Posted on January 03, 2005 in Washington Watch

I have written that the mantra, “with the passing of Arafat and the reelection of Bush, a new opportunity for peace exists,” is both wrong and a potentially dangerous assessment, because fundamental political realities in the United States and Israel have not changed.

Having written this, however, let me make it clear that I advocate neither Palestinian or Arab passivity, nor “business as usual.” Because some have misunderstood my point, allow me to elaborate.

Despite prevailing conditions of no sovereignty and a persistently brutal and humiliating occupation, there are important initiatives Palestinians and Arabs can undertake that will contribute to an improvement of the Palestinian situation.

1. The Palestinian house needs reorganization.

Precisely because of the hardships created by Israel’s occupation, current Palestinian steps (to reorganize the leadership of their national institutions; to elect and create mandates for new local and national leaders; to create more accountable and transparent organs of governance; to establish a more unified structure for security forces; and to develop a national consensus) should be seen as brave acts of resistance that must be supported.

For more than a half century Israel refused to acknowledge the existence of Palestinians as a national community. One of Sharon’s and the Likud’s goals has been to dismantle the Palestinian Authority. By remaining steadfast and taking steps to put their house in order, Palestinians are defying Israel’s aim.

Despite the fact that this new leadership will not find Israel more willing to meet Palestinian requirements for a just peace, or the US more willing to press Israel in any significant way, the newly elected Palestinian leadership will be in a better position to demonstrate to the world community that Palestinian demands were not the whim of Yasser Arafat, but represent the will of the entire people.

The new Palestinian leadership will also be better positioned to solicit, receive and administer much needed international financial support, and to provide a more coherent response to the behavior of Israeli occupation policies.

2. Abu Mazen and Mustafa Barghouti are both right: the violence must end and national leadership should lead a sustained and creative non-violent challenge to Israeli oppression.

The violence of this intifada is both morally wrong and politically disastrous. It has played into the hands of Sharon and Israeli hardliners, giving them the opportunity they sought to dismantle the PA, de-legitimize its leaders, end the Oslo process and use unbearably brutal and repressive policies against the entire Palestinian population.

Over many long years, one truth should have become self-evident: just as the violence of the occupation will not end the Palestinian will to be free, Palestinian violence will not end the occupation.

As I wrote three years ago (in“Toward a New Palestinian Strategy,” on January 28, 2002), Palestinians need a new political strategy. Revenge is not a strategy.

The only effective response to the sustained pervasive violence of the occupation is a sustained campaign of creative non-violence.
Palestinians use non-violent resistance every day. When refugees remain steadfast in their resolve to return, when they organize local and national elections, or when they challenge the occupation at checkpoints in Jerusalem or in international forums, they are non-violently resisting.

This effort needs to be organized and developed into a broad national strategy. But for that to occur the new Palestinian leadership must be supported in their efforts to regain control over their national enterprise, despite the difficulties that this will entail.

3. Continued occupation is no excuse for Arab neglect.

My mother used to teach me that I needed to accept the responsibility and challenge to address my own situation, whatever it was. “Complaining,” she said, “is not a strategy.”

Nothing absolves Israeli behavior toward the captive Palestinian people, but something must be done to alleviate the horrible impact all of this has had on the long-suffering Palestinians. As detailed by a recent World Bank report on poverty, and other studies, conditions in the West Bank and especially the Gaza Strip have gone beyond crisis levels: Sixty percent below the poverty level; 80% youth unemployment; widespread malnutrition, and, with all of this, a disintegration of the very fabric of social life.
The US tells Israel to “alleviate Palestinian suffering and end the daily humiliations.” But when ignored, there is no action.

There is a challenge here for the Arab World-a challenge they should meet. Another resolution condemning Israel will not do. Palestinian lives must be saved. Palestinian society must be strengthened and young Palestinians must be given hope.

There are brilliant projects like those sponsored by the Palestinian Welfare Fund and the Sheikh Zayed Foundation that can be built upon and made the focus of an overall Arab strategy to rescue the Palestinian people and sustain their soon-to-be newly elected national leadership.

None of this is a substitute for a just peace, but it is a prerequisite for peace with justice. Despair has never been an effective agent for change, but hope can be a powerful force.

4. Palestinians and Arabs must challenge US opinion.

For too long Israel has been allowed a free hand in the battle to shape US public opinion. I’ve made this case before, and I’ll make it again: there needs to be an Arab information campaign to challenge Israeli distortions and to portray the Palestinian and Arab side of the conflict.

Despite playing a losing hand, Israel continues to win, because they work tirelessly and methodically to make their case. Meanwhile, the more compelling Palestinian narrative is not heard. In the absence of an Arab information campaign the Israelis have historically been able to define the terms of the debate, portraying themselves as the victims and Arabs as the evil aggressors.

These are a few of the things that can and must be done, with or without “an opportunity.” They are not a substitute for peace, but the real change needed to make peace will not occur without efforts such as these.

For comments or information, contact James Zogby

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