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Leaderless?! Rudderless?! Clueless!?
I read today an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer written by Thomas Friedman and entitled 'Truth is, Palestinians are leaderless'...

23 May   |   2001   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... I have a serious problem with this article for two main reasons. For one, Thomas Friedman is foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times and his profile and understanding of the Middle East have been quite perspicacious let alone influential over the years. For another, he has been one of my preferred American syndicated columnists in terms of common sense and realistic moderation in his views!

However, common sense - arguably not the most habitual word to be used by a lawyer who would rather opt for evidence instead - seems to have taken leave of this particular article. His main argument - coming in the wake of the Mitchell Commission Report - is that settlements are not the cause of the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Rather, it is the fact that Chairman Yasser Arafat did not say 'yes' to the Camp David proposals, nor is he willing to say 'uncle' today. In short, he has lost it, and the Palestinians are leaderless!

I respect Tom Friedman far too much to impugn his judgment with harsh words. However, I would like to comment succinctly on his thesis by highlighting only four hiccoughs in his one-sided and facile statements.

  • My main bone of contention with him is over the issue of settlements and his interpretation of demography let alone geography. It is quite true that no other Israeli Prime Minister gave Palestinians more than Ehud Barak at Camp David. However, let me remind Tom that the Camp David proposals would have achieved two things. On the one hand, they will have given back to the Palestinians an overall 78% of the land only, and not the 94% to 96% he claims in his article. Much more importantly, Israeli settlements and by-pass roads will have hermetically surrounded the land returned to the Palestinians. This will have meant that the northern West Bank and the southern West Bank Palestinian areas will have been disjointed from each other, and Jerusalem in the centre will have been inaccessible to both. But not only that! All territory in Palestinian hands will have been cut off from the outside world by a belt of settlements and by-pass roads. How could the Palestinians have complied with a request that they sign away their historical conflict to such a unipolar agreement? What sort of sovereign and contiguous territorial deal for statehood will that have been for Palestinians?
  • Tom highlights one of the main findings of the Report to the exclusion of others when he avers that there should be a cessation of violence first. Can he imagine anyone - Arafat, Yassin, or any other Palestinian political figure for that matter - accepting the so-called 'deal' after so many deaths and casualties as a result of this 'idiotic' uprising - as he describes it? I agree entirely with him: there should be a ceasefire from both sides and both sides need to comply with the ceasefire. But any ceasefire should be attached to a freeze on settlements - whether building new ones or expanding existing ones - so that the embattled process for peace can have any quid pro quo chance of a resurrection.
  • It is true that Arafat did not take the Camp David proposals as a foundation for further negotiation with the Israelis. But then again, I watched the then Prime Minister Ehud Barak say that all the discussions at Camp David were null and void since they had not been accepted in their entirety by the Palestinians.
  • Finally, it might well be that Arafat is not perceived in Western eyes as a visionary or courageous leader for the Palestinians. But he remains the symbol for their national struggle, and will still get the largest number of votes in any plebiscite or election held today. It is quite presumptuous for someone whose own President did not gain power through a majority of the popular votes to tell the Palestinians that they are leaderless. True, the issue in the Middle East [also] is one of leaders, but it is equally one of issues. Let us not put the cart before the horse simply because it is 'politically correct' to do so today.

Pummelling one party or the other with brute force or indiscriminate violence will not resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is sorely needed today is a win-win solution that is based on non-violent symmetry dealing with all the real issues between the two parties - in truth and justice, not with power or subjugation.

And not with hasty pens either.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2001   |   23 May


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