Nowhere did article back use of violence
Ali Abunimah, The Daily Herald, 27 October 2002
Chaya Gil takes one sentence of a lengthy article I wrote analyzing the proposal for a final Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement created by Palestinian Sari Nusseibeh and Israeli Ami Ayalon and then states that this sentence leads her to believe that when Yasser Arafat goes, whoever takes over “won’t be the person with the best ideas” but “the person with the most guns.” (“If only Palestinians would listen to a moderate’s wisdom,” Oct. 11).
Nowhere in my article do I propose that anyone take up guns. On the contrary, the basis of my criticism of the proposed agreement is, as I wrote, that I believe it diminishes the chances for “genuine reconciliation and peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis in the future,” because it does not remove the basic and unsustainable conditions of injustice and inequality between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground.
I believe that with such inflammatory rhetoric, Gil is trying to limit the terms of the debate and suggest that anyone who does not agree with her vision of the future in which Israelis will maintain their privileges and power vis a vis the Palestinians, who constitute half the population of Israel and the occupied territories, is an extremist and a supporter of violence.
The fact, as Gil acknowledges, that the vast majority of Palestinians, including those who support peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, reject many of Sari Nusseibeh’s positions, should prompt her to raise questions about whom he represents, rather than to conclude that all other Palestinians are simply extremists.
My article [“Palestinian Rights in the Document Shredder: The Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement”] can be read in full at ElectronicIntifada.net.
I joined 600 people at Temple Sholom of Chicago last week to hear Sari Nusseibeh, Palestinian intellectual, president of Al-Quds University in east Jerusalem and, more importantly, the PLO’s representative in Jerusalem. Nusseibeh is a Harvard-educated philosophy professor known for his moderate views and rejection of the Palestinian campaign of terrorist suicide bombings. He also is recognized for his public comments on what peace with Israel will require from the Palestinians.
I believe if Nusseibeh were heading the Palestinian Authority, the news coming out of Israel would be far more positive. I doubt he would have rejected the Clinton-Barak peace proposals two years ago. He is someone who can be a leader of a future modern and democratic Palestinian state. There are serious obstacles, and most come from other Palestinians, but first the good news. Nusseibeh’s comments at the synagogue regarding the need for Palestinians to give up the “right of return” gave voice to a rarely heard, yet vital, policy shift. For Israelis, this “right” is and always will be a deal-breaker, as it means the end of a Jewish state. In the context of a peace agreement, some refugees would certainly return, but Israel cannot be inundated with millions of refugees and their descendants if it hopes to remain a Jewish state. Though he was clear to describe the right of return as “sacrosanct,” Nusseibeh recognizes that establishing a Palestinian state is also important.
“If one wishes to pursue the right of return as Palestinians, we will never reach a conclusion to the Arab-Israeli conflict,” he said. “And therefore a price must be paid in exchange for the right to live in freedom. In my opinion, at least the right to freedom is a realizable right. And if we are able to create a Palestinian state, and … refugees can come to the Palestinian state, then at least we can provide a future for the refugees now in camps.”
Ask Israelis what they think of Nusseibeh and most will have positive things to say. They understand he represents the hope that a political settlement, and reconciliation, is indeed possible. Then they will ask, “But how many battalions does he have?” In other words, if the Palestinian leadership had people like Nusseibeh we would have peace. However, not only does he have no real power, but most of his own people reject his ideas.
Just this week, the PLO faction that represents Yasser Arafat, Fatah, attacked Nusseibeh for his readiness to compromise on the right of return and for creating a statement of basic principles for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with former Israeli internal security chief Ami Ayalon. Many other Palestinian groups share Fatah’s complaint. The Palestinian Return Center called Nusseibeh’s action “part of a sinister war conducted against the Palestinian people by the Israeli-U.S. alliance.” Local activist Ali Abunimah wrote in the Lebanese newspaper Daily Star that the Nusseibeh-Ayalon agreement reveals “the shocking alacrity with which some Palestinians are willing to abandon the most fundamental Palestinian rights, adopting hook, line and sinker Israeli arguments…”
Such comments remind me of a conversation with the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Israel office, Eran Lerman. I had asked who he thought would step into the political vacuum once Arafat had no more power. “It won’t be the person with the best ideas,” he said dejectedly. “It will be the person with the most guns.”
Palestinians with guns, and those who refuse to accept any degree of responsibility for the conflict, don’t like people like Sari Nusseibeh. And they certainly don’t accept an idea that grants both Jews and Palestinians rights to their own states.
Nusseibeh’s lone voice is refreshing and sorely needed. Hopefully, he can convince more Palestinians. He convinced me.
Chaya Gil is a vice president of the American Jewish Committee-Chicago Chapter
These items originally appeared in The Daily Herald