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Issues versus Events!
On this barrier of war, we proclaim the Gospel of Peace, the Gospel of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace. We invite all the churches of the world to proclaim it with us. - Their Beatitudes the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem - Israeli Check-Point outside Bethlehem, 8 April2002

9 April   |   2002   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

Later on this week, General Colin Powell’s meandering diplomatic odyssey will finally take him to Jerusalem where he will find a potent blend of fear, anger, despair, pain, recrimination, confusion and bereavement!

Colin Powell will also be greeted with a host of statistics translating the mixed and unsettled feelings of Israeli women and men. An opinion poll in the Jerusalem Post Weekly showed that72 % of Israeli respondents supported PM Ariel Sharon’s military campaign, whilst another in the Yadiot Aharonot indicated that50 % expected the levels of terrorism to remain largely unchanged. In the same newspaper, though, another73 % mentioned that Israel should re-enter into negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state once the violence is halted. And a Jaffee Centre poll signalled46 % of Israelis favouring the ‘transfer’ - a euphemism for expulsion - of Palestinians from the territories. There was also widespread support for an enforced unilateral and physical separation between Israel and the Palestinian territories - reflected in PM Sharon’s statement about instituting a territorial ‘buffer’.

However, the Israeli relentless military onslaught against a whole Palestinian people and their land will not provide long-term security for Israel. Conversely, Palestinian unremitting suicidal attacks against Israeli civilians will not create a state for Palestinians either. Yet, tragically enough, those violent events are obsessing the imagination of many leaders and obscuring the issues that are causing them. Caught up in this lopsided asymmetry between justice on the one hand and military might on the other, both Palestinians and Israelis are hapless and traumatised victims.

So it is essential that US Secretary of State Powell mark the crucial distinction between the grave issues that are the root causes of this conflict and the sad events that are their manifestation. Much as he should address those events in order to douse the violence, he should also re-generate a critical political process that would address the issues.

But what are the issues that would promote peace and spare both peoples further bloodshed and suffering? Simply put, the single obstruction for any peaceful settlement is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Its key lies in an Israeli withdrawal from those occupied territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state. Let me make two remarks about the nature of this future state that is the battleground of a savage war between two peoples today.

  • The entity that was created by the defunct Oslo process and offered to Palestinians at Camp David II reminds me of a blob of Swiss cheese. Israel is the big blob, whereas the small holes in it represent the disconnected Palestinian towns and villages. This strategy meant that the dense Palestinian population centres have been isolated from each other and every single daily activity by Palestinians subjugated to Israeli will or whim.
  • A Palestinian state born after an Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands should be contiguous let alone viable. This means that its borders would form a geographical continuity whereby it becomes possible to connect one end with another and to travel within it or out of it without disruption. Its identity would also be viable so that it would enjoy political freedom and economic integrity without Israeli heavy-handed interference. It would have sovereignty over its people, land and natural resources and therefore become sustainable and self-supporting.

Is it possible to achieve such a goal whereby two states - Israel and Palestine - would co-exist side-by-side within internationally recognised borders, be run by their own democratically-elected leaders, and live in peace, security, tranquillity and equality? I believe this irenic scenario is realistic as much as inevitable. I would further posit that one appropriate mechanism for its implementation would involve the UN Security Council enshrining the pan-Arab [Saudi] Peace Plan into a resolution that becomes binding and enforceable under International law. This ‘land for peace’ formula would thus guarantee full peace and unfettered security for Israel along with its Arab neighbours.

This conflict cannot be solved by a military war that only masks the events and symptoms. It calls for a genuine political process that would tackle the issues. Former UN Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar said last Saturday that it was essential to de-personalise the conflict and re-centre the political discourse on the issues themselves. Indeed, if the primary issue of the occupation were dealt with, all parties would discover the security of peace and spare themselves harrowing pictures like those of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem surrounded by billows of fire!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2002   |   9 April


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