Thanks, Yasser. Broken Peace Deal In 2000 Shapes Arabs’ Fate Today

Sweeping up glass blown out of the windows of his men’s clothing store in Gaza City, Basim Deyazada told a Washington Post reporter last Friday, “This is the first time the Palestinians made a revolution against the government of Israel.”

If only the Palestinians could govern themselves in an independent state…

Maybe Deyazada was thinking just that. Let’s consider: First we must figure on the most appropriate borders. Hmmm, I’m thinking: all of Gaza, eastern Jerusalem and much of the West Bank? Perhaps 93 percent? Why must we choose that percentage?

It jogs my memory: It was 93 percent of the West Bank that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed as part of a peace deal nearly 21 years ago when President Clinton hosted a summit for Barak and Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian leader, who died in 2004, rejected the plan, which also included Gaza and eastern Jerusalem, and soon fighting erupted between Israel and the Palestinians.

In making “a revolution against the government of Israel,” Deyazada and his fellow Palestinians could have been free of Israel for more than the last two decades.

In the context of the 21st century, Arafat’s rejection of a reasonable peace plan is the root cause of the May deaths of 12 Israelis and more than 230 Gazans, tit-for-tat bombardments, destruction of apartment buildings in Gaza, attempted evictions of Palestinians in east Jerusalem and police raids on the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

When Arafat departed the summit in the summer of 2000, he took two actions with deep consequences for his own people. Turning down an independent state meant ceding power to Israel of its territories. If the Palestinians would not govern their own nation, who would? Israel was left in a position in which it could do just about anything it wanted with Gaza, eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Palestinians have governed some of the territories, but only to a limited extent.

That Israel has done much of what it wanted can be rooted in the war that followed the summit. Upon his return to the territories, Arafat launched or facilitated a war against Israel. It was guaranteed to antagonize Israelis and their supporters. Is it any wonder that right-wing leaders have led the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, ever since?

If the Israeli government treats Palestinians too harshly, as critics claim, this 21-year backstory could explain part of it. Hardliners who want to press for control of the territories have the tacit backing of the public, who reached a point long ago that they do not care what happens to the Palestinians.

They need to care. Maybe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing supporters are right, that the territories are Jewish land. Israel can only acquire full control of this land through violence. More violence, that is. In the past few weeks, Palestinians were not just defending the homes of their brethren in east Jerusalem, they went on the offensive. Predicting what the Palestinians will do is not hard if Israel takes such steps as annex the West Bank or attempt to transform eastern Jerusalem much further.

If Arafat had accepted Barak’s peace proposal, or at least worked with Israel on a more beneficial plan, Israel would have no authority to evict Palestinians or expand settlements in the West Bank. Nor would there be devastating rocket and missile duels between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The Palestinians could have avoided all that. They shaped their fate when their then-leader rejected Barak’s offer and failed to do enough about it later. The Palestinians are, therefore, at fault.

That said, this failure by no means justifies any wrongdoing on Israel’s part or the suffering of Palestinians. We must sympathize with people on both sides who were victimized by the recent confrontations. But it is Palestinian society that set the stage for the current situation.

Israel and the Palestinians must make a peace deal. Creation of a Palestinian state seems to be the most realistic course of action. I cannot think of a better plan put forward than Barak’s. It carries risks and it will be subject to formidable obstacles. Also, other options for an agreement come to mind, but the two-state solution is what serious people have been working toward for decades.

I am hardly the only observer who favors the two-state solution, even with mixed feelings. Among others are Steve Sheffey, who writes a weekly Democratic-leaning commentary, and CNN TV host Fareed Zakaria, who analyzes foreign policy.

“Israel cannot unilaterally achieve a two-state solution, which remains the best path toward dignity and freedom for Jews and Palestinians,” Sheffey writes. “A two-state solution requires Israeli and Palestinian leadership politically capable of telling their own people…they will have to give up the reality of realizing the whole of their dreams to realize some of their dreams, and that means giving up some land forever…and accepting the permanent reality of the other.”

Zakaria concedes in passing in a column that “Palestinian leadership has rejected serious offers,” though “that does not change the reality that the Palestinians live in conditions that are demeaning and degrading. They are denied self-determination.”

No, Fareed, they denied themselves “self-determination.”

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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