Tuesday, July 24, 2007

ABCD of making peace in Palestine

July 25, 2007

ABCD of making
peace in Palestine

IT IS welcome news that former British prime minister and the international Quartet's special envoy Tony Blair is seeing "sense of possibility" for peace between Israel and Palestinians.
By his own admission, Blair, on his first visit to the Middle East in his capacity as the Quartet's envoy, intends at this stage "to listen, to learn and to reflect" in his talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Well, that is a good beginning as any because that posture would be an opportunity for Blair to learn of the respective positions of the two sides and explore means to advance from there and find common ground.
Surely, Blair needs no background lessons of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After all, it was Britain, wittingly or otherwise, which created the Palestinian problem in the first place and then did little to correct the injustices that were perpetrated on the Palestinians. Throughout his dealings with Middle Eastern leaders in his previous capacity as prime minister of Britain, Blair would have learnt not only about the core issues of the conflict but also the key reasons why the problem has not been solved.
For success in his Quartet mission, he should have the courage to call a spade a spade and accept that it was and is Israel's insistence that a settlement to the Palestinian problem should be at its own terms that has been and is blocking a just and fair peace agreement in Palestine. Blair should learn to deal with Israel and the Palestinians on equal footing
It would be a folly if Blair supports the Israeli argument that Palestinians are engaged in "terrorist" actions and the Jewish state "will not negotiate under fire." What Israel calls "terrorism" is a legitimate war of resistance waged by a people under foreign occupation against their occupiers. What is indeed terrorism is the Israeli state's use of its mighty military against the Palestinians in the name of quelling militancy. Israel has no right to be in the Palestinian territories in the first place and the only means for the Palestinians to oppose Israel's occupation of their land is to engage in armed resistance. It is particularly so after the experience the Palestinians had while dealing with Israel after signing the 1993 Oslo accords that laid a path towards negotiations on the final status of the occupied territories, including Arab East Jerusalem, and other issues such as the rights of Palestinian refugees. Israel has clearly established that it was not willing to concede anything substantial in return for peace with the Palestinians and that was why the Oslo process collapsed. Its refusal to dismantle the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank is one of the clearest manifestations of its intentions to force down its own version of a peace agreement down the Palestinian throat.
Being in a position of miltiary strength and in physical control of the Palestinian territories, Israel has adopted a "take-it-or-leave-it" approach. Blair should be addressing this core point with a view to convincing Israel that there could never be a durable and fair settlement with the Palestinians if it continued to adopt this position.
Similarly, the Hamas-Fatah split in the Palestinian ranks should not be a reason for Blair to demand that the Palestinians set their house in order before moving towards peace with Israel.
That is not to say that the split among Palestinians could be easily healed. But it is an interal Palestinian affair that should be and could be sorted out among the Palestinian factions. Blair could actually facilitate the healing process by creating a situation where the Palestinians, whether Hamas or Fatah or any other group, know exactly what they would be getting in return for making peace with Israel and decide their course of action. He should be applying pressure on Israel and stay away from pressuring the Palestinians into accepting unacceptable compromises and concessions to their occupiers.
Equally important for Blair, who assumed the new mission at the insistenc of US President George W Bush, should assert his independence and steer clear of acting as a US representative seeking to impose Israeli-dictated terms on the Palestinians. Only then there is any meaningful hope for his mission for peace in Palestine.