- There is a community, small but growing, that rigorously
supports the rights of the Palestinian people to fair and equal treatment
in Palestine. Fairness and equity have been systematically denied to the
Palestinian people for more than six decades. During that time, as we have
seen graphically described in such recent works as former President Jimmy
Carter's Peace not Apartheid, and Israeli historian Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic
Cleansing of Palestine, their land has been forcibly taken from them, while
the people have been squeezed into less than 10% of their historic homeland.
And that squeeze is still on while the United States, as principal sponsor,
pushes for peace talks in Annapolis sometime this month. Such settlement
works have made it amply clear that the Palestinian people are the victims
of the most vicious land grab in modern history.
- Both the Western and the Arab worlds carry part of the
blame for this situation, because the West has routinely acquiesced in
continuous Israel Defense Force takeovers of Palestinian homes and lands,
while the Arab governments have not effectively challenged Israeli takeovers.
The Israeli land grab has never been derailed or even stalled by the peace
talks of the past that uniformly have gone nowhere. Those talks collectively
have been so meaningless that they are only granted the diplomatic stature
of a "process". In this context, the critical challenge for Annapolis
planners is how to make the proposed talks meaningful.
- "Meaningful" talks, however, represent widely
different outcomes for the key parties. Given their druthers, the Palestinians
would like all of Palestine returned to them, but the realists among them
now seem prepared to accept a division at the 1967 truce line plus the
Gaza Strip. That would concede most of Palestine to the Israelis; the 1967
truce line is generally regarded as providing the minimum real estate necessary
for a viable Palestinian state. On the other hand, the Zionists who drive
Israeli policy on this matter want all of Palestine to the Jordan River
and more if they can get it. Their basic strategy to date has been to talk
peace, stall on specifics and continue to encroach on the remainder of
Palestine with new settlements, creating those famous "facts on the
ground" that George W. Bush so glibly handed to Ariel Sharon. That
land grab goes on today, even as the US prepares for peace talks in Annapolis.
- One can ask whether in these circumstances there is any
point to the Annapolis talks. While Mahmoud Abbas for the Palestinians
and Ehud Olmert for the Israelis natter over the terms of an agenda, it
becomes increasingly clear that, if such talks are held, they will occur
without either an agreed agenda or a consensus on outcomes. In that event,
the bigger question becomes who actually will attend. One of the clearest
voices on what must happen is John Whitbeck, a former legal counsel to
the Palestinians and presently an informal adviser. Below, with his permission,
are views he has expressed on the situation facing Palestinian officials.
- The West Bank Fatah leadership has not yet yielded in
its publicly pronounced insistence that it will not go to Annapolis without
both a detailed framework for a peace agreement and a firm deadline for
reaching a definitive peace agreement. Maintaining this insistence is essential
if any renewed "peace process" is not to be simply another multi-year,
- Israel, which has, successfully and with the silent acquiescence
and complicity of the West, vastly accelerated its colonization project
under the protective cover of a series of multi-year, time-wasting farces
and which desires nothing else but more of the same, has made clear that
it is willing to consider only a vague declaration of principles (again?)
and no deadline whatsoever for actually achieving anything.
- Accordingly, the West Bank Fatah leadership is under
heavy Israeli/American pressure to abandon its principled and practical
position, trot along to Annapolis, smile, shake hands and collaborate in
yet another multi-year phase of the perpetual "peace process".
- The West Bank Fatah leadership would be very unwise to
bow to this pressure, not simply in light of the interests of the
people they profess to represent (rarely a major concern for politicians
anywhere) but in light of their own self-interest, since doing so would
simply confirm the metastasizing perception that the West Bank Fatah leadership
is composed of, at best, shameless collaborators and, at worst, Israeli
agents -- with all the consequences likely to flow from confirming that
- Nothing would do more to enhance the credibility of the
West Bank Fatah leadership -- and the hopes of most Palestinians and their
friends around the world for a restoration of Palestinian unity -- than
a courageous and principled decision to stand firm, to stand tall and not
to go to Annapolis.
- If even the "moderate" Abu Mazen were to stand
tall and dare to put Palestinian interests ahead of Israeli/American desires,
Israel and the West would be shellshocked with astonishment and would have
to seriously rethink their ability to continue to ride roughshod over the
Palestinian people. Such a rethinking, long overdue, could only be
constructive and beneficial.
- In light of those considerations, John Whitbeck has advised
key Palestinian officials as follows: urgent
- I am encouraged to read reports of your public insistence
that, in order for Palestine to attend next month's proposed "peace"
conference at all, a pre-conference agreement with Israel must include
a clear timetable or deadline for achieving a definitive peace agreement.
- As you have correctly emphasized, the principles (and
most of the details) for a decent two-state solution are well-known to
all -- and have been for many years. If there is a genuine will for peace
on both sides, six months of serious negotiations sholuld be more than
ample to achieve a definitive peace agreement.
- I presume that your insistence on a clear timetable or
deadline reflects an equally clear understanding, based on hard experience,
that, without such a timetable or deadline, this "resumption"
of the perpetual "peace process" would, inevitably, simply permit
Israel to embark on yet another three-to-five-year cycle of delay, pretending
to seek peace while building more settlements, walls and bypass roads,
confiscating more Palestinian land and, generally, making the occupation
even more permanent and irreversible.
- I fully support your position that Palestine should not
attend such a conference without a commitment to a clear timetable or deadline
for achieving a definitive peace agreement.
- However, as you are well aware, other "processes"
(including Oslo) had formal deadlines, regularly ignored by Israel -- with
impunity. Israel has been able to do so because the only consequence
of missing these deadlines has been the continuation of the status quo
-- which has always been Israel's objective in any event.
- For any deadline to be meaningful and constructive, there
must be a clear, explicit and well-understood consequence of not meeting
it. I believe that it is essential for the Palestinian leadership
to make clear that, after 40 years of occupation and 20 years of Palestinian
commitment to a "two-state solution", if this deadline is missed,
the Palestinian people will then and thereafter have to pursue the alternative
to a "two-state solution" -- a single democratic state in all
of Israel/Palestine with equal rights for all who live there.
- As has been noted in the context of imminent executions,
this should concentrate Israeli minds wonderfully -- and stimulate any
Israeli government to make the best "two-state" offer that the
Israeli mind can imagine. If this "best offer" is good enough,
the Palestinian people can accept it. If it is not, the Palestinian
people and the rest of the world will know -- and can then move on to demanding
justice and peace through democracy, a goal which has the considerable
advantage of moral clarity, since it would not reward, legitimize and perpetuate
ethnic cleansing, racism and apartheid.
- Whitbeck sees the prospects all too clearly, but he sees
the alternative, a single democratic Palestine, as the best long run choice
for the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the rest of the world. He laid
out this choice in an article he wrote in January of 2004.
- TO ACHIEVE TWO STATES, ASK FOR ONE
- By John V. Whitbeck
- With Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon threatening
to impose the permanent status solution of his choice unilaterally if the
Palestinians do not bow to his wishes within the next few months, Palestinian
Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei has now responded with a quiet threat of his
own which is far more likely than either continued violence or continued
immobility to produce the sensible two-state solution which clear
majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians wish to achieve.
- In an interview on January 8, Qurei noted that the wall
being built through the West Bank, which Sharon has pledged to complete
notwithstanding overwhelming international opposition, represents an "apartheid
solution" which would "put Palestinians like chickens in cages"
and "kill the two-state vision". His conclusion? "We will
go for a one-state solution. There is no other solution." On January
11, he reaffirmed this view as he stood before the wall.
- The timing could not be better. The non-governmental
Geneva Accord signed on December 1 has revealed, in meticulous detail,
what any negotiated two-state solution would have to look like. No negotiated
agreement which could conceivably be acceptable both to most Israelis and
to most Palestinians could be more than very marginally different from
the Geneva Accord, which contains all the fundamental substantive compromises
long recognized to be necessary in any negotiated two-state solution.
If such a two-state solution is simply not good enough for either
Israelis or Palestinians, then only two alternative solutions remain --
a one-state solution and a military solution.
- In a one-state solution, the entire territory of the
former Palestine Mandate would form a single democratic state, free of
any form of discrimination based on race, religion or national origin and
with equal rights for all who live there, as in any true democracy.
- In a military solution, the most likely sequence of events, extending
over a period of time which might last decades or be relatively brief,
would be a completion of the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population
of historic Palestine (an option which is widely supported in Israeli public
opinion polls), followed by a nuclear attack on Israel by one or more Muslim
states which eventually acquire such weapons and an immediate, massive
Israeli nuclear response against the Muslim world. This nightmare scenario
is not alarmist. It is realistic in the absence of peace.
- All indications are that, in the absence of another major
expulsion of Palestinians to relieve the "demographic threat",
Israeli public opinion would reject with horror the prospect of a single
democratic state "from the sea to the river" which would be free
of any form of discrimination and with equal rights for all who live there,
considering such a state, rightly, as a complete negation of Zionism and
of Israel's reason to exist. Indeed, the immediate response from Sharon
adviser Zalman Shoval was that Qurei "may just as well call for a
Palestinian state on the moon". The whole world must reject with
horror the military solution and, with this in mind, help Israelis and
Palestinians to make a better choice.
- In these circumstances, the Palestinian leadership has
both a desperate need and a rare opportunity to seize the initiative and
change the agenda in a constructive way. It should now follow up on Qurei's
broad hints with a clear ultimatum that, if the Israeli government has
not commenced government-to-government negotiations toward a two-state
solution on the basis of the Geneva Accord by a fixed, near-term date,
the Palestinian Authority will dissolve itself, returning to Israel full
responsibility for administering and financing all aspects of life in the
occupied territories, and the Palestinian leadership and people will thereafter
seek, peacefully, "one man, one vote in a unitary state",
to adopt the old slogan of the South African anti-apartheid movement.
- Even the United States would have difficulty opposing
a peaceful demand for "one man, one vote". The long-running
game of stringing out forever a perpetual "peace process" while
further entrenching the occupation with new "facts on the ground"
would finally be over. Faced with such a challenge, the current Israeli
government, already wobbly, would almost certainly collapse, opening the
way to its replacement by a new government genuinely interested in peace.
A decent peace for both Israelis and Palestinians would suddenly be possible,
- The road to peace based on a two-state solution is not
a straight one. As the Palestinian leadership appears now to realize, the
expressway to this destination is, in fact, a bypass road permitting Israelis
to focus clearly on the one-state alternative and, now that the precise
terms of any two-state solution have been revealed, to embrace those terms
as, at least, the lesser evil and make the changes in their own leadership
which would finally bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end.
- There is no clearer rendering of the realities of the
Palestinian situation. It may be that US officialdom, along with most of
Western world officialdom, is so hamstrung by loyalty to the Israelis that
it cannot respond to this reality. It may be that the American political
agenda is so confused at this time that meaningless peace talks on Palestine
are an unavoidable political priority for both Republican and Democratic
leadership. It could also be that the Israelis would go along with more
of the peace process because, controlling the propaganda ground in the
West, they can probably make the Palestinians look bad, no matter how little
actually transpires in these talks. Talks that appear to fail because the
Palestinians can be made to look uncooperative will simply buy the Israelis
more time to grab more land. But what is totally transparent is that while
Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah may control current leadership in the West Bank,
Palestinians overwhelmingly favor the negotiative position that Hamas has
adopted. There is little to no Palestinian tolerance, therefore, for more
of a peace process that goes nowhere. Therefore, if Annapolis occurs, it
must be absolutely real: genuine talks, about the real and well-identified
issues, leading to deadlines of months, not years, for final resolution.
- The need for justice in this matter must be squarely
faced, and justice must be rendered to the Palestinian people. The alternative
is for the outside world to go on tolerating the worst land grab of our
time, the continuing confinement of the Palestinian people in two Israeli
enforced open air prisons, and the continued maintenance of Israeli society
in a self-imposed state of siege. If the United States chooses to sponsor
talks in which there is nothing tangible on the table, the US sponsors
will look foolish, because they and the Israelis are likely to be the only
people present. Unless the US steps back, takes seriously the role of honest
broker, and insists on a real peace agenda, it would be best all around
if no talks occur.
- 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 <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>email@example.com