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View-counter-view: UPI looks at two sides

By AKRAM BAKER and ALON BEN-MEIR   |   April 23, 2002 at 1:46 PM   |   Comments

View: Ethnic cleansing as policy

By AKRAM BAKER

BERLIN, April 18 (UPI) -- I wonder how the Serbian people would have responded in 1991 to a survey question asking their opinion on whether they should ethnically cleanse their neighbors or not. It would be truly interesting to see if half them would have responded in the positive. Of course no one asked their opinion and the remnants of the Yugoslav army along with their minions in Bosnia subsequently sparked Europe's bloodiest war in 50 years.

But in the end, after all the blood and tears and borders and refugees and massacres, justice is finally taking place insofar that Slobodan Milosovic is standing trial before an international war crimes tribunal in The Hague for genocide and ethnic cleansing. This is good. However, I am currently asking myself if he should remain there.

Why? Because according to opinion polls, the Israel public, living in a country supported militarily, financially, and politically by the United States, increasingly considers ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people as a legitimate policy option.

The Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies, one of Israel's most respected think tanks, just released its annual national security public opinion poll conducted among Israeli Jews. Forty-six percent of the respondents favored "transfer" of the entire indigenous Palestinian population from the occupied Palestinian Territories. This figure went above 60 percent when the question was phrased a bit more subtly, as in "Should Israel actively encourage the Palestinian Arabs to leave the country?"

Transfer, for the uninitiated, is the Israeli-coined term for ethnic cleansing or mass expulsion. Israeli linguists appear to be quite talented at making dirty words a bit cleaner. For example, "targeted killing" as opposed to political murder or assassination. But that is a subject best left for another article or the likes of William Safire.

So here we have significant indications that a majority of the population of a democratic state may openly support ethnic cleansing. Not only does Israel continue to occupy and repress an entire captive nation with brutal military force, but its people openly discuss, without a hint of irony, how best to commit war crimes. And the international community stands by and watches. This is leading us all down the path of physical and moral destruction, and must be stopped.

When I say all of us I mean Palestinians, Israelis, Europeans and Americans alike. For the Palestinians are not only being physically killed and captured, but the ongoing violence is destroying the fabric of its civil society.

Brutality feeds more brutality and I worry day and night about what this is doing to us, let alone to our children. Recently, my mother was in tears -- which is not the norm for her, I can assure you -- not only because of the many Palestinians killed the night before, or because the Israeli tanks were rumbling menacingly next to her kitchen window, but because a Palestinian collaborator, someone suspected of providing direct assistance to Israeli death squads, was caught and hanged like a goat in the center of Ramallah, my hometown.

Not that this person's crimes, if substantiated, were not of the most despicable kind, but the fact that our fledgling judicial system (along with every other ministry and institution to boot), which we have been so desperately trying to develop, has all but been demolished, courtesy of the Israeli armed forces. The people who executed this street justice believed that they had no other alternative or recourse to the law -- that is more than disturbing.

For the Israelis, I can only tell them that if you chose to continue on this course of madness, they will lose in the end. It is not just that the Palestinians' ability to endure great suffering is legendary, or that they have nothing to lose, because they do, but the fact is that they have no choice. The Palestinian people have nowhere else to go. We do not want to push the Jews into the sea, but we reserve the right to defend ourselves against being pushed into the river (or across it).

Your occupation of our people will corrupt and destroy your society from within. The saddest irony is that you have succeeded in extracting yourselves from the ghettos of Central and Eastern Europe and the Middle East only to build yourself another one, surrounding your country with barbed wire, an enormous military, weapons of mass destruction, and a psychological barrier higher than the Berlin Wall. It is high time to liberate yourself from this one before it consumes you.

As for the rest of the world, by continually refusing to criticize illegal and immoral Israeli policies, you aren't doing anyone a favor -- least of all Israel. The West has become a sort of "enabler" in the same sense that a wife (or husband) enables a husband to carry on drinking even though it is clear as daylight that he is an alcoholic and needs help.

This aggressive inaction, dealing only with the symptoms - when at all - is a sure-fire recipe for mutual destruction. Your short-term political calculations have repeatedly been discredited, yet the United States and the European Union cling to them like a bad suit. As you are well aware of, the price of failure is very high and will only get higher as the days and death toll mount. The time to act, for the good of both Israel and Palestine, is now.

We are reaching a watershed in Middle Eastern history. There is a golden opportunity to resolve this long-standing conflict for the benefit of all concerned. What it comes down to is, do we continue to try Milosovic for his crimes against humanity, and give ample warning to the rest that they will follow him if they do not change their ways; or do we let him go and admit that genocide and ethnic cleansing are valid policy options in today's world. I hope we chose the first.


(Akram Baker was communications adviser to Palestinian Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, the late Faisal Husseini. He is currently Senior Partner of Brandicate Consultants and resides in Berlin, dividing his time among Europe, the United States and the Middle East.)


Alon Ben-Meir replies to Akram Baker:

View: Occupation could have ended in 2000

By ALON BEN-MEIR

NEW YORK, April 22 (UPI) -- In an article by Akram Baker, a former communications adviser to the Palestinian Minister for Jerusalem Affairs (the late Faisal Husseini), and published by UPI on April 18, the writer strongly admonishes the Israelis for their occupation. While understandably passionate about the Palestinian cause, Baker seems to not only to misread many political facts, but also conveniently ignores other critical ones that have prolonged the occupation and dramatically changed the course of the conflict.

He begins by arguing that, given a choice, the majority of Israelis select "ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people as a legitimate policy option." To prove his point, he cites a public opinion poll conducted by the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies in Israel. In this survey, according to Baker, "46 percent of the respondents favored transfer of the entire indigenous Palestinian population from the occupied Palestinian territories." He goes on to suggest "This figure went above 60 percent when the question was phrased a bit more subtly, as in, "Should Israel actively encourage the Palestinian Arabs to leave the country."

Without questioning anything about the survey, Baker concludes, "Here we have a significant indication that a majority of the population of a democratic state openly supports ethnic cleansing." This conclusion, I suggest, is both wrong and disingenuous.

First, the survey itself does not show that a majority responded positively to this question, unless Baker considers 46 percent to be a clear majority. Second, by his own admission, the survey was "recent," as in the past few weeks! Perhaps in discussing the survey's results, he could have recalled what has transpired in Israel and the occupied territories over the past few months.

More than 10 suicide bombers have rained havoc on the Israelis. Nearly 100 men, women and children have been blown to pieces and hundreds more injured, shattering the last vestiges for Israelis of any sense of the personal safety.

If only 46 percent supported transfer following these awful events, that should attest only to the Israelis' remarkable tolerance and forbearance. To present a more balanced view, Baker could have cited a Palestinian survey, perhaps one that asked the Palestinians the same question in the wake of the Israeli incursion into the West Bank (unless he feels that suicide bombing is a lesser evil than the Israeli retaliation).

It might surprise him to find out that not 46 percent but perhaps 86 percent of all Palestinians would prefer that Israel should disappear altogether. Such a response would surely be understandable considering the destructive consequences of the Israeli retaliation.

Baker continues by saying, "The Palestinians are not only being physically killed and captured, but the ongoing violence is destroying the fabric of their civil society." I could not agree more with this conclusion. But doesn't he know that violence begets violence. Although suicide bombing has not destroyed the fabric of Israel's civil society, it has destroyed something as precious -- the people's sense of safety, leaving behind shattered hopes, permanent anxiety and a profound sense of despair!

Baker next criticizes the Israeli occupation, warning, "For the Israelis, I can only tell them that if you chose to continue on this course of madness, you will lose in the end." In the following paragraph, he warns sternly, "Your occupation of our people will corrupt and destroy your society from within." I, for one, have never supported the occupation in any form, and I still believe that Israel must eventually end it, but only in a nonviolent atmosphere.

That said, I must pose this simple question to him: If ending the Israeli occupation is all that Palestinians seek, why then did Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat turn down former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer at Camp David, Md., in the summer of 2000 and subsequently at Tabbah in December of that year? Barak had proposed transferring to the Palestinians 96 percent of the West Bank (with a land swap to compensate for the remaining 4 percent), all of Gaza, the Arab section of East Jerusalem and also wanted to give them complete sovereignty over holy Islamic shrines (known as Haram al-Sharif).

This offer was not much dissimilar to Crown Prince Abdallah's peace plan enunciated this March at an Arab summit in Beirut. Of course, Baker conveniently skips what was a historic peace proposal by Israel and proceeds to buy into Arafat's demagoguery and gross misrepresentation of the facts.

Rather than rallying the Palestinians in support of an unprecedented peace proposal, Arafat instigated the second intifada, which has shattered everything that was built and accomplished, especially trust between the two sides, since the first Oslo accords in1993.

Baker goes on to inform the Israelis, "Your short-term political calculations have repeatedly been discredited, yet the United States and the European Union cling to them like a bad suit." It certainly is news to me, that the European Union supports the Israeli policies. The European community has always sold its soul to the highest bidder and as a result made itself practically irrelevant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As for the United States, its support of Israel as a nation has been consistent and unequivocal. But it has not always supported every aspect of Israel's policies, especially in connection with the occupation. The United States has opposed, and continues to oppose, the Israeli settlements, and it has endorsed the return of territories in exchange for peace and secure borders.

Yes, peace and secure borders, two requirements flatly rejected by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and more than half a dozen extremist Palestinian leftist groups, to which one might now add the Palestinian Authority itself.

Finally, Baker returns to his opening theme and asks momentously, "What it comes down to is this, do we continue to try (former Yugoslav leader Slobodan) Milosevic for his crimes against humanity, and give ample warning to the rest (meaning Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) that they will follow him if they do not change their ways; or do we let him go and admit that genocide and ethnic cleansing are valid policy options in today's world." So he wants to sit in judgment and decide who is the culprit behind the bloodletting and, moreover, see it as evidence of genocide. Well, I believe the evidence does not support such a conclusion. Sharon came to power in the wake of the worst Palestinian violence against innocent Israelis. He was elected to put an end to the carnage perpetrated by suicide bombers financed by the Palestinian Authority, as evidenced by hundreds of documents seized from Arafat's compound in Ramallah by Israeli forces. Arafat will not have an easy time proving his innocence.

I must admit that I felt disheartened by Baker's article, especially because of his credentials and experience. If he exemplifies what a "communications adviser" communicates, I can see why the Palestinians have been so grossly misled. Obviously, Baker is not alone, and the distortions of the truth designed to feed into the Palestinians' frenzy are not accidental. Have the Palestinian masses been told that they could have had their state nearly two years ago, along the lines of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdallah's peace plan, and that their leaders turned it down? Have they been told that Israel is a reality with which they must reckon if they want a state of their own? How could they know this? Israel is not even on the map in Palestinian geography books. Have they been told that the right of return (to Israel proper) is no longer attainable because of demographic considerations, and the solution to the refugee problem lies in compensation and resettlement? To the contrary, they have been promised repatriation, a cynical promise, giving them false hope and impossible expectations.

Yes, he and I both believe that occupation must end, leading to the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel. But here is where we diverge: I believe that this outcome must represent an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whereas many Palestinians, including Arafat at Camp David, view it only as another phase in the process of destroying Israel. The end of the occupation is in the hands of the

Palestinians, their leadership and, to a lesser extent, the heads of the Arab states.

If violence and the exaltation of suicide bombers continue to be the weapons of choice, a Palestinian state will remain an elusive goal, shattering the hope of the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians and condemning them to untold destruction and despair.


(Alon Ben-Meir is Middle East Project Director at the World Policy Institute in New York and a professor of International Relations at New York University.)

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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