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Palestine ­ An
Honorable Solution

Terrell E. Arnold

In the months since Hamas overcame Fatah efforts to destroy it in the Gaza Strip, the Middle East situation has moved toward a fragmented peace process revival. At least that is the picture painted by Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian President and leader of Fatah. In creating that picture he has had the financial and political help of Israeli and US leadership, first to support Fatah's military effort to defeat Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and then, when that failed, to create a reduced Palestinian state in the West Bank that is dedicated to eliminating Hamas from the Palestinian political equation. However, eliminating Hamas will solve none of the real problems. That ultimately is up to Israel.
Hamas, in a sense, initiated the current crisis by winning a sizeable majority of the seats in the parliamentary elections of January 2006 in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Empowered thereby to form a government, Hamas received little support and only truculent cooperation from President Abbas and Fatah. Efforts of Arab governments, led by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, to implant a national unity government in Palestine were only nominally successful, because Fatah did not want to play. Moreover, Abbas and Fatah efforts to undermine Hamas, with strong US and Israeli support, made conflict inevitable. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas proved to be best organized, and drove Fatah from the scene. Hamas influence in the present West Bank remains significant but untested.
Abbas Creates His Own Government
Expelled from Gaza, President Abbas set out to form a new government by fiat. The Abbas solution, supported by both Israel and the US, was to form an exclusive West Bank government without Hamas and without an election. In effect, the US and Israel encouraged Abbas to violate the Palestinian constitution, behave as if the January 2006 election had not occurred, and form a new all- Fatah government for the West Bank. He was then encouraged to try to start peace talks with the Israelis, and to ignore Hamas and the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
In discussions so far between Abbas and Ehud Olmert, both have taken their standard positions: If he wants the support of the Palestinian people, Abbas has no choice but to move briskly into the critical issues. However, Olmert wants to continue the perennial Israeli tactic of deferring any discussion of real substance in favor of talking about atmospherics. For long time followers of the peace process, the situation has a tiresomely familiar look about it, but exclusion of a third of the Palestinians from the discussion is a radical departure from Palestinian history. Moreover, the climate has changed.
The Dark Emerging Israeli History
For starters, the history of Palestine and the growth of the State of Israel have become much clearer in recent accounts. Partly due to release of official Israeli government documents, but significantly due to the growing openness of commentary about the history of the region, the sordid truth of deliberate Israeli ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians beginning in 1947-48 is now widely available. By the mid 1960s, Israeli forces (including the terrorist groups Stern and Irgun as well as the nascent Israel Defense Force called the Haganah) already had expelled the Palestinians from more than half of the country, and, Israeli and Arab legends to the contrary, up to that point Israeli forces had encountered no effective resistance.
Israel's quick and easy victory in the 1967 war demonstrated how limited future Arab resistance to Israeli takeover of Palestine was likely to be. As long as Israel remained under the US protective umbrella, military resistance was unlikely in any case. By 1967, the Israelis had driven more than 800,000 Palestinians to UN refugee camps in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and neighboring countries.
A number of recent works amply describe this history. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine gives a clear picture of Israeli operations to expel the Palestinians, starting in 1947-48. Former President Jimmy Carter's Peace not Apartheid looks at the oppressive political results of the process. In their work, The Israel Lobby, two American scholars, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, explain, among other things, why Americans remain so ignorant or misinformed about it all. In her recent book, The Roadmap to Nowhere, the late Professor Tanya Reinhart outlines the unholy alliance that has existed among the CIA, Israel's Mossad, and collaborating security forces of Fatah to eliminate Palestinian insurgent groups Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihaad, and the Al Aqsa Brigades. As these sources make clear, since the Zionists started their takeover of Palestine, they have continually manipulated and repressed the Palestinians, all the while pretending to be part of a "peace process".
Early PLO Efforts Unsuccessful
When Arafat, with help from Abbas, formed the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1960s, there appeared for the first time a possibility that the Palestinian people might have sufficient organization to negotiate with the Israelis. However, Arafat could not keep the Palestinians together. His own Fatah was then a terrorist group. But various original PLO subscribers such as Abu Nidal and Abu Ibrahim did not think that Arafat was militant enough and formed their own groups. What followed was the great wave of Middle East terrorism the central driver of which was Palestinian dispossession by Israel. The existence of these groups, widely publicized in US law and policy, helped the Israelis to capture and keep the high ground of western opinion. Israel therefore encountered no real pressure to negotiate.
As Arafat withdrew his core organization from terrorism and moved the PLO into a more or less political mode, an opportunity for actual negotiations with the Israelis finally emerged. However, it soon became clear that the Israelis never had any interest in making a deal. At the time, and until the present, the Israelis have had the last word on the peace process. In the aftermath of failed negotiations that occurred at Camp David, Oslo, Camp David II and later, the Israelis insisted publicly that they had made reasonable peace overtures to the Palestinians, but the problem, the Israelis said, was that Arafat failed to respond. Mainstream media supported that posture in the United States, where the Palestinians had no effective spokesman. The truth was that the Israelis always temporized, never offered anything of substance, because they always put any discussion of the critical issues somewhere in the future.
Peace Efforts Went Nowhere
Arafat's inability to engage the Israelis in meaningful peace negotiations--more than matched by Israeli refusal to offer anything of substance--actually spawned the awkward notion in international media and political forums that Middle East peace was a "process". This essentially meant that, periodically driven by the US, Israeli and Palestinian representatives made repeated efforts to fire things up. However, those efforts contained no real substance as perceived by the Palestinians, while the Israelis pursued a long-term goal of avoiding any negotiation on Jerusalem, the right of return, and compensation for property the Israelis had confiscated.
Israel Grew As Palestine Shrank
Israel's Zionist leadership kept the substantive issues off the table, while they increased Israeli settlements in size and number. A support infrastructure of roads, walls, checkpoints, and "security" exclusion of Palestinians from such areas as the Jordan Valley steadily shrank the space open to Palestinians. The situation that resulted is shown in a map of the West Bank (http:// www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/ JOPA-73XE7B?Open) provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Palestinian Confinement Grew
Other maps provided by OCHA clearly illustrate how Palestinian confinement has grown with each stage of the Israeli takeover.
The following chart and sketch maps underscore the stages of takeover beginning before World War I and continuing to the present. As these data show, while the Palestinian, that is the non- Jewish population of the region, was more or less stable at around a million people through the early 1970s, the population grew rapidly thereafter, reaching over 4 million in 2000. That burgeoning population growth began with the rise of Middle East terrorism in the 1980s. In time, it generated the near panic of many Israelis regarding the "demographic" crisis represented by a probability that, within Israel and the territories, Palestinians would outnumber Jews in a decade or so. As the Zionists and their supporters saw it, Israel's future as a Jewish state was in jeopardy.
Israel / Palestine: Arab / Jewish Population (1914-2000)
As the sketch maps above indicate, by 1967 the Palestinians were crowded largely into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Several Factors Drive Change
Rapid Palestinian population growth, along with Zionist political ambitions and the Israeli settlement movement thirst for space, drive the reluctance of Israeli leadership to engage in any negotiation with the Palestinians that might involve territorial concessions. The psychology of it is oppressive, as are the statistical results. The West Bank comprises a nominal 20% of Israel-Palestine land area. As shown in the detailed OCHA map referenced above, less than half of the West Bank actually is available to Palestinians.
The reality is that over 4.5 million Palestinians live in less than 10% of their ancient homeland. Moreover, the meandering wall, Israeli-only roads, and Palestinian "no-go" zones around settlements further reduce areas available to the Palestinians. In addition, that small area continues to shrink as Israeli settlements take more territory. What Palestinians now see is the probable total disappearance of their homeland in their lifetimes.
Hamas Enters the Scene
Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, was born into this environment. The resulting landscape defined the political dynamics of the Movement. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who founded Hamas in 1987, pushed his organization as the most active insurgency against continued Israeli incursions. He did this at a time when Arafat was trying to keep the PLO and Fatah focused on political action and negotiations. High profile Hamas attacks against Israeli civil and military targets made Yassin a prime enemy of the Israelis. He was in and out of Israeli prisons for various attacks but refused to lower his profile. His elimination became a priority objective of the IDF, and in March 2004, a high profile Israeli helicopter attack assassinated him by firing missiles at his party as they left a mosque in the Gaza Strip. Yassin's death, and that of his successor, Rantizi, a month later, caused Hamas to change its leadership pattern, and it now has more than one publicly acknowledged leader.
Hamas leadership declared a unilateral ceasefire in 2005, and they kept that ceasefire in place until after heavy Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip began in mid 2006. Meanwhile, Hamas used its time out of the terrorism front lines to enhance its political posture, to take care of its following in socio-economic terms, and to prepare candidates to run in the then upcoming elections of January 2006.
Hamas Transforms Itself
The Hamas victory in that election were landmark opportunities that Israel, the United States and much of the West chose to ignore. In less than two decades, a group formed by Ahmed Yassin as a hardcore domestic terrorist organization had moved itself nearly completely, certainly successfully, to the position of a political party. Hamas pulled off the transition that few modern terrorist groups have succeeded in making, and they did it essentially in one parliamentary election. However, while the Hamas parliamentary electoral landslide was declared by respected outside observers to be a free and fair election, the United States, Israel, the European Union and much of the West, and, of course, Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah, rejected out of hand the fact that Hamas had become a successful political force in Palestine.
Hamas Agenda Popular With Many Palestinians
How Hamas had achieved that result was a case study in the correct way to retrieve communities from the warp of terrorism. Hamas initially achieved stature in Palestine because it stood for the right things as believed by Palestinians. It fought back against continuing Israeli encroachment on dwindling Palestinian living space. It frontally tackled the Israel Defense Force (IDF) with sufficient success for Hamas to become public enemy number one in the Israeli schematic. It articulated the correct posture toward Israel as many Palestinians saw it: Do not give up Jerusalem; insist on the right of return; insist on compensation for confiscated properties; and (the clanger in Israeli and outside opinion) refusal to recognize, in advance of serious negotiations, Israel's right to exist. Overall, Hamas stood closer to the Palestinian heart than any other group, including Fatah and the PLO. It was also doing an effective job of taking care of its following.
What the US, Israel, the UN and much of Europe have failed to take on board is the fact that Palestinians generally share the Hamas agenda. Abbas understands this well enough to insist on negotiating on the core issues from the first day. However, he and his outside supporters collectively fail to understand that Israel's right to exist is at best questionable in the mind of many Palestinians.
Scarcely anyone in the region would consider the right a freebee to be given away voluntarily.
Israel Builds a State Without Honor
Israel has built its state by expelling the Palestinians, taking their lands without compensation, and killing or imprisoning them where they resisted. Despite the patently unlawful creation of the state, Palestinians and many other regional peoples may be prepared in the abstract to agree that the state exists. However, in their view, because of Israel's crimes, the state exists without legitimacy or honor.
Despite such criticism at home, and strong criticism in the United States by Alfred Lilienthal in his book, What Price Israel, to build its state, Israel simply has ignored the rights of the Palestinian people to build its state. The victims understandably consider the failure of the United States and the West to oppose that process as part of the crime.
An Honorable Solution Comes From Arab League
After Hamas took office it began to articulate--for anyone who was listening or reading carefully--a position that could eventually overcome the tragic flaw in the Israeli design by providing an honorable solution. Hamas was very careful, even so, not to give anything away. Building on a proposal originally put forward by then Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at a meeting in Lebanon of the Arab League in 2002, Hamas leaders said they were prepared to talk with Israel, but with everything on the table. That phrase, "everything on the table" meant that recognition of Israel, the well-known critical Palestinian issues, setting of defined borders, and such issues as permanent access between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, would have to be subject to immediate discussion and decision. Hamas took an Israeli posture on this by stating they were not prepared to concede anything in advance.
Green Line Becomes Key to Israeli Honor
The "honorable" part of the Arab League proposal was Palestinian willingness to negotiate on a basis of Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 "green line". If Israel agreed to that outcome, even with minor variations, they could reach a permanent settlement with the Palestinians that would also be acceptable to the Arab League membership. To get the rest of the world, including the Palestinian people, to honor their historic land grab, all the Israelis have to do is (a) agree to stop at the Green Line, (b) meet the reasonable demands of the Palestinians respecting their rights, and (c) assure the Palestinians the freedom to have a future life in at least part of their ancestral homeland.
Hamas did not invent these choices. Selling them to the Palestinian people as a basis for permanent Middle East peace would be a remarkable achievement. Acceptance of them, or something very like them, is the only honorable two state solution available to the Israeli people. Israel's present path, confining the Palestinians behind walls in the shrinking spaces of the West Bank and Gaza, requires humankind at large to ignore Israeli creation of its much- cherished Jewish state simply by expelling or killing and confining the owners and taking their property. For the world to go on living with this requires ignoring a political sickness that plagued the last century and will plague this one ever more deeply.
Alternative Is A Single Democratic State
If Israel is not prepared to retreat to the green line, no Palestinian state is possible. Rather, as many expert observers, including the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, and one-time Palestinian counsel John Whitbeck, have said, the solution is a single state founded on democratic principles. Even a leading Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom, has argued that will not happen, because it would mean an end to the idea of a Jewish state. However, in the long run that may be the only means to bring enduring peace to the Middle East.
Some Final Thoughts
As this article goes up on rense.com, Israeli authorities have announced all out war against Hamas and the people in the Gaza Strip. That unilateral declaration, as the Israelis define it, gives them the right to turn off electric power and disrupt the flow of supplies to Gaza. This is the most blatant attempt of Israel, so far, to break Palestinian resistance. As part of its campaign, already the Israelis have stopped at least a hundred nongovernmental organizations from continuing their humanitarian work in Gaza. Israeli authorities have even prohibited materials for school textbooks from entering Gaza. The formula seems to be that by keeping the Palestinians in the dark, hungry, unemployed, under assault, and ignorant, they eventually will accept their future choices: (a) leave, or (b) learn to live in an open-air prison.
The most disturbing aspect of this situation is the passive US, western, UN and many Islamic reactions to it. While the US has always said it preferred quiet diplomacy with the Israelis, that procedure obviously has had little effect on Israeli behavior. Some argue it has encouraged the Israelis to excess. While many of the world's Jews object to what is happening, pressure from within those communities has not deflected the Zionists from their chosen course.
A virtually prescient Israeli foresaw where this could lead nearly forty years ago. As Tanya Reinhart reports in her 2006 book, The Roadmap to Nowhere, the Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibovitz made a harsh prediction that "Concentration camps would be erected by the Israeli rulersIsrael would be a state that would not deserve to exist." Significantly, Israel's perceived worst enemies, the Arab states, and Palestine's leading insurgents have offered an honorable solution.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at wecanstopit@charter.net.


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