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Limping Together out of Sharm El-Sheikh!
Most people in Israel and Palestine - let alone in many other countries across the region and the world - were glued to their television or radio sets today awaiting anxiously for the outcome of the high-stakes mini-summit between the Palestinian and Israeli leaders at the Egyptian scenic resort of Sharm El-Sheikh...

17 October   |   2000   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... At midday, after almost thirty six hours of tough negotiations and pessimistic predictions, the news despatches informed the world that both parties had indeed reached an agreement. White smoke had finally come out from the narrowest of Middle Eastern chimneys!

But where does this latest accord - agreed upon verbally by the parties but not actually signed by them - position Palestinians and Israelis? Will it hold long enough for Israel to lift its total closure of the Palestinian territories? Will it enable the constitution of an international commission of inquiry? Will it end the gratuitous cycle of violence? Or will it simply be emptied into the dustbins of history in a few days’ time?

One painful outcome of this chapter of deadly violence and lethal confrontations is the total collapse of trust between Israelis and Palestinians. Such a breakdown in trust has also been accompanied by an overwhelming belief by both sides that peace can no longer be negotiated through peaceful means. Listening to many ordinary Palestinians and Israelis in the past two weeks, it has become obvious to me that hatred and bitterness, anger and frustration, fear and despondency, are readily available in copious amounts in both camps. With very few people thinking that real peace is possible anymore, the situation seems to have shifted into an ‘us’ or ‘them’ bunker attitude, with both sides hunkering for a protracted but inevitable period of attrition.

Yet, despite the feelings of doom and gloom, or even those of betrayal, siege, dispossession or hopelessness, Sharm El-Sheikh managed to introduce one faint ray of light into a dark tunnel. How can this ray be protected, strengthened and energised for the interest of ‘the two peoples and three religions’ of this biblical land? Let me come up with a series of immediate and practical confidence-building measures that might prove helpful during those trying times.

  • Through their own model behaviour, let alone in their words and deeds, the national leaders of both Palestine and Israel must now set the example. They must show that they truly endorse this accord as an essential prelude for honest, serious and substantive negotiations;
  • All rhetorical and polemical language must stop, to become calmer, more temperate and inclusive;
  • Both sides must motivate themselves - no matter how painful, no matter how unrewarding, no matter how distasteful - to consider the ‘other’ as a human being with families, friends, hopes, fears and expectations. This is tantamount to an admission that neither side is barbarous, feral or android-like. It is still cardinal to continue working for coexistence as the ultimate goal;
  • Both sides must desist from stoking the flames of negative passion, incitement, distrust, fear and hatred by constantly playing out their differences on the television screens, radio stations or newspapers of the world.

However, those initial steps are only short-term and stop-gap solutions. To try and maintain any momentum for real peace, they should also be followed by a long-term strategy to ensure - at the very least - that all those who were killed or wounded in the last three weeks will not have simply wasted their lives in vain. But such a strategy will hopefully also pave the way toward a brighter future for all the younger generations - Israelis and Palestinians alike - whose existential conditions of violence, fear, discrimination and oppression will have traumatised them, coloured their attitudes toward their neighbours as much as impacted their prospects for the future. To achieve this somewhat ambitious objective, I believe that four factors should come togethe

  • Israel must forsake its arrogant attitude toward the Palestinians as if they are disposable cannon fodder. Such arrogance - buttressed up by so much frightening firepower - will only thwart further attempts at peace-making;
  • Palestinians must resist the painful temptation of over-reaching themselves with unmanageable hopes. It is an unfortunate but undeniable fact of life that international solidarity is a function of vested interests. Palestinians should now examine their situation more dispassionately and draw up their own strategy. But they should also prepare their people for any tentative future deal that might possibly entail further reciprocal adjustments by sharing those facts with them in due course;
  • At their forthcoming summit this weekend, the Arab leaders should translate their vocal support of the Palestinian struggle into a tangible common plan that will assist the Palestinians in consolidating their rights, improving their infra-structure and cementing their future statehood. A small number of Arab countries have carried alone for far too long the burden of a grave historical injustice. It is time that others pitch in and share the burden too;
  • The fierce confrontations have put paid to the idea that Oslo is necessarily the sole avenue for peace, or even that America is its sole address. Future negotiations should be conducted in an environment that reflects parity between the two parties, supports a win-win formula and enforces the principles of international legitimacy as underscored by all the UN Security Council binding resolutions.

With these off-the-cuff reflections, I pray that the future will transform itself into a more hopeful dream. Otherwise, if the region were allowed to revert to the status quo ante, there would certainly be many more ‘Intifadas’ to come, and the sorrowful end-result will be the sad loss of further Palestinian and Israeli lives. Surely enough, the hard lessons of history will have finally been learnt by now? But also surely enough, is the pudding not actually in the eating .?!

"Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces" - Is 25:8(a)

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2000   |   17 October


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