OneVoice speaks mistakenly on achieving peace
Again and again, private organizations appear on the scene, promoting agendas designed to advance the peace process in the Middle East. In many cases, their intentions may be good; unfortunately, however, they generally lack a minimal understanding of the situation, and their programs and proposals are based on mistaken assumptions. As a result, their contribution to an easing of the prevailing tension between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is of little or no value.
Let us examine one of these peace efforts.
A Matter of Mindset
For an Israeli who lives in Jerusalem, it’s strange being the only Jew in the room. Yet that’s how it was on Jan. 10 as I gave a talk on the current political situation to an international conference of Catholic bishops at the elegant Knights Palace Hotel in the Old City.
When I left the house that morning, my 15-year-old son wished me good luck.
“And Abba,” he added, “wear a kippah.”
We are a traditional family, yet neither my son nor I go around with a yarmulke as a matter of course. Nor do I generally wear a kippah when meeting with Jewish groups. But his instinct was wise and correct: Among the Other, stand up and be identified.
As I walked down to the Jaffa Gate, though, I wondered: Will my knitted skullcap give rise to preconceptions about my political views? Will it mark me as a right-winger, a settler? Or will most of those assembled be fairly oblivious to the nuances of Jewish headgear, what author Donna Rosenthal, in her book “The Israelis: Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Land” (Free Press, 2003), refers to as “kippology”? I decided to wear it. (Besides, some of the clerics would be wearing theirs, too.)
My next problem was how to lead off. My custom is to start with a moment of levity. Not everyone was fluent in English. Few if any were accustomed to my kind of humor. Again, I took a chance: “The Frenchman says, ‘I am tired and thirsty. I must have wine,'” I said. “The German says, ‘I am tired and thirsty. I must have….'” The bishops grinned and said, “Beer.”
“And the Jew says,” I continued gingerly, “‘I am tired and thirsty. I must have diabetes.'” Following a few interminable nanoseconds of high anxiety on my part, the room burst into laughter.
I explained my reasons for telling this classic joke. (An early version may be found in the marvelous three-volume Hebrew “Book of Jokes and Wit,” compiled by Alter Druyanov in 1922.) First, to underscore what everyone knows — that people of different cultures have different tastes and mindsets. And second — more importantly — that despite the image of the tough, brash, domineering Israelis, we have a deep strain of insecurity, too. And that unless one understands that, one cannot understand the political situation.
I should hasten to add that I was not the only speaker invited to address the group. After I concluded my remarks — which touched on political messianism, Ariel Sharon’s new government, the scourge of anti-Semitism, Jewish empathy for the oppressed and, above all, the hope that the new Palestinian leadership will finally turn away from self-destructive violence — Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi, a Palestinian academic and chair of Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs in Jerusalem, took the lectern to express his point of view.
“I am tired and thirsty,” he began, “but I am denied the water.”
And so it went: the occupation (“we are in a prison”); the “three Gs” (“gates, guards and guns”); and the wall (which Israelis call a security fence, and he called “a sharp knife cutting our flesh and sucking our blood”).
“We must awaken the Jewish conscience,” he said, as if I had not dwelt, for 20 minutes, on the urgent need, in the face of myriad obstacles, to remedy the suffering of the Palestinians.
“Your pressure,” he told the bishops, “is very much needed.”
The time came for closing remarks. I recognize, I said, that when one puts a metaphor on the table, others are free to make of it what they will. For my part, I hope that we can envision together a thirst-quenching glass that is at least half full. And if diabetes, alas, is an incurable disease — at least at present — it is surely treatable. And that, too, is a good thing.
But my Palestinian colleague wasn’t buying. He dismissed my rosy rhetoric. He demanded historic justice. And so it went.
In the days since, I have been replaying that morning in my mind — and reading the papers, watching TV and talking to people in the know — and wondering: We are again sitting down at the table, but are we in for the same old story? Will they demand of us, and we of them, things that neither can deliver? Or is there reason to believe that this time around — with Yasser Arafat finally gone — a conflict that has proven strikingly intractable, and has thwarted generations of talented diplomats, can finally be resolved?
Actually, I do think there is reason for hope. Abu Mazen, the new Palestinian president, is a pragmatist. He recognizes, as do most of those who voted for him, that terrorism is the wrong way to go. He knows that the Palestinians need to clean up corruption, overhaul their security apparatus and establish a viable democracy — not just because this is what the Americans want, but because it is good for them. For decades, Arafat manipulated the Palestinian leadership, playing one person against the other in order to stay in power. Now, the best and brightest of them need to work together, to build credibility in Washington and — here comes the hardest part — to build confidence among the Israeli public.
And what about our own house? Can we, as a society, overcome our well-earned fears, our internal divisions, our habitual self-absorption and take bold steps toward peace? If Prime Minister Sharon can get us out of Gaza — despite the demagogic tactics of the settlers, and in the face of fiery opposition from within his own party — he will have implemented an essential principle of statecraft: Just because what you are doing in your own self-interest also serves the interests of your adversaries, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
If both we and the Palestinians can, in fact, come to share that crucial mindset, a breakthrough may be in store. Someday, we may even laugh at each other’s jokes. n
Stuart Schoffman is an associate editor and columnist for The Jerusalem Report. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Is Gaza Becoming the Next Lebanon?
It was a loss that brought back the darkest days of Israel’s war on Palestinian terrorism and the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon — and the next day it got even worse.
Six elite soldiers of the Givati Brigade, on their way home from a mission to destroy arms factories in Gaza City, died in a huge fireball Tuesday when their ordnance-laden armored personnel carrier went over a land mine.
On Wednesday, at least five more Israeli soldiers were killed in an attempt to retrieve the remains of the previous days’ dead when their armored personnel carrier was hit by an anti-tank missile.
The losses could not have come at a worse time for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been struggling to promote his beleaguered plan for an Israeli withdraw from the crowded coastal strip.
Wednesday’s renewed raid into Gaza came after Palestinian terrorist groups broadcast a macabre display of Israeli soldiers’ body parts and said they would hold them as bargaining chips to wring concessions from Israel.
"We are fighting a cruel, inhuman enemy and we will not cease fighting it and striking it, no matter where it may hide," Sharon said Tuesday at the Knesset.
Israeli officials said they would not negotiate for the return of the remains. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat reportedly called on the terrorist groups to turn over the remains, fearing bad publicity for the Palestinians.
At least three Palestinians were killed in Wednesday’s fighting, after seven were killed Tuesday.
Despite Israel’s show of force, pundits were quick to draw parallels with the lead-up to Israel’s evacuation of its southern Lebanese "security zone" in 2000, which followed years of public outcry over soldiers killed there by Hezbollah guerrillas.
"The waves of worry and rumors that engulfed Israel today as reports emerged about the operation in Gaza reminded many of the uncertainty, even impotence, of the final months of the IDF’s presence in Lebanon," military analyst Amos Harel wrote in Ha’aretz.
"The catastrophe in Gaza is a blow that will speed disengagement," he said, referring to Sharon’s plan to disengage Israel from the Palestinians by pulling out of Gaza and parts of the West Bank.
Complicating matters is that Sharon’s own Likud Party rejected the plan in a party referendum May 2. Naysayers in the party said any unilateral withdrawal will reward terrorism and the Palestinian Authority’s failure to do anything to stop it.
The day of the Likud vote, a pregnant Israeli woman and her four daughters were killed by Palestinian terrorists while traveling in Gaza. Opponents of Sharon’s plan said the attack was yet another sign that a pullout would encourage Palestinian terrorists to step up their campaign of violence.
A week after the referendum, Sharon announced Sunday that he would replace the original plan with a new, modified version by the end of the month.
"It will take me another three weeks, and then I will present" a new plan to the government, political sources quoted Sharon as telling his Cabinet.
Government officials were silent on whether the new plan would expand or reduce the scope of Sharon’s original proposal to dismantle all settlements in the Gaza Strip and four in the West Bank. Nor was it clear to what extent Sharon would retain key U.S. support for his plans.
Sharon’s office called off a planned trip to Washington next week. Sharon had been scheduled to address the annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and political sources said they had expected the prime minister to meet with President Bush to follow up on the leaders’ landmark White House summit last month. Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to take Sharon’s place at the AIPAC event.
After this week’s deadly incident in Gaza, some Israeli experts said the soldiers’ exposure to the hazards of Gaza fighting could prompt a groundswell of public support for a pullout. Already, polls have found Sharon’s popularity paradoxically boosted by his loss in the referendum.
"Israelis prefer a weak premier," read one Israeli newspaper headline this week.
"Those Likud members who rejected the disengagement plan because they said they did not have the heart to evict settlers should do some soul-searching," Ami Ayalon, a former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet security service turned grass-roots peacemaker, told JTA. "Do they have the heart to look an average Israeli parent in the eyes and say: ‘We all know Gaza eventually will be evacuated, but it’s OK for your son to go on risking his life there?’"
There Is No ‘Occupation’
Arab spokesmen regularly complain about what they call "the Israeli occupation" of the Judea-Samaria-Gaza territories. But the truth is that there is no such "Israeli occupation."
To begin with, nearly all Palestinian Arabs currently live under Yasser Arafat’s rule, not Israel’s. Following the signing of the Oslo accords, the Israelis withdrew from nearly half of the territories, including the cities where 98.5 percent of Palestinian Arabs reside. The notion that the Palestinian Arabs are living under Israeli occupation is false. The areas from which Israel has not withdrawn are virtually uninhabited, except for the two percent where Israelis reside.
The term "occupation" is also used to indicate that Israel has no right to any presence in Judea-Samaria-Gaza or the Old City section of Jerusalem, and that the Israeli presence in any of those areas constitutes illegal "occupation" of someone else’s land. In fact, Israel has the strongest religious, historical and legal claim to this land.
The territories of Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem were integral parts of the Jewish kingdoms throughout the biblical eras and are explicitly mandated by the Hebrew Bible as part of the land of Israel. These lands were Jewish thousands years ago under King David, King Solomon and other Jewish rulers.
Can anyone name a Palestinian Arab king who ever ruled over Palestine? No, because there never was one.
All of the most important Jewish religious sites are situated in those territories. The very name "Judea" — a term which was commonly used by the international community throughout all the centuries until the Jordanian occupation in 1949 — is derived from the same root as the word "Jew," testifying to the deep Jewish connection to the land.
The reason Jews are called "Jews" is because we come from Judea. This historical-religious right was the basis for the League of Nations decision in 1922 to endorse the Jewish people’s right to all of the Holy Land on both sides of the Jordan River.
From the standpoint of international law, it is important to note that prior to 1967, there was no other recognized sovereign power in the territories. Israel’s capture of Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967 did not constitute an illegal "occupation" of someone else’s land, because prior to 1967, there was no legal or recognized sovereign power there.
The Jordanian occupation of Judea-Samaria and Jerusalem during 1949-1967 was illegal, having been carried out in defiance of the United Nations Security Council. The only countries in the world to recognize it were Pakistan and (in part) England.
Furthermore, Israel captured the territories in self-defense. Israel took over Judea-Samaria-Gaza and the Old City of Jerusalem in self-defense, in response to aggression by Jordan and Egypt in June 1967. Had Jordan not invaded Israel — ignoring pleas by Israel to stay out of the war — Israel would not control Judea and Samaria today.
As Stephen Schwebel, a former U.S. State Department legal adviser and former head of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, has written: "Where the prior holder of territory had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense has against that prior holder better title."
It is also significant that U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 does not require complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories. Resolution 242 requires Israel to withdraw "from territories" captured in 1967, but the authors of the resolution deliberately left out the word "the" before "territories" because it was their conviction — as articulated by then-British Foreign Secretary George Brown — "that Israel will not withdraw from all the territories." The Soviets tried to insert "the," but that effort was specifically rejected so as not to suggest that Israel is obliged to surrender all of the territories.
Finally, it should also be noted that the Oslo accords recognize Israel’s right to remain in the territories, at least until a final settlement is reached. The accords accept Israel’s presence in the territories, at least until an Israel-Palestinian Authority agreement on the final status of those areas is reached.
Chapter Two, Article X, Clause Four specifically recognizes that in the disputed territories, "Israel shall continue to carry the responsibility for external security, as well as the responsibility for overall security of Israelis for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order" until a final accord is reached. Furthermore, the Oslo accords do not require Israel to dismantle any of the Israeli communities in Judea-Samaria-Gaza — in effect, an acknowledgment of Israel’s right to maintain those communities, at least until a final agreement is reached.
In short, the notion that there is an illegal Israeli "occupation" is a myth.
Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America.