Palestinian expectations tempered by reality

On January 9, 2005 Palestinians living in the occupied territories will elect a president of the Palestinian Authority in the second elections in nearly eight years. (Helga Tawil)

For many in the Middle East and beyond, the death of Yasir Arafat on 11 November and the re-election of President Bush a week earlier gave rise to new hopes for peace in the Middle East.

But to hear many Palestinians say it, their feeling of optimism regarding the future is largely psychological since there is no practical justification for it.

Palestinian officials readily recognise that Arafat’s departure from the scene has deprived Israel of a vital propaganda tool which the Sharon government used rather effectively to narrow Palestinian options (through the building of the separation barrier) and effect territorial expansion in the West Bank.

However, these officials, as well as most ordinary Palestinians, are convinced that Israel will seek any other pretext to avoid a meaningful peace process that would lead to the termination of 37 years of military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

No intention

According to Abd Allah Abd Allah, director-general of the Palestinian foreign ministry, Israel is only indulging in “public-relations diplomacy” and has no real interest in entering into a serious political dialogue with the Palestinians.

“Their obsession with public relations is a thousand times greater than their interest in reaching an equitable peace with the Palestinians. Only through meaningful American pressure will Israel realise that its military occupation must be ended immediately,” he said. Speaking to, Abd Allah said Israel is “neither ready nor willing to make peace with Palestinians”.

“We have to remember that Israeli society is still driven by racist and hate-filled extremists who deny the very existence of the Palestinian people,” he said. “To them, a Palestinian leadership may negotiate with Israel not to end the occupation and create a viable Palestinian state, but to decide on the modalities of a Palestinian national suicide.”

Vital question

Abd Allah argues that Palestinian society is more than ever “ready and willing to reach a historic peace with Israel”. He said: “I can tell you that virtually all Palestinians, including Hamas, are now willing to reach peace with Israel in accordance with UN resolutions 242 and 338 and the formula of land for peace. “The vital question remains whether Israel is willing to pay the price for peace and withdraw from our homeland and leave us alone.”

From an Israeli standpoint, any renewed optimism regarding the peace process hinges on the appearance of a “moderate” Palestinian leadership. This view was expressed repeatedly by several Israeli officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom.

Style and substance

Sharon was recently quoted as saying Israel will insist that “changes” in the new Palestinian leadership be not only in “style” but “substance” as well.

The subtext is clear: Sharon would like the new Palestinian leadership, possibly led by Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazin), to compromise on such key Palestinian issues as East Jerusalem, the right of return and the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

But this, says Yacoub Shahin, a high-ranking official in the Palestinian ministry of information, will not happen. “These statements by Sharon and other Israeli leaders prove, if further proof was needed, that Israel was against Arafat not because he was an obstacle to peace but because he refused to give up on his people’s rights,” he said.

“So, they now hope that the new Palestinian leader will be a collaborator, a quisling who will cede his people’s rights possibly in return for a Nobel prize and fulsome praise for ‘courage’ and ‘dedication’ to peace by the Jewish media.”

Modicum of hope

Shahin warns that “without ending the Israeli occupation of our land, there will be no peace, and we will continue to move around in circles, irrespective of whoever succeeds Yasser Arafat”.

Even those Palestinians who harbour a modicum of hope that the post-Arafat era might witness a real revival of peace efforts, do so presuming that the Bush administration has matured enough to realise that a resolution of the Palestinian problem is the key to security and stability in the Middle East and many other parts of the world.

This is also the view of the former Palestinian Authority Minister of Information Nabil Amr. In a recent interview with in his home town Dura, southwest of Hebron, he said any likelihood of a revival of the peace process depends on the extent to which the new Bush administration is willing and able to “see things in this part of the world as they are”.

“For the past four years, the Bush administration saw things in Palestine through Israeli lens. Their policy was Israel’s policy,” Amr said. “If they start seeing things more objectively, then there will be room for hope and optimism. But if they don’t, then the crisis will continue and, indeed, might worsen in both qualitative and quantitative terms.”

Khalid Amayreh is a journalist based in the occupied West Bank. This article was originally published by and reprinted on EI with permission.

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