Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Not giving up on Palestinian-Israeli peace

Palestinians, Israelis must find courage for peace
By Ray Hanania

(Arab News, YnetNews.com, Utah Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Newsday, the Future News, and more)

Responsible Palestinians reject Hamas's rejection of Israel. But Israel's got the upper hand to make peace
Most Palestinians and Israelis recognize that there is no military option to end their conflict.

As Palestinian society continues to deteriorate, the threats against Israel -- as demonstrated by the recent suicide bombing targeting innocent Israeli citizens -- only increase.

Israelis cannot make the Palestinians go away, and Palestinians cannot defeat Israel. Both sides can either make things worse, or they can continue to fight for a lasting peace.

Because Israel has the upper hand, it faces the hard choice either to contribute to the erosion of Palestinian society and reject the Hamas-led government, or to accept the fact that violence will never go away until a real lasting peace can be achieved.

As a Palestinian, I oppose Hamas because it has violated two principles that Palestinians who support peace believe are sacred.

Not only has Hamas driven a decadelong campaign of suicide bombings and violence, but worse, it has used that violence to undermine the only real peace process Palestinians and Israelis have seen that was initiated more than a decade ago by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

As an extremist Islamist group, Hamas has been driven by faith. But as a result of its election, Hamas faces the higher responsibility of representing the greater needs of the Palestinian people, setting aside its religious zealotry and embracing the secular responsibility that comes with Democracy and governing.

I am not sure Hamas, a terrorist organization, can do that. But we have seen many terrorists transform into statesmen, and not just in the Middle East.

From terrorist to statesman

Arafat was a great revolutionary who forced the world to recognize Palestinian rights. He was not, however, a very good government bureaucrat, and his government was plagued by corruption. Yet Arafat was the first Arab leader to openly recognize Israel's right to exist and to accept the inevitability of a mini-state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

Had Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a genuine concessions, such as really offering to return or share East Jerusalem in 2000, Arafat might have been able to embrace that peace and then enforce on his own people a compromise on the delicate issue of the Palestinian Right of Return.

But all that is behind us.

Confronting Israel is the dilemma of treating Hamas as a terrorist government or accepting its own logic, which has argued that only a hard-line rejectionist Israeli leader, like Menachem Begin, a former terrorist, could be capable of negotiating peace with the Arabs.

Dealing with Hamas

Maybe Hamas is the only Palestinian entity that can enforce a peace accord that will be accepted by Palestinians, if Hamas would be willing to compromise.

Although Hamas has refused to renounce, or even condemn, the violence of other splinter groups, the Islamic militant group has abided by a unilaterally imposed hudna, or suspension of violence, for more than a year. Even as religiously zealous as Hamas leaders are, they didn't hesitate to distance themselves from the recent tape in which al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden expressed solidarity with their election. Hamas leaders said their views are "vastly different'' from bin Laden's views.

Collective terror

In contrast with Hamas' actions, what has Israel done? Israel continues to punish all Palestinians for the crimes of a few, a policy that is the equivalent of terrorism and called "collective punishment.''

So far, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has not used the collective-punishment policy against the leaders of Hamas for the suicide bombing of another splinter group, Islamic Jihad. He did not respond to the suicide bombing by striking out at all Palestinian leaders, Hamas, Fatah or others. Instead, he has focused on moving foreward with his vision of a unilaterally imposed settlement that will separate Israelis from Palestinians and possibly give Palestinians the choice to build on their own independence, or, worse, use the developments as just another opportunity to incite anti-Israeli violence.

Either way, a critical moment is upon us all. And, maybe, there is a strategy for peace in this awkward turn of events.

Creating peace

I am not defending Hamas. It suffers the same failure that plagues all "rejectionist'' Palestinian groups. They can prevent peace, but they have no strategy to ever win. And violence for the sake of vengeance is not a strategy.

There is only one real strategy to achieve peace, and that is to not give up on peace even as the violence continues. And we have seen that, even at the heights of the peace process, violence has always been present.

This is not about giving Hamas a chance. It is about giving the Palestinians a chance. It is outrageous that Hamas would not denounce the recent suicide bombings. Yet, its failure to act responsibly should not preclude the pursuit of strategies that might drive Palestinians and Israelis back toward peace and to the negotiating table as is being continually urged by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli responsibility

Responsible Palestinians have condemned the violence and recent suicide bombings. And they have also even rejected Hamas' rejection of peace. At the earliest opportunity, Palestinians should throw Hamas and all the rejectionist hypocrites out of office.

Until then, though, Israel can prevent the situation from worsening. Israel should punish only those Palestinians who directly engage in violence. It is a responsibility Israel cannot avoid.

Palestinians live under Israeli occupation, not the other way around. Israel has the means to push toward peace or toward more conflict.

We don't need more violence. We need more leaders like Rabin and Arafat who had the courage to shake each other's hand.

To achieve peace, Palestinians and Israelis must shoulder their own burdens to make it work. We have no other choice.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian-American journalist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.)