View: Occupation could have ended in 2000

By ALON BEN-MEIR  |  April 22, 2002 at 3:31 PM
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NEW YORK, April 22 (UPI) -- In an article by Akram Baker, a former communications advisor 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 ignore 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% 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 last 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 ten 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 Chairman Arafat turn down former Israeli Prime Minister Barak's offer at Camp David 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

Abdullah's peace plan enunciated this March at an Arab summit in Beirut. Of course, Baker conveniently skips what was an 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 Intifadah, 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 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. Prime Minister 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 advisor" communicates, I can see why the Palestinians have been so grossly misled. Obviously, Mr. 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 Abdullah'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.)

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