While the world’s attention is almost completely absorbed by events in Iraq, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s onslaught on the Palestinians continues with extreme brutality. He hopes to put an end to the Intifada before a new American administration is in place. Of course the current administration of President George W. Bush could be reelected. And even if Bush is the strongest supporter of the current Israeli right-wing government, Sharon still fears a fresh American attempt, during a Bush second term, to “revive” the so-called peace process.
A new administration altogether may try to do the same as well, and either way it will be easier for Sharon to handle such attempts once he has accomplished his goal of destroying any potential Palestinian opposition to Israel’s expansionist designs in the West Bank and beyond.
Sharon must be encouraged by the fact that the daily routine of killing helpless Palestinians, demolishing their houses and destroying their lives is met by a universal conspiracy of silence, especially from those who otherwise crow loudly in defence of human rights and dignity when lesser crimes occur elsewhere. Sharon must be even more encouraged by the decrease of Palestinian attacks on Israelis, which he may present as proof of his ruthless tactics’ success.
Of course, he is right to take the American administration’s support, even its full endorsement of his measures, for granted. Equally, he need pay no attention to any Muslim, Arab or international responses, because such responses are virtually non-existent and in the very rare occasions when they occur, he knows quite well that they are neither serious nor meaningful.
The sad reality is that it is not only Sharon who wants the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation ended. Many prominent Palestinian Authority leaders started over two years ago to lobby against the Intifada, declaring openly that “arming the Intifada” was a great strategic blunder. It was not only the “arming” they were against, but this was really a codeword to condemn any form of resistance to an unending Israeli occupation. Their motives were as varied as they were transparent. For one thing, they feared that any success of the Intifada would expose the futility of their earlier deals in Oslo and elsewhere, holding them eventually responsible for the morass they dragged the Palestinian cause into. For another, they were shamelessly tempted to offer the Intifada and the noble sacrifices of their people to their enemies and to their enemies’ supporters for the disgraceful price of keeping themselves at the top of the realm, when they should have realised that many such promises are never fulfilled and that their occupiers would never leave them a trace of their land, let alone a “realm”, in which to celebrate their “victory.” Yet the lessons of relinquishing the rights they had earlier traded for cheap personal privileges were still not sufficient to restrain their scandalous greed.
With all such forces besieging the Palestinian resistance, the Intifada may indeed run out of steam. The unchallenged Israeli campaign of murder and assassinations and unprecedented oppressive measures have dealt the Palestinians severe blows. They have indeed suffered, and still do, well beyond any bearable limits, and they may need a break to take stock of their immense sacrifices and losses. There are limits to any human ability to bear pain and suffering, and over the past century, the Palestinians have taken much more than many other people could have.
Is that not adequate reason for Israel’s brutal rulers to rejoice? Once the Intifada is over, wouldn’t violence cease and the Israelis enjoy full peace and security? Wouldn’t they then be able to smash the remaining Palestinians into permanent humiliation, continue to colonize their land and to reduce them to sub-human levels before they can finally get rid of them?
Is it not an adequate reason for those opportunist Palestinians who plainly condemned the Intifada, to equally celebrate the chance to rescue perfidious deals, such as Oslo, or promote new ones, such as the Geneva Accords? Is it also not adequate reason for all those who blindly support Israel and its defiance of international legality (simply because they lack the moral courage to stand by the principles they claim to cherish), to feel relieved of any embarrassment once the Palestinian-Israeli dispute is settled the Israeli way?
Actually, those who feel that “victory” through destroying the Palestinians is within sight, should not rush to celebrate. Suppressing this conflict will neither keep it hidden for long, nor will it make it disappear altogether. There will never be an Israeli military solution for this conflict. On the contrary, while Israel has significant tactical advantages over the Palestinians, it is strategically in the worst situation since it was founded on the ruins of the country it forcibly displaced.
Palestinians’ energy may be depleted for now, but their will, once they regain it, to seek dignity and freedom will reemerge and they will fight again. History has taught us that liberation movements do not fail. Many similar movements confronted by unimaginable suppression, suffered lapses and sometimes near total extinction, but they rose again until they finally won.
In their first round against the Palestinians, in 1947, the Israelis managed to cleanse more than 75 per cent of the indigenous Palestinians and to occupy 78 per cent of their land. Israelis gleefully predicted that the 300,000 Palestinians who remained in Palestine would eventually be dealt with. Those who left, the Israeli leaders thought, would melt in the larger Arab world; “The young will forget and the old will die.”
For 40 years, the Palestinians did not throw one stone at Israel. There was virtually no resistance, armed or otherwise, and no suicide attacks even after Israel attacked again, in 1967, occupying the rest of Palestine and pushing new waves of Palestinians out of their homes. But neither did the young forget nor did the old, in that sense, die. And little attention was given by anyone to the quiet, patient Palestinians.
In the fifty-six years since the first Israeli war, in 1948, the number of Palestinians in historic Palestine (Israel, the West Bank and Gaza) has risen from 300,000 to over five million. None of them, except a handful of opportunistic leaders, have forgotten or will ever forget their rights or their land, which kept shrinking as a result of systematic Zionist colonial expansion.
Yet by claiming and trying to conquer all the land, Israel has lost for ever the opportunity of allowing the Palestinians to build a state of their own on less than 22 per cent of Palestine (East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza), when they were genuinely willing to settle for just that. The dilemma now, mainly for Israel, is that Israel will never be able to cleanse five million Palestinians no matter how much brutality they may apply. Nor can it forever ignore the millions of Palestinian refugees and exiles, just over its borders, who have not relinquished their rights to their homeland just because Israel demands they do so. Israel will never manage to keep these Palestinians, who will naturally grow more in number, under the tight lid of oppressive occupation and exile without them rising again and again until they win their freedom. Israelis have the means and the American support to continue to kill and destroy, but the Palestinians will to grow, work and wait.
The choice for Israel is either to keep the fire of violence raging and to feed it with Israeli and Palestinian blood or to submit to the rule of logic and justice and share the land. If Israel has missed the historic opportunity to get the lion’s share of the land along with peace, there will come a time when they will be very lucky to settle for much less if they continue to submit to greed, madness, and self-destructiveness, rather than simple and inevitable common sense.
Ambassador Hasan Abu Nimah is Director of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies in Amman, and former Permanent Representative of Jordan at the United Nations.