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The Palestinian’s Long Wait for Peace

Elias H. Tuma

It may be shrewd and strategic to wait when there is a fairly good chance that the desired objective will be realized within a reasonable time horizon. But it is futile, wasteful, and self-defeating to wait for something to happen when all odds in the foreseeable future are against it.

In that case it becomes necessary to devise new approaches that promise to be more viable than endless waiting. The Palestinians are in that predicament at this time. They have been waiting for a just and permanent peace with Israel for a long time, but it has not come and is unlikely to come any time soon, unless the Palestinians take matters into their own hands in a more creative way than has been the case. It is up to them to initiate and propose solutions that Israel cannot reject, even if such solutions entail serious compromises on their part.

The Palestinians have been waiting apparently on the assumption or the hope that other concerned parties will see the light, recognize their just cause, and come to their aid and salvation. Thus, they have been busy reminding themselves and others of their just cause, and also reinforcing their beliefs with violence against an opponent that is superior in training, equipment, unity, and discipline. Several decades have passed but the prospects of peace on their terms are no better today than they were then. That is why the Palestinians should take the initiative and come up with peace proposals that reconcile terms of their own with terms acceptable to Israel.

The Palestinians must be aware that Arab countries, presumably their closest allies and benefactors, can or will help only in rhetoric and with modest funds to help them survive, but not much more. Arab countries will not again take up arms against Israel; they have little leverage to pressure the major supporters of Israel; and they have little clout to influence the United Nations Security Council to take a defining and enforceable stand on their behalf. Arab countries are now planning another summit for next month to consider the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but if history tells anything, it is that the Palestinians should not expect much.

The Palestinians must know that the United States (U.S.) is totally committed to the cause of Israel, as Israel defines it. The U.S., therefore, will not apply sufficient pressure on Israel on their behalf, nor will it help them become economically or militarily strong enough to fend for themselves against Israel. The U.S. will help only within the context of Israel's guaranteed, secure future, regardless of the infringement by Israel on their human rights, their increasing poverty, or the decline in the quality of life of the majority among them.

The Palestinians must know that the European countries, singly or collectively, are not any more dependable allies than the U.S. in the conflict with Israel. The European Union makes declarations but takes no action. The individual European countries, such as Britain, France, Germany, or Russia, may criticize certain Israeli policies but stand by their commitment to the triumph of Israel. Hence, waiting for effective support from the U.S. or Europe is like waiting for Manna from Heaven: it makes one feel good but the stomach remains empty.

The United Nations (UN) is probably the best candidate to appreciate the plight of the Palestinians, the elements of justice in their claims against Israel, and the magnitude of their suffering. Yet, the UN is handicapped.

It is only a collection of the individual members and it can do only what its members decide. Its hands are tied especially by the distribution of veto power in the Security Council, which the U.S. is always ready to cast on behalf of Israel. Thus, even the UN can influence the relations between the Palestinians and Israel only by persuasion, which has so far not been sufficiently effective.

The Palestinians must know that Israel will not come to their aid and surrender its claims to territory, which is the crux of the conflict, on its own. Israel acts in its own self-interest. It wants as much territory as it can secure. It wants as few returning Palestinians as absolutely possible. It also wants to maximize security for its people. So far Israel has succeeded in attaining most of these objectives at the expense of the Palestinians, by force, and by guaranteed outside support. Israel also has the power to maintain its upper hand for the foreseeable future. It has a well-trained, well-equipped army. It has some of the most advanced weapons, and the knowledge to produce and utilize these weapons. It has the human and physical capital it needs. It also has the knowledge and the organization to promote its cause worldwide. Given all these advantages, Israel finds itself under no compulsion to give the Palestinians what they want, especially when it finds "legitimate" excuses not to do so. The Palestinians always tend to oblige and provide the excuses, legitimate or not.

The Palestinians, in contrast, have little hope of winning by force: they have poorly trained militias, disorganized resistance groups, and defective or out of date equipment. Their economy is in shambles; unemployment is extremely high; poverty and malnutrition are rampant. They have no super power allies, and their apparently powerless government lacks credibility at home and abroad. Therefore, the Palestinians have little to utilize in pressuring Israel to make peace with them on their own terms.

In the meantime violence and counter-violence have caused them heavy losses in life and limb and have hardened the Israeli and international stands against them. The strategy of violence against the occupation has failed.

Therefore, the longer they "wait" on the basis of false hopes and expectations, the better it is for Israel and the worse for them. The waiting strategy gives Israel more opportunities to occupy more land, build more settlements and establish more facts on the ground, and become more entrenched than ever before. In fact Israel has been proficient in encouraging this waiting strategy by inventing ways to preoccupy the Palestinians and distract them from the basic issues in the conflict. The Palestinians are now preoccupied with the Wall Israel is building, even though the wall is not a basic issue. Fighting the wall helps to delay negotiations and gives Israel more time to pursue its own objectives.

The Palestinians' waiting is entailing heavy costs on them: loss of life, injury, destruction of infrastructure, crumbling economy, severe poverty and unemployment, and a high degree of dependence on aid (charity) from the outside for survival. Malnutrition, stunted growth, and distorted education also are high costs to bear while waiting for the improbable solution they desire.

The Palestinians must know that if they cannot get what they want, it is wise to get what they can. Israel does not hold all the cards. Therefore the Palestinians can and should take matters more into their hands. They can take a number of steps to improve the odds in their favour. First and foremost, they can and should stop the violence, without stopping their resistance to occupation. Non-violent resistance can be much more effective than violent resistance, especially in gaining international support, and in sparing their own people the tragic effects of "counter-violence". The Palestinians can declare formally what has been internally recognized and accepted, namely that the return of the Palestinian refugees to Israel is improbable and should not stand in the way of peace. The Palestinians can show that they are willing to live in peace side by side with Israel within borders negotiated by the two of them. The Palestinians can also redirect their resources and energies to the development of their economy, improvement of the quality of their education, and the fight against poverty and deprivation by all the legitimate means at their disposal.

Finally, they can formulate their own comprehensive solution in a way that will make it hard for Israel to reject it.

The Palestinian's long wait has been detrimental. It is time to end it and expedite the march toward a viable solution. The Palestinians are capable of taking the initiative, rather than always reacting to initiatives by others, in a realistic way that reconciles their claims with those of Israel. The Palestinians have had many opportunities to reach a solution, but they have usually said NO until it became too late to say YES, going back all the way to the 1920s and 1930s. May be now they will have the courage, the wisdom, and the compassion for their own people to make it possible for themselves and for the Israelis to say YES to a viable solution of their own making.

Elias H. Tuma is a Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of California, Davis, California, USA. Source: AMIN.org, March 1, 2004, amin.org

The Power of Incitement
In light of recent suspected involvement of Jewish and Arab Israelis in violent acts against each other’s communities, this editorial states that the ‘task of Jewish and Arab leaders in Israel is to educate their communities toward tolerance of the views of the other side, to cultivate the recognition of freedom of speech, and to remove stereotypes that derive from racist and preconceived notions from public discourse.” (Source: Ha’aretz, March 7, 2004)

Revive the Peace Initiative, but this Time, Do it Right
This Daily Star editorial praises last Wednesday’s reiteration by Jordan's King Abdullah II of a proposal to revive the "land for peace" initiative spelled out at the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002. It argues that to be successful, the initiative must include a serious diplomatic and public opinion campaign communicating the Arab desire for a fair and honourable peace accord to the Israeli and Jewish people. (Source: Daily Star, March 12, 2004)

Scaling the Middle Ground
Bill Broadway reports on the recent Breaking the Ice expedition that will be awarded a Common Ground Award from Search for Common Ground. The awards honour those who have made important contributions toward bridging the divides between people, finding solutions to seemingly intractable problems, and providing hope where there often was none. (Source: The Washington Post, March 6, 2004)

Common Ground News Service February 20, 2004
CGNews promotes constructive perspectives and dialogue about current Middle East issues.

From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 22-03-2004



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