Monday, January 17, 2005

False hope for peace in post-Arafat era Jan. 17, 2005

False hope for peace in post-Arafat era
Daily Herald Monday Jan. 17, 2005
By Ray Hanania

There is a difference between hope and optimism. I am hopeful for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, but I am not optimistic.

I expect things to get worse, despite the "euphoria" following the death of Yasser Arafat, a man revered by Palestinians and hated by Israelis.

The whole premise that peace is now possible is based on a falsehood: now that Arafat is gone, Israel has a partner. They’ve always had a partner.

The real problem is that each side defines "peace" differently. Israelis see peace as ending a conflict. Palestinians see peace as ending an injustice.

When Israel says it wants peace, most Israelis are speaking about an end to the violence and the continued occupation of Palestinian lands.

When Palestinians speak about peace, they are talking about an end to the violence and the withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, an Arab city. It also includes the evacuation of all of the illegal Jewish-only settlements Israel built since 1967 on Palestinian lands stolen or forcibly "purchased."

Unless you address these differences, how can you achieve peace?

Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas genuinely opposes the use of violence. But he faces the same obstacle in Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Likud Government that Arafat faced. Sharon doesn’t want to surrender the occupied lands, dismantle the settlements or share Jerusalem.

So what’s to negotiate?

While Abbas talks peace, Israel continues to occupy Palestinian lands. Everyday, Palestinian civilians are being killed. Their land is being confiscated. Life remains dismal.

The challenge Abbas is restoring Palestinian faith that Israel will make the concessions necessary to result in a viable, independent state, not the buntastan proposed by his predecessor Ehud Barak.

It’s a difficult challenge. And as time goes on an that goal is unachieved, Palestinians will continue to allow their emotions and despair carry them to resistance.

Abbas’ election shows how weak Hamas really is. The truth is the popularity of Hamas comes from emotion, not reason.

What I mean is that if you could strip away the emotion, the vast majority of Palestinians would embrace genuine compromise with Israel and an end to the conflict.

It doesn’t mean violence will disappear. That’s impossible. It will be there on both sides.

Israelis are feeding Palestinian emotions through the occupation, land confiscation and by inflammatory rhetoric that Jerusalem cannot be shared, settlements will not be dismantled and Palestinian refugees have no rights, the future for peace will continue to look bleak.

Peace is not possible if the pressure is only on the Palestinians to change. If Israel doesn’t change its policies, there can be no peace.

But what really fuels my pessimism is the fact that Palestinians and Jews in America can’t seem to overcome their own animosities to sit down and work together.

Instead of fighting for peace, most are cheering on their own extremists.

How can one expect the Palestinians and Israelis who live in the war zone overcome their emotions if the Palestinians and Jews who live 9,000 miles away in America can’t do it?

Palestinian and Jewish Americans have the power to make a difference. The fact that they don’t try shows you how empty hopes for peace really are.


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