At the Davos World Economic Forum recently, the Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas accurately summarized the terrible state of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, the economic siege and resulting deprivation inflicted upon them, the segmentation, the Israeli theft of Palestinian land and resources, and the daily humiliations they must endure.
Nevertheless, he avowed that he was optimistic, based, apparently, on the strength of his last meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister: “I have recently had a good conference with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, during which we talked very frankly about several issues, and it was agreed that Israel will carry on certain procedures that will alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people.”
It’s really hard to understand the source of Abbas’s expressed optimism. He has no power whatsoever to achieve anything in his present capacity without, in his words, “a behind-the-scenes international conduit”, which is not even on the horizon.
But the most telling factor that evokes skepticism in Abbas’s optimism is his implicit acceptance of the spurious Israeli point of view regarding the reasons behind the stalling of progress in the peace process these past many years (Palestinian terrorism). Also appaling is his misreading of Israeli’s new administrative procedures as signs of good intentions, when they are clearly and simply meant to entrench and streamline the occupation by providing such mundane things as special privileges to some and special permits to others.
The chasm between Abbas’s vision of a peaceful resolution to the conflict and the “hopeful” signs he has read into Olmert’s administrative manipulations of the status quo is astounding in its enormity. Abbas is careful to describe his oft-announced vision as one that “must end with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza within the 1967 borders, an independent state that lives in security and peace with all its neighbors, including Israel, and with finding a fair and negotiated resolution for the Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN resolution 194.” It’s a vision that, were the Israelis even remotely ready to grant from their position of authority and power, Abbas would have absolutely no problem selling tomorrow to any and all Palestinian factions and to Palestinians in the diaspora and to the entire Arab and Muslim world.
But Israel is neither ready to determine the beginning of the road to peace (it’s still busily consolidating its illegal settlements and especially its annexation of Jerusalem) nor where it will end. The occupied territories seem to be the least of Israel’s worries right now. The ongoing Palestinian infighting is focusing Palestinian rage away from Israel for the moment. Additionally, given the inequality of power between the Palestinians and Israelis, the exercise of continuing to confine, restrain, oppress and subdue all of the occupied territories is scheduled to take hardly any of incoming Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkanazi’s energies or brain power, except perhaps as a convenient training ground to re-instill confidence and pride in the Israeli army, especially in terms of ground fighting.
Israel has now successfully defined the cause of its insecurity generically as Islamist terror in concert with the political mindset of the US and the UK, the zeitgeist if you will, and not as what it really is: the indelible stain on Israel’s soul resulting from its un-confessed crimes against Palestinians. Israel is looking ahead to be busily engaged in flexing its muscles against much bigger fish — Iran, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The captive ants in Israel’s fenced backyard, so easily squished, are nothing compared to the excitement of regional aggression against so-called nuclear threats and evil mullahs that are bound to result in large-scale mayhem.
Then there is the Israeli government’s need to protect itself from its own internal population (roughly 20 percent Palestinian) by passing laws such as the new one allowing the Israeli government to deport and revoke the citizenship of Israelis considered unpatriotic to the Jewish state of Israel. The range of offenses covered by this law includes “visiting enemy nations” and, more vaguely, “encouraging terror against Israel”. Wonder how this will work and where such targeted Israeli-Palestinians will be dumped once deported — perhaps to Iraq to join the Palestinian refugees in limbo there or maybe to the occupied territories.
“We hope that what Olmert announced … comes to pass,” Abbas intoned lamely during his speech at the Davos Forum regarding Olmert’s announcement of “facilitating” some administrative procedures. Abbas’s hopes are pinned on nothing more than Israeli public relations ploys that are not worth the paper on which they are written.
Abbas’s hopes are also pinned on past strategies that are proven failures. He sees no need for “new initiatives or decrees” because “there are numerous UN and Security Council resolutions, and there are already agreements signed by both sides, the Palestinian and Israeli. We also have before us the Road Map that includes the Arab initiative and the vision of George Bush with regard to the two states.”
There is so little past evidence to give confidence to the Palestinians in UN and Security Council resolutions or, God help them, in the vision of George W. Bush or, especially, in “past agreements” with the Israelis or in Arab initiatives, that one wonders why the Palestinian Liberation Organization is so stuck on what has not worked before and is so unwilling to open itself up to radical new directions.
Abbas’s optimism is most definitely misplaced. Israel is as far from being converted to what Nelson Mandela calls “the right and moral point” as ever. It is only when such a conversion occurs that Abbas should reasonably feel optimistic. The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber expressed what no Israeli government has ever been willing to admit: “Only an internal revolution can have the power to heal our people of their murderous sickness of causeless hatred … It is bound to bring complete ruin upon us. Only then will the old and young in our land realize how great was our responsibility to those miserable Arab refugees in whose towns we have settled Jews who were brought here from afar; whose homes we have inherited, whose fields we now sow and harvest; the fruits of whose gardens, orchards and vineyards we gather; and in whose cities that we robbed we put up houses of education, charity, and prayer, while we babble and rave about being the ‘People of the Book’ and the ‘light of the nations’.”
With such governments, Abbas ought to refuse to compromise.
Rima Merriman is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.