to be no dearth of material, accumulating all over the place, that tends to undermine the ‘Arafat is to blame’ dogma. However, going all the way back to the year 2000 to deconstruct and reconstruct the realities of the failures of the Clinton mediation – something that can and must be done – demands too much time and effort from your correspondent who is forever looking for the convenient short cut to his destination. For the purposes of charting a path to the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and designating the rather serious obstacles on the way, one does not necessarily have to resort to the historical dimension. Going back, we seem to encounter quite a few narratives, and it appears that we have no shortage in this department at the moment.

Assuming that either Arafat is guilty, or even that there is no simple answer to this kind of question, one must analyze the current political positions of the sides to the conflict to find out where we are.

Negotiate Before, During or After More Death and Destruction

The Palestinian Intifada has shown stunning energy and enthusiasm and even gathered quite a few compliments from their greatest enemies (Sharon: The Palestinians do not ask ‘for how long.’). This kind of staying power has proven that one cannot simply mechanically translate the military and economic relations of power into a diplomatic settlement. The strength of the Palestinian cause stems from the fact that short of a major holocaust (or even after one) the world will have to sit down and listen to Palestinian demands for viable statehood. There are indeed complexities in working out a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. But the continuation of the status quo is even less tenable, from any point of view. It is hard to solve the Palestinian problem but it is even harder to continue to hold the idiotic and anachronistic view assumption that the existing arrangement of direct colonial rule, direct military and economic subjugation , can go on for much longer.