A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Nothing has changed
by Ghassan Khatib
It is one year since the late President Yasser Arafat died, and it may be instructive to take stock and see what has changed on the ground.
The short and most illuminating answer, of course, is that nothing much has changed. Palestinian demands vis-a-vis an over-all two-state solution remain exactly the same. That is not surprising, since these demands had nothing to do with Arafat, and everything to do with international law, justice, and plain common sense.
Agreement on these overarching issues, the Gaza disengagement notwithstanding, also remains as distant as when Arafat was alive. Again, this should come as a surprise to nobody since such agreement had little to do with Arafat, and everything to do with an Israeli refusal to abide by international law and legality. The West Bank including East Jerusalem is occupied territory that must form the backbone of an independent Palestinian state, yet Israel does everything in its power, as it did when Arafat was still alive, to render impossible the emergence of such a state and thus of a viable two-state solution. The most obvious and egregious Israeli measures to this end are Israel's continuing settlement expansion program, especially around Jerusalem, and the building of the separation wall, clearly in an attempt to unilaterally define future borders.
The one thing that has of course changed is the implementation of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. This is by no stretch of the imagination a complete withdrawal. Negotiators recently engaged in all-night sessions to determine the extent of Israeli involvement at Gaza's border with Egypt and ensure Palestinian control over a border for the first time. But Israeli control over sea- and air-space constitutes continued effective Israeli military control over the Strip. Nevertheless, the settlements are gone, and with them, much of the intrusive nature of the occupation that played such havoc in Gazans' lives. The Rafah agreement holds out hope for further improvement.
But, and again, this withdrawal had nothing to do with the passing of Arafat. It was a unilateral Israeli measure, and had been agreed, if not passed through the Israeli cabinet, long before Arafat died. It would have happened with or without him. Indeed, the unilateral nature of the disengagement is exactly the reason why negotiators recently had to work into the small hours.
A shaky ceasefire exists, one the Palestinian opposition factions agreed with President Mahmoud Abbas. But, just as with the unilateral hudna declared by the opposition factions in 2003 under Arafat's tenure, that ceasefire is being broken every day by Israel's continued assassination policy as well as the sweeping arrest campaigns targeting Palestinian activists in the West Bank. If it fails it will fail for the same reason that the 2003 hudna failed: because Israel won't allow it to continue.
In short, a year after Arafat little has changed. Internally there has, of course, been a change of leadership style and in the way things are done. That is hardly surprising after decades of rule by one very charismatic man whose position was unchallenged and who lived and survived through all the stages of the Palestinian national struggle. But the fact that nothing has changed regarding the overall conflict is instructive because it should, once and for all, give lie to the myth that has been propagated, mainly by Israel and propagandists for Israel, that the late president was the main obstacle to peace. If indeed Arafat had been the main obstacle to peace, we should have seen some progress by now. We haven't, and the reason ought to be obvious. The main obstacle to peace is, and always was, Israel's refusal to abide by international law, international legality, and international moral standards.- Published 14/11/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
by Yossi Alpher
Yasser Arafat died a year ago; Yitzhak Rabin ten years ago. Both signed the Oslo accords and (with Shimon Peres) received the Nobel Prize for Peace. Both died tragically.
The comparison ends there. The contrasts begin.
Arafat's death seemingly produced little outpouring of grief among Palestinians or his fellow Arab leaders. While he was charming in person, Arafat was mainly corrupt and manipulative, too prone to rely on violence, developed too few strategies for building a viable Palestinian state, and had a disastrous inclination to fall back on lies and paranoid fantasies not seen in any successful Arab leader. A year ago, the impression was that much of the Middle East, not to mention the rest of the world, breathed a sigh of relief when he died.
From the perspective of a year's distance, Arafat deserves historic credit for coalescing a scattered people and giving it a cause. But he could not figure out how to exploit that success. He missed the boat in 1978 when he turned down the first Camp David offer of autonomy, in territories then devoid of settlements. Later, his ten-year stint at state-building was a fiasco; millions are still suffering for his mistakes. Alone among the twentieth century national liberation movements, his failed. He died sordidly and inexplicably, and nobody really seems to care. His death appears to have had nothing to do with whether he succeeded or failed in his life's mission.
Yitzhak Rabin, on the other hand, knew when and how to change strategies. He had his faults and drawbacks, but he pointed us in the right direction, and we are, willy-nilly and with a lot of zigzags, still on that course of defining ourselves as a Jewish and democratic state and letting the Palestinians go their own way. While he adamantly refused to present a detailed vision of a two state solution, Rabin nevertheless made sure everyone knew in what direction he was heading. In person he was diffident, ill at ease, not particularly communicative, even (as one of his ministers once described him to me) "autistic". But he was genuine, authentic and straightforward. His assassination ten years ago left most Israelis and others worldwide in shock and heartache; many continue to exhibit their strong feelings for him to this day, often to the extent (particularly on the political left) of distorting his legacy. Even most of those who, for political and ideological reasons, don't miss him, nevertheless recognize the huge setback to Israeli sovereign state-building that his murder constituted.
Rabin and Arafat first met in that excruciating handshake on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993. Rabin was not a dissembler, and everything about his body language told you he knew exactly whom he was dealing with. I remember at the time asking another retired IDF general, a comrade-in-arms of Rabin, whether he had watched that ceremony. "I couldn't," he replied. "I knew what Yitzhak was going through and couldn't bear to see it."
Had he lived, I doubt very much that Rabin would or could have made a genuine peace with Arafat. But that is merely informed speculation, based partly on the limitations of Rabin's vision in his day, but mostly on Arafat's performance in the ensuing years until his death. Still, Rabin's assassin succeeded in causing real damage to the cause of peace and coexistence.
Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, is a good man engaged in a dangerous experiment with Hamas, seemingly without the leadership qualities needed to tame even violent supporters within his own movement, Fateh. He confronts an Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon, who subscribes to Rabin's strategy of separation but not to his formula for a viable relationship with the Palestinians. And while Rabin and Arafat had the benefit of President Bill Clinton's stewardship and commitment, we now have President George W. Bush, mired knee-deep in a disastrous Iraqi adventure and barely able (or ready) to lend us the services of Secretary of State Rice for a day every few months.
These days, after the disappointments of Camp David II and the violence of intifada II, we are almost certainly farther from a peaceful end to the conflict than we were ten years ago, when Rabin was assassinated. But, thanks to disengagement and Abu Mazen, we are a little closer than we were a year ago, when Arafat died. Hopefully we can all, Israelis and Palestinians, learn something from both the ongoing nostalgia for Rabin as well as the lack of nostalgia for Arafat.- Published 14/11/2005 © 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 was a senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Knocking but to no avail
by Saleh Abdel Jawad
During the late President Yasser Arafat's life, no one could imagine Palestinian politics, with all its exceptional complexities and breakneck turn of events, without him. He had sat at the helm of the Palestinian national leadership for four decades. He was a reference and a symbol of the revolution and of liberation, not only in Palestine. He had also, more than any other leader in the world, accumulated all jurisdictions, power and authority in his hands.
When he passed away, most Palestinians felt a strange combination of contradicting emotions: anxiety, grief and relief at the passing of their "patriarchal old man": anxiety and fear of the unknown; grief over the passing of someone dear who had become an integral part of their lives and memories; and relief that the time for change and for ridding themselves of Arafat's burdensome legacy had finally arrived. This would explain the smooth and quiet transition of authority in Palestine from Arafat to his methodical successor Mahmoud Abbas, and how life this year has passed as if Arafat never existed. In addition, the flood and speed of events has not stopped.
The official and popular festivals in Ramallah last Friday on the first anniversary of Arafat's death were, by any standard, ludicrous on a day when Al Jazeera Satellite Channel was broadcasting pictures of the bodies of the young men assassinated by Israeli forces in Nablus and Jenin. Furthermore, the strangulating wall, which is encircling Palestinians like an Amazonian snake, continues to grow in length and height. Settlements continue to expand like a poisonous fungus, devouring our land while young Israelis don metal helmets and fight boredom by humiliating Palestinians at checkpoints. Throughout, Palestinians continue to try to reach Arab Jerusalem, which has turned into a kind of ghost town.
And as if the hardship and difficulties we face from our enemies is not enough, the signs of poverty and internal divisions resulting from the Israeli policy of total destruction of Palestinian society (not merely apartheid but a socio-cide) have begun to interact with factors of corruption and internal disintegration. These have manifested themselves in a number of negative phenomena: multiple authorities, mayhem (which has been coined "security chaos" as if it is something out of our own control); begging and entreating (ordinary and high-class) and the rich and prosperous Ramallah Marie Antoinettes who carry on without regard to the poverty that has overtaken other cities. In such an atmosphere, who can find time to remember Arafat?
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his buddy US President George W. Bush and some Europeans tried to push the delusional idea that Arafat was the only obstacle to peace and that his absence would offer the opportunity for peace and for Sharon to find a partner to work with. However, in spite of Arafat's passing, Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) has knocked on the door to peace to no avail. Abu Mazen's personality, it is true, put Sharon in an awkward position for a short while. However, during this period Sharon created new excuses. In the past, he fought against elections in Palestine "for fear of Arafat's return". Now he is fighting Palestinian elections fearing Islamist victory.
What is even worse, less than a year after Arafat died, the "genius", Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, reached the conclusion that the problem was no longer Arafat alone as he used to say but the entire present Palestinian generation. Let us hope he doesn't come to the conclusion that this generation must be annihilated similarly to his call to annihilate Arafat in the past.
Nevertheless, in spite of this gloomy picture, a beam of light has appeared at the end of the dark tunnel and has shown itself to those lost under the leadership of Abu Mazen. This sliver of hope should not be missed because it is our last chance for many years to come. In a wonderful surprise, exactly 10 years after Rabin's death, Amir Peretz was elected head of the Labor Party. Peretz, in spite of the difficulties he will face, is the other face of Arafat's "peace of the brave". Like Abu Mazen, Amir Peretz does not go out on his balcony every morning to see which way the wind is blowing, nor does he dance to the tune of public opinion surveys.
Today, Palestine's present and future is Abu Mazen who "cannot and does not want to reproduce a parallel symbolism to that of Arafat". It would be wrong to reproduce this now because this would mean more steadfastness without tangible results. This would also mean a continuation on the path of internal disintegration that took place because Arafat did not understand that achieving national liberation is dependent on a strong internal structure and a sound political system.
Today, Israel's present and future hopes of coexisting with its neighbors in a secure peace are in the hands of a young man of Moroccan descent, whose life in development towns has not prevented him from seeing and understanding the suffering of the Palestinians and understanding that the rights of laborers and the Jewish and Arab poor from the second and third classes will never be achieved except through peace with the Palestinians.
Let us hope and pray that Peretz will win in the upcoming elections and that Abu Mazen's painstakingly slow march will then be endorsed by a joint Palestinian and Israeli effort.- Published 14/11/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Saleh Abdel Jawad is a political scientist at Birzeit University.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
There must be a Palestinian awakening
by Ron Pundak
One year after the death of Yasser Arafat, the biggest surprise is that nearly no one misses him. When Arafat vanished without collective grief and the transfer of power took place with dignity, it appeared as if all Abu Mazen (President Mahmoud Abbas) had to do was keep his promise: one authority, one law, one gun. But with the passage of time, it emerged that only Arafat knew the operative formula that would enable the gathering of all the factions, all those particles, into agreement on something.
Arafat had a design for exercising control: divide and rule, fragment forces, all against all and, in the end, all dependent on him. The day Arafat departed so did the formula, and Palestine's diverse actors began to act without direction or purpose. Even had Arafat tried, in his dying moments, to whisper the secret code, it would have turned out that only the man seen as the father of the nation, the symbol of national struggle, the historic leader, the one married to the revolution--only he could rule on the basis of the existing system.
The problem was that after the outbreak of the intifada he did not want to, or perhaps believed mistakenly that he could not, use his formula to maneuver the Palestinian system toward a hudna (ceasefire), non-violent resistance, and dialogue with the Americans and through them with Israel.
Historically, Arafat was without doubt an impressive leader. Yet in the post-Oslo era he lacked the facility to change his fatigues for a statesman's business suit. He did not know how to make the transformation from revolutionary to state-builder, from a leader nourished by conflict to one who generates stability and aspires to end conflict. Ironically, it is Abu Mazen who displays all those character traits that Arafat lacked. Beyond the political integrity and pragmatism that he projects, which were nearly non-existent in his predecessor, Abu Mazen was over the years the man who tried to persuade Arafat, unsuccessfully, to concentrate on state-building. And it was he who took the lead from the outset after the Oslo accords to move ahead as fast as possible toward a final status agreement that would bring peace to Israel and an end to the historic conflict.
A year has passed, and what remains from Arafat is fauda, chaos. Security has been "privatized" in favor of armed and violent gangs that rule city centers and refugee camps; the security services are more fragmented than ever; Hamas is gathering strength at the expense of the inactive Palestinian Authority; government offices barely function; law enforcement is in a state of collapse; and the Fateh movement is destroying itself from within in superfluous power struggles. In other words, there is chaos at every corner, no collective responsibility, and Abu Mazen is unable to lead, rule, or deliver on any of his promises to the public. One year later, and the hoped-for changes are not happening.
True, Israel has made its own very significant "contribution". Throughout the past year Israel did almost nothing to strengthen the PA or to empower the new rais. The historic move to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, dismantle the settlements and redeploy along the 1967 border was also made without coordination and without enabling Abu Mazen to score a single political point. Thus, too, the ongoing building of outposts, the route of the fence, the system of assassinations, the light finger on the trigger, and a long list of daily injustices of occupation. But it would be a grave mistake to blame only Israel for everything and thereby to ignore the insight that there must be a Palestinian awakening: a general house-cleaning that stops the current huge decline--a decline that is liable to lead to disintegration from within and that will be hard to avoid even if the occupation disappears.
Ariel Sharon is the principal beneficiary of the situation within the PA and the status of Abu Mazen. He wants them weak. He does not want to find a partner for the peace of the brave of the sort launched by Arafat and Rabin. On the other hand, he is not interested in the collapse of the PA and the fall of Abu Mazen. The current situation is ideal for Sharon. The "there is no partner" mantra gathers momentum when the chaos in the PA is the principal characteristic of daily life. That the occupation contributes, the assassinations help, and most of the Palestinian public wants a decent solution and compromise with Israel--does not interest him. Thus does the Palestinian public play into Sharon's hands; he can always find a good excuse for not moving ahead with the roadmap and for continuing to recycle the lie, invented by Ehud Barak, that there is nothing to talk about because there is no one to talk to.
But the good news is that Abu Mazen--this decent person who really believes in building a Palestinian nation and society and really believes there is no better way for both sides than the path of peace--is still holding on, and is doing all in his power to stabilize the situation. Perhaps the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006 will launch a new departure that will put paid to the Arafat legacy. Perhaps the opening of Gaza to Egypt and the inauguration of efficient commercial transit points with Israel will rejuvenate the Gazan economy and generate a new momentum. And perhaps the election of a new leader for the Labor Party will reestablish Israel as a true partner for peace--one that strengthens its Palestinian partner out of a sense of long term responsibility.- Published 14/11/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Dr. Ron Pundak is the director general of the Peres Center for Peace. He was one of the architects and negotiators of the Oslo Agreement.
To unsubscribe from this bitterlemons HTML email list, simply write to firstname.lastname@example.org with "unsubscribe" in the subject line. To subscribe to the text version instead, write to email@example.com. Editors Ghassan Khatib and Yossi Alpher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.
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.