The year that the Taboos fell
By: Daoud Kuttab*
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2003 was not just the year that the statue and
person of Saddam Hussein fell. A number of long held ideological issues
relating to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict also came crumbling down. This
ideological climb down, however was not symmetric in any way.
For Palestinians this was the year that the issue of the right of return was
opened up for discussion with the majority of Palestinians indicating one
way or another that serious compromise on this issue is possible. For
Israelis, and especially right wing Israelis this was the year that the
Zionist ideology of unlimited land expansion and settlement activity began
to be reversed with Ariel Sharon agreeing on the uprooting of Jewish
settlements in Palestinian territories.
Palestinian refugees decade-long demand of returning to their lands and
homes as enshrined in UN Resolution 194 was dealt two major blows this year.
Peace proposals signed by patriotic Palestinian leaders and supported
publicly by important community representatives shifted the ultimate
destination of those refugees expelled from lands and homes, which are now
the state of Israel to areas in the proposed new Palestinian state. These
political proposals were strengthened by a groundbreaking public opinion
poll of Palestinian refugees themselves who said overwhelmingly that their
idea of a return doesn't include the return to Israel but to Palestine ,
wherever the borders of the Palestine will be.
This clear Palestinian compromise was reached without any serious quid pro
quo. Sure the People's Voice Document and the Geneva Accords are written as
a package deal in which this Palestinian compromise is part of a deal that
includes an independent Palestinian state basically within the pre 1967
borders of what was then part of Jordan controlled West Bank as well as the
Egyptian controlled Gaza Strip. But in real terms it is highly unlikely that
any future Israeli negotiator will accept verbatim these accords or the
visions within them. The right wing government of Ariel Sharon will
certainly claim that they have been opposed to these peace initiatives from
day one, while the Palestinian leadership which has not officially endorsed
them will have a harder time beginning the talks with anything more than
what is included in these ideas which the PA has indirectly supported.
Even though the Israeli concessions regarding uprooting settlements are
coupled with a, vigorous land grab and possible future annexation, one
should not belittle the power of the recent decision by the hard line Likud
leader. Sharon 's statement in Herzilya, and before that the statement of
his deputy Ehud Olmert, point to a major ideological shift in the most
ideological Israeli movement. This shift includes a tacit agreement to stop
settlement building and a willingness to uproot existing ones. The
ideological importance of this decision should not be minimized. It
signifies the first time in modern history of the conflict in which a major
Zionist party has stopped, what for Palestinians has been the single most
fatal problem to their national goal, loss of land due to exclusive Jewish
For better or worse, there is no doubt that the move towards Palestinians
and Israelis reversing their long held ideological positions is a direct
result of the three-year Palestinian intifada. And without equating the
fairness or the justice of either move, this has happened because both
people are convinced that it will be impossible to return to Israel or to
keep the settlements. But we are still not there. Israel has not given up on
all settlements built on Palestinian lands occupied in 1967, nor has the
issue of Palestinian refugees been pushed aside from the political map.
Palestinians passionately believe that this issue will not be solved until
Israel admits political and moral responsibility for creating the
Palestinian refugee problem in the first place.
Furthermore, a number of other issues still are looming in the picture,
among them, Jerusalem , borders, connectivity between Gaza and the West Bank
as well as the economic relationship between the two states.
The recognition that both Palestinians and Israelis have made important
ideological leaps could be a major turning point if enough good will is
found to build on them. However, if these ideological shifts are not built
on quickly and effectively, we will find ourselves in the same situation
that we did seven years after Oslo, with nice political talk but no major
decisions on the ground.
* Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist who
is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in
Ramallah. His email is
amin.org 31 ?????? 2003
From the Common Ground News Service