Jewish Post & News
Israel Lost in Denial
By SAM BAHOUR
The Israeli government’s sigh of relief was surely heard around the globe. When the rift between Palestinian factions existed, Israel simply brushed off any possibility for resolution of the conflict, claiming that the Palestinian president was simply too weak to implement any agreement as along as Hamas was in control of Gaza. Then, taking all by surprise, the two largest Palestinian factions declared an end to their five-year disunity and signed a reconciliation agreement brokered by the post-Mubarak Egyptian government. The agreement itself reads more like a power-sharing agreement, something every living democracy knows very well. However, before the ink on the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement was dry, Israel opened its worn out play script and started reading from past chapters; this time the Israeli kneejerk reaction–within hours–was that there is no way to make peace with Palestinians as long as Hamas is involved. This would be comic if lives, both Palestinian and Israeli, were not at stake.
Let’s take a step back and look at the facts, possibly inconvenient facts for many. Why did Israel, from the outset of the Oslo process nearly two decades ago, enter into an agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization, better known as the PLO? There is no secret here. The first step that kicked off the entire infamous Oslo Accords was an exchange of letters, one of which the PLO, via its late Chairman Yasser Arafat, provided to Israel. The full text of the document is public knowledge and states unequivocally, in its entirety:
“The signing of the Declaration of Principles marks a new era...I would like to confirm the following PLO commitments: The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security. The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The PLO commits itself...to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations...the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators...the PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist, and the provisions of the Covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid. Consequently, the PLO undertakes to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant.”
On the very same day, September 9, 1993, Yitzhak Rabin, then Prime Minister of Israel, issued his own letter which stated the following, in its entirety:
“In response to your letter of September 9, 1993, I wish to confirm to you that, in light of the PLO commitments included in your letter, the Government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process.”
Note two very important issues here, 1) the entity Israel recognized is the PLO (an organization composed of many different factions representing the full political and ideological spectrum), not Fatah, not Hamas and not the Palestinian Authority, which, by the way, is a product of the Oslo agreement itself and has no negotiating mandate, and 2) the PLO not only recognized Israel as other states did, as simply a member state of the United Nations, but went even further to state its “right…to exist in peace and security.” No country on earth has formally recognized Israel in such a comprehensive manner.
So all the rumpus about Fatah and Hamas reconciling their internal differences and all the immediate punishing of Palestinians by Israel for this reconciliation raises some key concerns. First and foremost, what does Israel want? Does it want a Palestinian partner who can actually reflect a representative political system with the potential to reach and then implement a peace agreement?
Likewise, what are all the old-new demands that Hamas must recognize Israel? Hamas does not recognize Israel anymore than Israel’s current foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party represents the State of Israel. What difference is there between the far right coalition in Israel and the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas?
The fact of the matter is that anyone observing the agonizing details of this conflict over the past six decades can only deduce one main thing: Israel has no intention to reach a lasting peace with Palestinians. Furthermore, in order to maintain the international community’s commitment to underwriting Israel’s continuing military occupation, Israel has perfected the sadistic game of maintaining a never-ending peace process, one that only gives it more time to create additional facts on the ground (such as settlements) which may be jeopardizing the entire two-state framework as a solution.
Ordinary Israelis are afraid to put down their guns and make peace because the scenarios seem too vulnerable and uncertain. Instead of calming these fears by forging good, new, functional partnerships with Palestinians as equals, the current Israeli government intensifies these fears with the same tired old angry rhetoric about terrorism and the culture, religion, and aspirations of their neighbors.
The missing voices in the debate are many, but a key voice that has yet to be heard is that of the world Jewry. After all, Israel is acting, or so it believes, in the best interest of Jews worldwide. It is hard for me to believe that continued settlement building, continued economic strangulation, continued collective punishment, continued denying of Palestinians from reaching their holy sites, including the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and other forms of repression of another people are in the interest of the world Jewry. However, until we hear loud and clear from Jewish communities around the globe that these acts of Israel are not being done in their name, we can only assume that Israel is drunk on its own arrogance and narcissism because of the unfettered support that it receives from the world Jewry, and this realization, if true, would be sadder than the lack of a peace agreement.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business development consultant from Youngstown, Ohio living in the Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994) and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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