With both Israelis and Palestinians commemorating 60-year anniversaries at this time, it is instructive to look at what the respective sides are remembering. For Israelis, 1948 brought independence and statehood. For Palestinians, 1948 brought only disaster, the forced displacement of between more than half of their number, a majority that was to be shoehorned into refugee camps across the Arab world.
The different commemorations show the depth of the conflict and the conceptual chasm separating the two sides. But with the passing of time what Israelis used to call "the Palestinian narrative" is inexorably becoming undisputed and well-documented historical fact. Both Palestinian and Israeli historians are coming to the consensus that pre-state Jewish militias were in fact supported by the British Mandate authorities and in 1948 executed a pre-planned and systematic ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population of Palestine. This cleansing led directly to the establishment of Israel and the Palestinian refugee problem.
In Europe, there also seems to be a new understanding of the proper historical context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. As generations change there is greater understanding that the way Europe tried to solve its "Jewish problem", "compensating" Jews for European persecution by supporting the creation of Israel to settle Jews here, only caused suffering to another people.
It is with this historical context in mind that it should be clear how far Palestinians went to reach historical reconciliation when they decided at the end of two decades of internal political debate to give up their historical rights and adopt a political position based on international legality and the relevant and specific resolutions of the United Nations.
This process culminated in the late 1980s with the adoption of a two-state solution and the recognition of the right of Israel to exist in peace and security within the 1967 borders, or 78 percent of historical Palestine. This historic compromise was meant to clear the way for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the rest of Palestine, requiring only an end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
The Palestine Liberation Organization subsequently signed the Oslo accords (and several other agreements) that attested to its commitment to this compromise. But developments since then gradually created the feeling among Palestinians that such an historic step was not enough for Israel, which apparently wanted to have its cake and eat it. Israel, starting to enjoy an end to hostilities and war not only with the Palestinians but also with Arab countries, became less and less motivated to pay the necessary price for such peace, i.e., ending its occupation and allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The reason was manifold. Partly, in the course of negotiations and after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, Israel was able to transform the Palestinian leadership and make it economically, politically and otherwise dependent on Israel and foreign aid. At the same time, Israel continued its expansion of settlements in occupied territory, clearly signaling that while it wanted to reap the economic and political dividends of peace, it was not prepared to give up its occupation. In 2000, seven years after Oslo, Israeli peace groups and international monitors showed that Israeli settlements in occupied territory had doubled. The occupation had not been rolled back. Rather it had been consolidated.
The failure of the peace process to bring an end to occupation together with the transformation of the Palestinian leadership and its poor governance record led to a gradual and consistent decline in Palestinian public support for the historic leadership that had become dependent on Israel and a corresponding increase in support for the opposition, led by the fundamentalist Islamic political movement, Hamas. Eventually Hamas won free and fair parliamentary elections in 2006 and subsequently also forcefully took control of the Gaza Strip.
With the end of the terms of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, US President George W. Bush and possibly Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert more or less coinciding with the 60-year commemorations, the two peoples and the conflict are at a crossroads. On the one hand, the trends favoring the use of force and continued conflict look likely to continue as a faltering peace process limps along without tangible result. Only the adoption of strategies that respect the legitimate rights of both peoples can reverse this trend.- Published 12/5/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Last Thursday we Israelis celebrated Independence Day. Later this week, Palestinians mark Nakba Day. For sixty years now, these two events have constituted conflicting perceptions of the same seminal event. It is only the vagaries of the Hebrew calendar that separate them.
I was interviewed last week by a Palestinian journalist friend regarding my feelings on the eve of Israel's sixtieth anniversary of independence. Being at heart a "security person" I remarked that, on balance, we have a lot to celebrate: the Arab world by and large is no longer fighting us but rather seeking peace in order to confront the common enemy, Iran and its proxies and allies. That enemy looms ever larger, but we are strong and getting stronger.
"But doesn't the Nakba still weigh heavily on your celebrations?" my Palestinian friend pressed me.
I paused to reflect. My reply had focused on Iran--the prism through which Israel now views its security surroundings--not Palestine. "No", I replied. "Tomorrow at our Independence Day barbecue I'll raise a glass with my family, look them in the eye and tell them that our cause has been fair and just. For at least one day of the year, we have nothing to complain about."
Let there be no mistake: I have dealt with the Nakba and its consequences day in and day out for more than 40 years. More than most Israelis, I can empathize with the Palestinian "case" and even step into the other side's shoes when the need arises. Yet the Nakba does not weigh on my conscience when I celebrate Israel's independence or for that matter on any other day of the year.
By arguing that Israel was "born in sin" 60 years ago, the Palestinian Nakba narrative target's Israel's legitimacy in the most profound way. Yet Israel as a sovereign state enjoys more international legitimacy than virtually any other country. We were created by both the League of Nations (ratifying the Balfour Declaration) and the United Nations (UNGAR 181). Two of our Arab neighbors have made peace with us, thereby recognizing us. In contrast the Palestinians, backed and at times manipulated by the Arab world, have done nearly everything possible to avoid setting up their own state.
They rejected 181 in 1947 and attacked us, thereby precipitating war and exile. They avoided creating a state in the West Bank and Gaza between 1949 and 1967, created UNWRA to legitimize their narrative by perpetuating rather than solving their refugee problem, rejected Egypt and Israel's offer of autonomy in 1978, failed at state-building under Oslo after 1993, invoked suicide terrorism that alienated some of their most ardent Israeli supporters, and failed again at consolidating some of the territorial foundations of a state after Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005.
Israel undoubtedly contributed to these failures, most spectacularly since 1967 with the settlement movement in the West Bank. But for Palestinians to blame us for their disasters or to assume that, because some of us devote our efforts to reaching a just solution to the conflict the Nakba must be weighing on our conscience, does a huge disservice to the Palestinian cause.
Indeed, perhaps the biggest difference between Palestinians and Israelis on the occasion of this sixtieth anniversary of their Nakba and our independence is that they blame everyone but themselves, having long ago adopted the role of history's victim, while we constantly blame ourselves, having at some early point in our renewed national history resolved to be a nation of complainers and doomsday purveyors, constantly bemoaning our faults and anticipating disasters. We give our detractors endless ammunition with which to criticize us. When our hapless prime minister remarks that unless we get out of most of the West Bank (which we definitely should do), "Israel is finished", we can only blame ourselves for looking and feeling bad--indeed, for perpetuating the conflict by encouraging our most intractable enemies.
One of the most negative aspects of Israeli-Palestinian interaction yearlong is that our political system produces coalition governments that are seemingly incapable of dealing effectively with the Palestinian issue. Every single Israeli governing coalition over the past 20 years has fallen over the Palestinian question; the current Olmert government will inevitably follow suit, unless corruption does it in first.
After reflection, let me add one more thought to my reply to the Palestinian journalist's question about the Nakba weighing on the Israeli conscience. The plight of the Palestinian people since 1948, the horrors of flight and the depravations of refugee status should be understood by Jews better than anyone else in the world, regardless of their root cause. Worse, the Palestinian dilemma has become our dilemma as we increasingly internalize the cruel truth that unless Palestinians achieve statehood and stability we can never fully consolidate our own dream of a Jewish and democratic state.
Back in 1948, we did what we had to do for sheer survival and with a clear conscience. Today, we have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of. But there is still a lot we can and must do--for us Israelis as well as for Palestinians--until Palestinians have their own independence day.-Published 12/5/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former special adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Only conflict looms
by Abdel Jawad Saleh
The catastrophe of 1948 was, is and will continue to be the sine qua non of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It represents the historic injustice visited upon the Palestinian people to which everything else--the 1967 occupation, the 1973 war, the 1987 intifada, the 1993 Oslo Accords and the 2000 intifada--is a footnote. Without addressing and resolving that injustice, the conflict will carry on.
I still remember the flood of refugees coming in to Ramallah-al-Bireh in 1948. I remember how we tried to organize to feed and clothe all those people, displaced and homeless that they were. I remember how, for my friends and I, this represented a political awakening to a world we did not quite understand and we hadn't been that interested in before. It took me some time to understand the dimension of the tragedy that befell us then.
More than half of all Palestinians were displaced in 1948. Some 800,000 people were forced from their lands and homes to make way for a state created by and for another people, a people that had come from elsewhere. It was a crime against all Palestinians, against humanity. Those who lost their homes in this way were not then and are still not allowed to reclaim what rightfully belongs to them. We know of the persecution of Jews in Europe. We know of the Holocaust. But one crime does not justify another.
As a 17-year-old in 1948 I knew nothing about the Zionists. I remember how people before1948 rented their homes to blond, blue-eyed people from Europe. Soon these people started fighting us. We had no idea who they were and why they were fighting. When the Jordanians then took over, it was something that just happened. I didn't understand this was a new administration; that a new order had taken over our destinies.
The various Palestinian leaderships, from Haj Amin al-Husseini in 1948 through to former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, have been criticized over and over again for "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity". Never has an historical criticism been so pervasive and so wrong.
The rejection of the 1947 partition plan by Haj Amin al-Husseini in particular has been singled out for criticism. Look, say historians, Palestinians were offered almost 50 percent of historic Palestine. Now, Palestinians are offered less than 22 percent. How different things could have been.
But how could it have been so? Forget for a moment that Palestinians constituted at least three-quarters of the population of historic Palestine in 1948 and to accept less than 50 percent of the land simply made no sense: the partition plan reminds me of a story from the Old Testament. Two women bring their claims to a child before King Solomon. Unable to decide which of the women is the real mother, Solomon declares that he will cut the baby in half to give to each woman. Rightly he understood that the real mother would not allow any harm to come to her baby and would reject the proposal.
Sadly, the UN was no Solomon.
Nor indeed was Washington so many years later. By the time Arafat went to Camp David it was as clear to him as it was to all Palestinians that the historic opportunity for peace that the Oslo accords were meant to clear the way for had passed in a concrete whirl of colony-building. The so-called Camp David proposal reflected only the colonial Israeli project and neglected the fundamental Palestinian right of return. The opportunity was missed all right, but Israel missed it.
Now, 60 years on, a two-state solution is looking as distant as ever. Israel continues its colony-building, laying by-pass roads and building walls deep in occupied territory. This can never lead to a viable and contiguous state for Palestinians. Israeli greed dictates that no such solution is forthcoming. Israeli greed is also thinning out the moderates among us; those who believe that a peaceful, negotiated and just solution can still be obtained.
If this continues, there will no two-state solution. Instead there can only be either a one-state solution (which Israel will do everything to avoid) or a complete expulsion of all Palestinians from Palestine. In order to counter this, Palestinians need to reform their political system to secure political unity and change their governance to a parliamentary system. Palestinian society needs to strengthen to cohesively face the threat of Israeli expansion.
By finding that war is easier to wage than peace, Israel will reap what it sows and the future will belong to radicals, Islamists and others. For now, only conflict looms.- Published 12/5/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Abdel Jawad Saleh is a former mayor of al-Bireh, a former member of the PLO's Executive Council and a former PA minister of agriculture.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
What the Jews achieved and what the Arabs achieved
by Yisrael Harel
A heavy moral cloud hung over Israel's sixtieth Independence Day celebrations: a prime minister interrogated on the holiday eve on suspicion of taking bribes; a former president who will soon stand trial for severe moral crimes; a minister of finance already indicted for theft and fraud and a member of Knesset convicted just before the holiday for taking bribes. Yet no serious person taking stock of the situation with historical perspective and objectivity would say that because of high-level corruption the Jewish state is corrupt and has failed.
Quite the contrary: the moral decline of some circles in Israeli society, its academic institutions, the wealthy, the media and government is overshadowed by a beautiful, patriotic, just, courageous and industrious Israel--an Israel that, from its inception, was never allowed to lay down her sword yet still succeeded, without natural resources and without a moment of grace from its enemies, to build one of the few economies that has not been significantly hurt by a global economic crisis that has even affected giants like the United States and Europe. Israeli universities, despite their ceaseless complaints regarding lack of resources, hold a very respectful position internationally. In the natural sciences, the number of learned articles written in Israel and published in scientific journals is higher, per capita, than science giants like England and Germany, and the percentage of Israelis studying for a BA is the highest in the world.
According to the image they themselves like to project, the Palestinians are "the Jews of the Arab world", i.e., they are better educated and more industrious than their Arab brothers. Perhaps. Yet as far as competition with Israel over levels of education is concerned--after all, this is the only standard by which they can compete with Israel--they have wasted 60 years during which they enjoyed a certain advantage over Israelis: they received huge financial aid from the United Nations and many nations of the world and their children did not bear the burdens born by Israeli children, such as three years of military service, during which they could apply themselves to education.
Yet they did not do so sufficiently, for the same reason that they never eliminated the refugee camps: they have turned the status of victim, their own self-pity and the absolute desire for revenge against the Jews into, first, a political weapon and, over time, a way of life. Yet in a world of globalization and super-technology these weapons, while here and there they might disturb the world's conscience, have not brought the Palestinians closer to any of their goals. On the contrary, with every passing day the gap grows between Israel, as it presses ahead toward ever more achievements, and the Palestinians, who fortify themselves with ever more self-righteousness and backwardness. The goal of establishing a Palestinian state on the ruins of Israel (a position held by the majority of Palestinians) or on the 1967 lines (a position still adhered to by a minority composed of pragmatists who recognize that suicide terrorism will never defeat Israel) is receding.
The broader Arab world as well, including the oil-rich countries, finds itself lagging behind Israel. The hundreds of billions of dollars flowing into its treasuries are not properly exploited. Israel's per capita income, even without oil, is around $20,000, compared to less than $3,000 in the Palestinian Authority, Egypt or Syria. True, high income does not always correspond with national resilience or determination--indeed, in these realms Israel has regressed significantly in recent decades--yet the crisis, however serious, has not caused weakness at the national level. In this respect we are witness to vitality in all walks of Israeli life, including a cultural and literary flowering that reflects impressive capacities on the part of Israeli society.
In the forty-sixth year of Israeli independence, 1994, the Palestinians were given a one-time opportunity to prove they are the "Jews of the Arab world". The Oslo agreement granted them de facto independence and control over sufficient territory to lay an administrative, judicial and educational infrastructure and prepare all the other components that characterize a state--just as the Jews did under the British mandate. No one got in their way; indeed, the entire world, Israel included, encouraged them to move toward creating these infrastructures. But Yasser Arafat and his followers (from the moment that Israel, in one of its sorriest acts, allowed him along with more than 40,000 armed men to enter the territory of the Palestinian Authority) chose instead to wage a war of terror and attrition.
True, the attrition worked to some extent on Israel. Yet the Israelis rallied more economic, human and professional resources than the Palestinians and won this war too. And with the Palestinians worn down--even the limited and insufficient war Israel is waging, using a small portion of its technological and human capabilities, has dealt Hamas sufficient blows to bring it to sue for a ceasefire--Israel can allow itself to carry on business (almost) as usual.
In recent years, and particularly since their "vision documents" were published in Israel and the world, another important actor has joined the fray: the Israeli Palestinians. Their actions, declarations and publications, which negate Israel's existence as the national home of the Jewish people, generate growing suspicion among the Jewish public regarding Palestinian intentions. Not only do these Palestinians reject the existence of the state in which they are citizens but they also pressure the PA, for example on the eve of the Annapolis conference, not to dare recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
Here, then, is the balance we have drawn: while the Arabs invest their primary resources in an ongoing conflict with Israel the latter, in an effort unprecedented in the world, succeeds in mustering not only the heavy resources required for its defense, but also a large portion of its citizens' capabilities toward creativity and development in every field. Thus after 60 years Israel, despite frequent crises and its own societal ills, is on the path to progress, development, overcoming the many obstacles and failures in its way and enlarging the gaps that separate it from those who deny its right to exist. Throughout most of the Arab world, on the other hand, and particularly in the Palestinian camp, things are moving in the opposite direction: they are regressing.- Published 12/5/2008 © bitterlemons.org
Yisrael Harel heads the Institute for Zionist Strategy in Jerusalem and writes a weekly political column in Haaretz. He is former head of the Yesha Council (Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza District) and former editor of its monthly Nekuda.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.