The Prospects of
Peace in the Middle East
A speech delivered by Professor Walid Khalidion the occasion of receiving the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organisation's Prize of Distinction in Cultural Achievement in the Arab World at Brunei Gallery (SOAS) - London 8 October 2002
As I stand before you in these turbulent times to talk about the prospects of peace in the Holy Land, I cannot but recall, as a Palestinian and an historian, that this country was the author--and this city the birthplace--of the Balfour Declaration. Indeed the fact that Peace in the Holy Land is still unfinished business in the Year of Our Lord 2002 is largely due to the letter penned on November 2nd, 1917 by Arthur James Balfour to Lord Lionel Rothschild, only 8 years before the birth of your speaker.
There were only 68 words in Balfour's letter, but there could be few parallels in history where so few words have spelt such pain and devastation to so many within the span of a single lifetime, with the promise of yet more to come. What this attests to is the colossal folly and cost of imperial cartography at which this country was so cavalier in the past and for which it seems to harbour a certain lingering nostalgia even today.
Of course, times have changed. Rome has long since moved quarters from the Thames to the Potomac where the drums of war rumble louder and faster by the day. The latest Georges Picots and Mark Sykeses speak with distinct trans-Atlantic accents.
How changed the relationship between the US and the Arab world since Balfour's time may be gauged from the distance between President Wilson's 1919 dispatch of the King-Crane Commission to ascertain the democratic wishes of the peoples of the Near East and Washington's preemptory commands today that the Palestinians drop their democratically elected leader? The only such Arab leader from the Atlantic to the Gulf, except perhaps for one other Arab country.
How changed are the regional sentiments towards the US since Balfour may be gauged from the distance between the near unanimous Arab request in 1919 to the King-Crane Commission that the US be the trustee over the Arab countries if a trusteeship regime were to be established, and 9/11.
US presidents since 1948 have been consistently sympathetic to Israel and for the most part just as consistently indifferent to the plight of the Palestinians. Eisenhower, though firm with Israel, was uninterested in the Palestinians. Carter was the first president to acknowledge Palestinians as human and political beings. Bush Senior, as his country's envoy to the UN, was more critical of Israeli treatment of Palestinians than any other president. And Bill Clinton spent unprecedented presidential time and energy in talks with both Israelis and Palestinians. All this has been annulled by the gratuitous harshness of GW and his near total espousal of the Israeli position despite his seemingly contradictory verbal endorsement of the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
This hostile stance by GW predated 9/11 and was foreshadowed in early gestures: receiving Sharon before any other Middle East leader, giving Israeli President Moshe Katzav the first state dinner at the White House, re-iterating his electoral pledge to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and refusing to invite Arafat. It was also foreshadowed by his choice of Vice President and Secretary of Defense and a score of their principal aides, whose ultra-hawkish pro-Israeli views as a group were already a matter of public record and knowledge before their appointments.
The US president is the only nationally elected official in America. This, coupled with his constitutional prerogatives in foreign policy, give his idiosyncrasies an indirect, often unconscious, but nevertheless significant role in the formulation of policy. These idiosyncrasies in GW's case include his evangelical and most probably premillennialist convictions, his angst about a second one term Bush presidency, his "accidental" president syndrome, his visceral aversion to Clinton, his Texan macho ethos, his fascination with the brutal personality and accomplishments of Sharon, his urge to trump or avenge his father in Iraq, and his profound ignorance about the Middle East and its peoples except for the biblical history of the ancient Hebrews.
Already before 9/11, GW seems to have decided to reverse Clinton's Middle East policy of giving priority to the Palestine Problem and to relegate it to a lowly status, thus avoiding his father's electorally costly collision course with Tel Aviv over settlement policy. Ironically, Clinton had eased this path for GW by pinning all the blame, for self-serving reasons, on Arafat for the failure of the Camp David talks. Meanwhile, Sharon's assumption of power in Israel reinforced GW's disinclination to take up the Palestine Problem, since to do so would inevitably lead to collision with Sharon, himself a mentor on things Middle Eastern whose partnership in the Middle East GW sought.
Already long before 9/11 Cheney had propounded a dominant global role for the US to unilaterally deter any regional challenge involving the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by such countries as Iraq.(1) Already long before 9/11 the Cheney and Rumsfeld protégé hawks, now placed in power (Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton et al), had a new, ready-made, radical US strategy for the Middle East, whose very premises were that Iraq, not the Arab-Israeli conflict, was the central M.E. issue and that Iraq, not the Palestine Problem, should be the fulcrum of action to transform the Middle Eastern strategic environment. Of course this focus on Iraq has Israeli roots going back at least to Begin's attack on Osirak in 1981 and advocated since then most fervently by Sharon. According to Perle and his associates, the second half of the Iraq-oriented strategy is for Israel to scrap the Oslo Agreement, reject the principle of land for peace, and reoccupy the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These ideas were actually submitted in writing in 1996 by Richard Perle and his colleagues to then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Perle is today chairman of the Pentagon Defense Policy Board. Is it any wonder that Rumsfeld, though twice Secretary of Defense, does not recognize an occupied country when he looks at one?
9/11 gave tremendous resonance to these counsels and strategies, deepening GW's animus towards Arafat; and it is against this background also that the Bush/Blair war on Iraq must be seen.
In fact there is a critical dialectical relationship between the planned war on Iraq and the future of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The military phase in Iraq may be a more or less difficult task, with more or less fall-out outside Iraq. But even if it were achieved with minimal such fall-out, a dubious proposition, it merely introduces a new, highly dangerous post-Saddam phase of instability and uncertainty whose length, complexity, and ramifications are impossible to predict or anticipate.
To add such a new dimension of instability and uncertainty to the eastern flank of the Fertile Crescent while the festering wounds of Palestine, South Lebanon, and Syria are left unattended on the Western flank, is unbelievably irresponsible. But if this is added testimony to the absence of an institutional memory in the American colossus and to the rout of its Arabists by its pro Israeli hawks, what is one to make of the inability of the country that produced Sir Percy Cox, Sir Arnold Wilson and Gertrude Bell to share with Big Brother the thought that tinkering with the Iraqi Humpty Dumpty is no child's play?
For Palestine, the war on Iraq is an open invitation, a blank cheque, an incandescent green light to Sharon to exploit to the full, pending resolution of the Iraqi situation, the formidable inventory of conditions and constraints imposed by GW on the Palestinians in his definitive 24th of June statement. Viewed in this light, the opaque references in this statement to a Palestinian state within 3 years is so much pie in the sky, and fish in the sea, along with the Prospects of Peace in the Middle East
Ladies and Gentlemen, Palestinian losses since this intifada began have been catastrophic: more than 1,800 killed and 40,000 wounded.(2) The British population is 20 times the size of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories. So in British terms, Palestinian losses are about 36,000 killed and 800,000 wounded, in two years.
The vast majority of Palestinian casualties are civilian. Palestinian and Arab civilians have been at the receiving end of Zionist policies both before and since the establishment of Israel.
Hundreds of Palestinian civilians died during the 1930s from bombs planted in crowded vegetable markets in Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Haifa by the Irgun, parent of the Likud. (It was also the Irgun that blew up the King David Hotel in April 1946 in Jerusalem, killing 96 British, Arab, and Jewish civilians in what Dominique Lapierre, the co-author of the book O Jerusalem, calls "the first massive terrorist political action of modern history."(3))
During the 1948 war, hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed in scores of strategically planned massacres, including the Dayr Yasin massacre of 9 April 1948, by Hagana, Irgun, and Stern Gang forces.
Those same forces drove out some 750,000 civilian Palestinians from their towns and villages in 1948.
Some 250,000 more Palestinian refugees were driven by Israel across the Jordan River in 1967, while on the Syrian front, Israeli forces expelled 120,000 Syrian farmers and small townsmen from the Golan.
During the War of Attrition on the Egyptian front 1968-70, Israel destroyed all the Suez Canal zone cities causing the exodus of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
On the Lebanese front, for two and a half decades, hundreds of thousands of Shiite farmers and small townsmen were again and again forced to flee the repeatedly devastated South Lebanon in the direction of Beirut.
For the last 50 years the chief exponent and practitioner of the Israeli military doctrine of massive retaliation and of the tactic of provocation, as a prelude to military escalation, has been one Ariel Scheinerman, also known as Arik Sharon. No other Israeli leader, military or civilian, still in power since the establishment of Israel, has killed more Palestinian or Arab civilians, or done greater damage to Palestinian and Arab civilian institutions and installations than this individual.
Sharon first came to prominence in October 1953, when he conceived and implemented with Unit 101, a special military unit he had created, a raid against the Palestinian village of Qibya. Forty-five houses were blown up killing 69 civilians, three quarters of them women and children. According to the UN report, "Bullet-ridden bodies near the doorways and multiple hits on the doors of the demolished houses indicated that the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside while their homes were blown up over them."(4) This raid has become a prototypical one for the Israeli army since then.
In 1964, on the Syrian front, Sharon asked his staff "to gather data on the number of vehicles, buses and trucks that would be required to transport the entire Arab population of Northern Israel to the neighboring Arab countries."(5)
In 1970 and until recently he advocated toppling the Jordanian monarchy to allow the Palestinians to take over Jordan as their alternative country.
In 1980 Menahem Begin, half jokingly, said that if given the defense ministry Sharon would ring the prime minister's office with tanks.(6) Are we surprised that he did this to Arafat?
In Lebanon, in 1982, according to the most authoritative Lebanese daily, an-Nahar, the total number of Arabs killed by Sharon, the vast majority of them civilians, was 17,500. Of these, 12,500 were Palestinians.(7) And this was before Sabra and Shatila.
In the political field, Sharon was equally devastating to the prospects of peace. According to Geoffrey Aronson, the leading American Jewish expert on Israeli settlement, it was Sharon who transformed the idea of Greater Israel into reality. "For Sharon there was no Green Line; there was simply the Land of Israel. There was no West Bank, no Palestinians, only the Arabs of the Land of Israel. His was the vision and vocabulary of militant Zionism."(8)
In 1977 Sharon unveiled a new settlement plan called "A Vision of Israel at Century's End." It envisaged the settlement of 2 million Jews in the occupied territories.(9)
Sharon was the architect of the Likud political bloc, champion of Gush Emunim (the religiously extremist settler movement), the driving force behind the colonization of Hebron and the central Palestinian highlands, the builder of the notorious bypass roads exclusively for Jewish use designed to make a contiguous Arab entity impossible.(10)
In 1979 he said about the Golan, "We will never leave the Golan for any price not even for peace with Syria."(11)
His latest vision of a so-called Palestinian state was enunciated on 18 January last year. It comprised 42 percent of the West Bank with a unified Jerusalem under perpetual Israeli sovereignty, no right of return for the Palestinian refugees and an indefinite interim period.
More recently, he declared that Netzarim (a tiny settlement in the middle of the Gaza ghetto) is "Tel Aviv."
On 28 September 2000, by his invasion of al-Haram al-Sharif, he widened the circumference of conflict to include the whole world of Islam. In the so-called Operation Defensive Shield launched by Sharon against the Palestinians on March 29th, 2002, the declared objective was to destroy the infrastructure of Palestinian terrorism. What Israel destroyed are the offices, equipment, furniture, computers, archives and records of: banks, corporations, businesses, research centers, town halls, municipalities, jails, police stations, schools, radio stations, land registry offices, courts, and ministries across the administrative spectrum including the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of National Economy.
Summing him up, Uzi Benziman, his Israeli biographer, says that after Lebanon in 1982, "Sharon was exposed as deceitful, crafty, uncouth, egotistic, and paranoid. Only a few people had been aware of his sick personality."(12)
This is the individual Mr. Bush calls a Man of Peace.
Ladies and Gentlemen, September 11th will remain a major watershed in American consciousness along with the other major watersheds that stretch back through the Vietnam and Korean Wars and through the First and Second World Wars all the way to the Civil War and the Foundation of the Republic.
Condemnation of 9/11 was global, and, rightly so. We condemn it absolutely and without reservation.
The last time the continental US was attacked was in 1814 by, of all countries, Britain. This was 188 years ago. Pearl Harbor was not the continental US, and there are few countries in the world which have been free of attack in the last 188 years.
The trauma of 9/11 was all the greater because of the metropolitan location and symbolic centrality of its targets, the abuse of the proudest products of American technology, the scale of the devastation, human, material, and visual, the contempt for the lives of innocents as well as of their own that the perpetrators displayed, and the depth of their hatred of the US.
Because of its continuing trauma, the US subsumes all terrorist political acts under a capital T which is seen through a "viral" analogy. Thus all acts of "Terrorism" (like a virus) have the same causes, the same symptoms and require the same diagnosis and the same prescription. This erases local and regional circumstance, cancels history, stifles inquiry, and paralyzes analysis.
In this environment it is not strictly legitimate to pose the question: "Why do they hate us?" Or if the question is allowed, the answer is preordained and prepackaged. It may not stray from its allotted grooves. It must run certain courses. It must fit into an authorized catechism. It can only be a variation of a set number of acceptable responses: "Because we are free; or because we are democratic; or because we are affluent; or because we have a free-market economy or because we are Christian or because their culture is inherently a culture of hate." The common denominator between these and other correct answers is that they point AWAY from self. The quintessence of post 9/11 patriotism is to prevent your train of thought from leading you, however tentatively, however skeptically, in the direction of a political genesis, much less of US policy making. Thus self-examination is precluded and potential anticipatory, preventive, or remedial political action is circumscribed. Not only do certain thought processes become strictly taboo but certain expressions and terms of phrase can also taint the purity of your speech. For example, to talk about "a cycle of violence" in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians is to commit the sin of "moral equivalence."
A devastating consequence of all this on the Palestine Problem has been the conflation by GW of Arafat with Ben Laden and the Palestinians with Taliban, Sharon's primary objective from the beginning. How successful Sharon has been in achieving this objective is clear from GW's nomination of Sharon to join the Pantheon of Peace Makers and his amnesia with regard to his repeated requests to Sharon six months ago to withdraw from the Palestinian territories "now," "immediately," and "without delay."
Ladies and Gentlemen, The first Palestinian suicide bombing ever occurred on 14 September 1993, the very next day after Oslo. It was a message primarily to Arafat. It was followed by the first Israeli suicide killing by Goldstein, in Hebron, in February 1994, itself also a protest against Oslo. Goldstein's tomb to this day is venerated in Israel by segments of the Right as a sacred shrine under Israeli army protection.
The desecration of the tomb of Abraham by Goldstein further fueled the religious dimension of the conflict and unleashed a series of religiously motivated Palestinian suicide bombings.
From 1994 until the end of 2001, all suicide bombings without exception were carried out by Palestinian groups in opposition to Arafat and the Oslo process sponsored by Arafat. On more than one occasion, crackdowns by Arafat's security forces on these groups brought matters to the brink of open Palestinian civil war.
The first suicide bombings by the Aqsa Brigades affiliated to Fatah did not come about until late January 2002, after a prolonged, and systematic offensive by Israel against the Palestinian security apparatus. These bombings, given the asymmetry in weaponry, were the inevitable reaction to this provocative Israeli policy initiated by Barak targeting the Palestinian Authority's security leaders, their personnel, their check points, their parking lots, their barracks, their jails, their headquarters, a policy that was vastly expanded and escalated by Sharon the moment he seized the reins of power. Needless to say, this policy could hardly increase the incentives for the Palestinian security forces to tackle the oppositional suicide bombers and may indeed have been pursued by Sharon with precisely this destructive purpose in mind.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The killing of innocents must be condemned in all circumstances. It certainly is contrary to the teachings of the Koran, which says (V, 32): "Who so slays a soul not guilty for a soul slain, nor for corruption done in the land shall be as if he had slain mankind altogether; and who so gives life to a soul shall be as if he had given life to mankind altogether."
Piety is explicitly defined in the Koran (III: 134). The pious are those who "give to charity in prosperity and adversity, who restrain their rage and who forgive the offences of their fellowmen."
When, however, the acreage of what is left of your country shrinks daily before your eyes because of seizures by armed settlers backed by F16s, Apache helicopters, and Merkava tanks. And when your adversary has no inhibitions in using his arsenal against your homes and places of livelihood, and your only weapons are small arms. And when the international community and your neighbors are unable to come to your aid, the temptation to turn suicidal is not so impossible to comprehend.
These threats were not the threats in any shape or form that Al Qaida faced before 9/11. There is absolutely no analogy here whatsoever.
And to those who claim to see a distinct and alien cultural provenance to the killing of innocents in warfare we say: The killing of innocents, even deliberately, has not been unknown in warfare as waged by the great Western powers, as World War II has amply demonstrated, not only in the European theaters but more particularly in Japan. The threat to hearth and home faced by these great Western powers when they resorted to these tactics against enemy civilians in World War II or in Vietnam, was arguably not greater in kind or imminence or proximity to the threat posed by the Israeli military under Sharon to the very existence of the Palestinian polity and society.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Palestinian and Israeli national narratives are both replete with myths. Since Camp David in July 2000 a new Israeli myth has been born.(13) This goes something like this: "At Camp David, Barak offered Arafat the most generous peace settlement conceivable but Arafat walked away from it. Why? Because Arafat's commitment to a negotiated settlement in Oslo in 1993 had been a subterfuge and he was essentially dedicated to the destruction of Israel through Terrorism and suicide bombing." Unfortunately Clinton, who knew better, also put the blame on Arafat. A few comments are in order:
FIRST: Summits need detailed preparation and Arafat pleaded for such preparation. But Clinton and Barak were insistent. Fearing otherwise to incur Clinton's anger, Arafat acquiesced, but only after eliciting a promise from Clinton that he would not blame the Palestinians in case of failure.
SECOND: During Camp David, Barak and Arafat never met once in one-on-one negotiations. Why not? Because of Barak's personal antipathy towards Arafat.
THIRD: In calculating the area of West Bank territory to be "given" to the Palestinians, Israel always leaves out several crucial details: expanded municipal East Jerusalem, the Latrun salient, and the NW Dead Sea quadrant which together amount to 5.4% of the West Bank. In other words, the percentages the Israelis give of West Bank land left for the Palestinians must always be reduced by 5.4%.
FOURTH: National territory, as in human anatomy, is not only a quantitative matter. The territory the Israelis wanted to retain, in and around Jerusalem, was the most crucial politically, economically, strategically and psychologically for the viability of the Palestinian state.
FIFTH: Despite Barak's concessions in East Jerusalem, the areas he allotted to the Palestinians did not constitute together a contiguous link between the Ramallah/Nablus area in the North and the Bethlehem/Hebron area in the South thus vitiating the ostensibly conceded role of parts of East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital.
SIXTH: For the first time since 1948, the US at Camp David came up with a categorical rejection of the Palestinian right of return. This was a tremendous shock, given the multitudinous endorsements by the UN of this right.
SEVENTH: Another tremendous shock was the more than implicit acceptance by the US at Camp David of the legality of the settlers in the occupied territories who had multiplied by 100% since Oslo. The shock was all the greater because of the multitudinous condemnations by the UN, with US participation, of the illegality of the settlements.
EIGHTH: But the mother of shocks was the demand by Barak, the secular socialist, for Jewish sovereignty over al Haram al Sharif, a demand endorsed by the liberal, secular, Democratic, Clinton. Never since the First Zionist Congress in 1897 had a Zionist leader in authority made such a demand and never since the establishment of Israel in 1948 had any American president.
The conjunction between these considerations, on top of 34 years of continuous military occupation, and Sharon's "visit" to the al Haram al Sharif in September was the Sarajevo of the Aksa Intifada. Sharon came with a phalanx of Likudist Knesset members, 1,000 riot policemen and Apache helicopters. Sharon's message was clear. If Barak was asserting Jewish sovereignty over the al Haram verbally at Camp David, he, Sharon, was asserting it with his boots, in situ.
Ladies and Gentlemen, One of the most ominous developments in the Palestine Problem and the Arab Israeli conflict in the last few decades is the growing prominence of its religious dimension. The year 1967, with the crushing Israeli military victory over Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in a matter of hours, has been a watershed in this regard. On the one hand this victory dealt a coup de grace to secular Arab nationalism as espoused until then under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. And on the other it gave tremendous impetus both to Jewish religious nationalism in Israel and outside and to Christian premillennialism particularly in the USA.
Prior to 1967 Zionism had been a predominantly secular movement. Since 1967 this secularism has been progressively eroded. The victory of 1967 was altogether intoxicating. For the first time since the Roman Emperor Hadrian destroyed Jewish Jerusalem in 135 AD and turned it into the "Jewish-free" Roman city Aelia Capitolina, all of the land of Israel (Eretz Israil), including the whole of Jerusalem and the "Temple Mount," were under total triumphant Jewish military control. This was seen as confirmation of Divine favour and of the closeness of the Jewish people and gave rise to an extremist religious-nationalist settlement movement Gush Emonim (The Bloc of the Faithful) bent on rebuilding the Temple and populating the whole of the Promised Land in perpetuity with Jews in fulfillment of the covenant with Jehovah.
To Christian premillennialists, Israel's victory and the surge in the Jewish settlement of Palestinian occupied territories were the working out of God's design, the augurs of the Rapture and the Tribulations, of Armageddon and the Apocalypse, of the end of Days and the approach of the Second Coming of Christ. To retard, or worse, arrest the Jewish settlement of the occupied territories is to thwart the divine purpose and to delay the promised Christian millennium.
Despite traditional friction between American Christian millennialists and American Jews, 1967 has brought them closer together. It was Menachem Begin, the right-wing Prime Minister of Israel, who as early as 1977 laid down the basis of a political partnership that was nurtured and consolidated by the Israeli Likudist Prime Minister Netanyahu. President Reagan himself was believed to be a Christian premillennialist and he gave a great boost and much needed respectability to the movement in the US.
Christian premillennialists are believed to constitute more than one-fourth of the Republican members in today's Congress. George W. might himself be an evangelical if not a premillennialist.(14) Karl Rove, GW's principal advisor, was recently reported to say that there are 19 million evangelical votes out there to capture, of which only 14 million voted for GW in the last elections.(15) What makes this all the more ominous is that with the demise of secular Arab nationalism after the defeat of 1967 the ideological vacuum inside the Arab world is being filled with Islamism.
Madrassas, we are told, are the global culprit in incitement to inter-religious violence. We believe, however, that with regard to the Middle East none of the three Abrahamic faiths holds a monopoly in these matters, and that true educational reform needs to be non-discriminatory and inclusive to encompass in the U.S. in equal measure the pernicious activities of many evangelical and Jewish fundamentalist groups. In contrast to the mainstream churches, senior American evangelicals of the stature of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, and John Reed preside over a communications empire of daily slander, hate and falsification about Islam, Arabs, and Palestinians. Activist Christian premillenialist and Orthodox Jewish societies, inter alia, openly plan to rebuild the Temple on the debris of al-Haram al-Sharif and enjoy tax-exempt status as U.S. charities. (16)
VII.Ladies and Gentlemen, Some of you will have gathered that your speaker is not wildly optimistic about the future. For the immediate and intermediate futures the outlook is pretty grim, and will get worse, much worse.
Notwithstanding, the contours of a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians are there for all to see. Nothing that Arafat did at Camp David or subsequently at the Taba Talks in January 2001 in any way implied a repudiation of a 2-state solution in which an independent Palestinian state would live in peaceful coexistence alongside a secure and recognized Israel within the 1967 frontiers.
It is simply untrue that the Palestinians walked away from peace talks after Camp David. There were dozens of high level Israeli-Palestinian meetings in Jerusalem after Camp David to continue the talks. There were more such meetings in the US in December 2000 despite Sharon's invasion of al Haram al Sharif the previous September. Clinton's parameters of 23 December were based on these talks. Arafat was very wary of Clinton's parameters but the high-level Palestinian Israeli peace talks at Taba in January were based on these parameters. At the end of the Taba talks a joint Palestinian-Israeli statement announced progress in the talks and the hope of their resumption after the Israeli elections.(17) Sharon assumed power a week later and crushed all such hope. Since then Crown prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia has publicly secured the Arab League's collective endorsement of his proposal for full normalization between the Arab countries and Israel in return for the latter's full withdrawal to the 1967 frontier.
President Bush recently claimed to be in favor of an economically and politically viable Palestinian state. The European Union, Japan, and Russia await at flunkey attention Washington's directives in this regard.
Mainstream Palestinians know and accept that the refugees' right of return must not undermine the demographic balance of Israel.
A Palestinian capital in Eastern Jerusalem would be matched by an Israeli capital in Western Jerusalem provided that Israel did not choke Palestinian Eastern Jerusalem with an encircling, suffocating, suburban, super-metropolitan Jewish Jerusalem.
The biggest hurdle in my opinion is al Haram al Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary to the Muslims and the Temple Mount to the Jews.
In his post-Camp David parameters of December 2000, Clinton suggested the bizarre notion of the partition of the al Haram al Sharif: above ground to the Muslims, below ground to the Jews. Perhaps we should have a rehearsal for this proposal in Rome and London: Above ground to the Catholics and below ground to the Orthodox at St. Peters, and above ground to the Anglicans and below ground to the Catholics at Canterbury Cathedral.
If Israel insists on such an outcome, trusting in the support of American evangelical Christianity, then we are speeding along at a fairly brisk trot towards the fabled Clash of Civilizations.
In 1967 Israel revolutionized with bulldozers the time-honored status quo at the Wailing Wall (a section of the outer western wall of the al Haram) which is Al Buraq to Islam. Let us keep it there: The Wailing Wall for Judaism, al Haram al Sharif for Islam.
But a solution along such political and religious lines is anathema to Sharon. It is against what he thought and fought for since Qibya in 1953. And Sharon plans to be around for quite some time to come: His next rendezvous with the Israeli electorate is in 2003 and he looks forward to a continued fruitful partnership with a reelected GW after the 2004 presidential elections.
The master key lies, as it has always done since 1948, in the White House. For better or for worse, the United States has been the champion and defender, the supplier and provider, the advocate and spokesman of Israel. From 1948 to this day; from Plan Dalet in 1948 to Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, all the major Israeli military operations (with the exception of the Tripartite invasion of Egypt in 1956) have been preceded with a bright or less bright green light from the White House. This is true of 1948, 1967, and 1982. It is also true today.
Does GW really mean what he says, and does he say what he means, when he talks about a politically and economically viable Palestinian state, the antithesis of what Sharon has in mind? Is GW prepared to say this in Hebrew to Sharon and in plain English to the American Jewish establishment despite his signing last week of a law requiring official U.S. documents mentioning Israel to identify Jerusalem as its capital?
Does GW really have a road-map showing the Palestinian and Iraqi milestones and how they relate to one another and to his 2004 agenda?
Or is Washington's focus on the untrustworthiness of Arafat and Palestinian corruption (presumably in contrast with the prevailing pristine corporate standards elsewhere) an alibi for INACTION on the Palestinian state? And are the Bush and Sharon doctrines two sides of the same coin?
The future of Palestine and of Israel, of Middle East peace and stability, of US, and Western interests in the region, lies in the answers to these questions.
* * *
Ladies and Gentlemen, Operation Defensive Shield launched by Sharon on 29 March must be seen in historical perspective. Fundamentally, it is the latest phase in the century-long Palestinian War of Independence that has been ongoing since 1897. The earlier major phases of this war are the uprising of 1929, the Great Rebellion against Britain from 1936 to 1939, the rebellion against partition (November 1947-May 1948), the armed struggle from 1965 to 1987, the first intifada from 1987 to 1993, and the Aqsa intifada since September 2000.
The openly declared objective of the mainstream Palestinian national movement since the Palestine National Congress of Algiers in 1988 has been the liberation of Palestinian territory occupied in 1967 and the establishment of an independent sovereign Palestinian state on this territory alongside and in peaceful and mutual recognition with Israel. This is still the objective of the mainstream Palestinian national movement, and should unswervingly remain so.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Palestinians are not the only people to fight colonialism and to pay a heavy price for doing so. The tree of liberty does not grow by water alone. History shows that empires do not last forever. Far greater colonial powers than Israel have ended their colonial rule. Where are the empires of Assyria and Rome? Of France, Holland, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Germany, Russia . . . and Great Britain?
Dr. Walid Khalidi is one of Palestine's most distinguished historians.
Editor's note: In my humble opinion, for peace to occur Dr. Khalidi needs to understand the truth about just who these leaders are.
1. For the strategic views of Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and their principal aides see: Jason A .Vest: "The Men from JINSA and CSP, The Nation Sept. 2/9, 2002; Brian Whitaker: "Playing Skittles with Saddam," The Guardian (UK) Sept. 3, 2002; Frances Fitzgerald: "George Bush and the World," The New York Review of Books Sept. 26, 2002.
2. These are the latest estimates of the Institute for Palestine Studies office in Washington, DC. On May 12, 2002, the Boston Globe estimated the number of Palestinians killed since the beginning of the intifadah at "more than 1,600." On April 11, 2002, Al Hayat quoting Palestinian Ministry of Health Sources put the Palestinian casualties until April 9, 2002 at 1482 killed and 35,476 wounded.
3. See blurb by Dominique Lapierre on Thurston Clarke By Blood and Fire: The Attack on the King David Hotel (Hutchison, London, 1981).
4. See Appendix B in E. H. Hutchison, Violent Truce (New York, 1956) p. 157.
5. Uzi Benziman Sharon: An Israeli Caesar (New York, Adana Books, 1985) p. 97.
6. Geoffrey Aronson Israel, Palestinians and the Intifada, Creating Facts on the West Bank (London: Kegan Paul International and Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1990) p. 130.
7. An Nahar, 1 September 1982.
8. Aronson, op cit. p. 67.
9. Ibid, p. 70.
10. Ibid, p. 71.
11. Ibid, p. 99.
12. Benziman, op cit., p. 263.
13. For detailed accounts of Camp David talks, see Robert Malley and Hussein Agha, "Camp David: The Tragedy of Errors," New York Review of Books Aug. 9, 2002; and Ari Shavit's long interview with Shlomo Ben Ami in Haaretz English edition Sept. 17, 2001 long excerpts of which were published in Journal of Palestine Studies, Winter 2002.
14. Washington Post, February 1, 2002.
15. New York Times, December 12, 2001.
16. See Gershom Gorenberg, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount (New York: The Free Press, 2000).
17. See report of EU Representative Miguel Moratinos on the Taba talks in Journal of Palestine Studies Vol. XXXI, Number 3, Spring, 2002.