January 9, 2002:

Winds of Change are in the Air

by Gershon Baskin



Over the past few weeks there has been a sudden and dramatic surge in peace activities in Israel and Palestine. All of a sudden we are receiving more and more requests from Palestinians for new initiatives aimed at re-engagement and renewing the dialogue. These initiatives are coming from officials of the Palestinian Authority and private Palestinians who all seem to be saying that we have to get beyond the violence and begin to rebuild a peace process. More and more people are saying that we have to talk again.

Two weeks ago there was the march of thousands in Jerusalem organized by the Women's Coalition for Peace
(http://www.coalitionofwomen4peace.org/). That impressive event was followed by an Israeli-Palestinian signing of
a joint call for peace under the title "Time for Peace" organized by Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, Yossi Beilin and Yossi

More than 2,000 Israelis and Palestinians signed the declaration including some of the leaders of Fatah in Jerusalem and the leaders of the Democratic Front (DFLP) and many Israeli public figures as well.

Over the past few weeks several other Israeli-Palestinian meetings have been taking place. The President of South Africa is hosting a meeting today of high-level Israelis and Palestinians. There was a meeting in Rome several weeks ago with others.

We in IPCRI have been hearing from our colleagues that they are also busy with new initiatives. We in IPCRI have a full schedule of meetings, seminars and working groups consisting of Israelis and Palestinians officials and non-officials booked through June 2002.

I know that it is dangerous to be optimistic. The political horizons still look terribly bleak and there is no real reason for hope. The assessments regarding the possibilities for peace or even for real talks at the official level have not changed they still remain next to zero. Arafat and Sharon are not going to change and all of a sudden embrace each other and peace. There is, however, a sense that people who supported peace in the past and had fallen into paralyzing despair over the past 15 months are beginning to come out of their comas and are searching for constructive avenues to replace their frustration and anger.

We all have a right to be angry. Instead of being where we are, nurturing our wounds and mourning for so many deaths after 15 months of terrible violence, we should have been enjoying the fruits of peace. This fact cannot be overlooked. But from my contacts with many Palestinians, leaders and regular citizens, I am hearing more and more voices that are saying that violence has not achieved anything, in fact the violence has brought about destruction and suffering and it must end now.

The relative calm of the past two weeks, even taking into account today's attack against Israeli soldiers in Gaza and the ship of arms, must not be overlooked and under-estimated. I do not believe that Arafat has made a new strategic decision to end all violence and to come to full peace end of conflict with Israel. But the international pressure that has been placed on Arafat has had asubstantial effect.

My sense is that the majority of Palestinians are quite pleased that the violence has been significantly reduced and would be even happier if it ended completely. This would enable them to return to more normal lives with the Israeli siege on their homes ending. But we must also remember that this will not end the occupation and as long as the occupation is continuing the fight against the occupation will continue and should continue.

There is talk in the Israeli government about declaring that the Palestinian Authority is an enemy authority meaning that Israel will cut all contacts with the PA. There is no doubt in my mind that this will directly and immediately strengthen the hands of Hamas and Jihad and will signal those forces that support the PA that they should re-engage in violence, not dialogue. The surest way for Sharon to continue the violent conflict is for him to take actions that further push Arafat and the Authority into the corner. The almost humorous Israeli government declaration regarding Arafat's irrelevance only caused Arafat to be the most relevant irrelevant person in the world.

Never has someone so irrelevant been talked about so much by so many people in so many capitals of the world, including in Jerusalem. An Israeli Government decision that would declare Arafat and the Authority as an enemy would only serve to weaken international pressure on Arafat and bring about an end to any efforts that he is currently making to control and lessen the level of violence.

This is perhaps what Sharon really wants. He has Netanyahu breathing down his neck. Other Likud leaders are pushing Sharon to declare elections now while the Likud appears to be very strong in the polls and the Labour party has become nearly irrelevant in public opinion.

But Sharon is afraid of Netanyahu's challenge. Sharon's greatest asset is the national unity government it keeps him strong and popular and keeps the Labour party effectively out of the game. Sharon knows that any move towards new negotiations with the Palestinians will lead to a quick withdrawal of the Labour Party from the government and that will then lead to new elections.

Sharon's goal is political survival. Until now, the Palestinians have been Sharon's greatest ally in keeping in power. His main game is to make sure that he is not forced into negotiations with the Palestinians because he knows that he has nothing to offer them. Even Ben Eliezer couldn't stay a passive bulldog on Sharon's leash for much longer if the real leadership of Labour really believed that negotiations with the Palestinians could be productive.

There is no doubt that the PA's ship of arms captured by the Israelis was a grave mistake by Arafat and the Authority and it's is a good thing that Israel captured the ship. These arms, should they have gotten to those who intended to use them would have caused great pain and Israel would have increased its retaliations against the Palestinians with great force. The cache of arms proves to many that Arafat has not adopted a strategy of peace.

The Palestinians cannot win a military victory against Israel and it is strategically insane for them to even try. The Palestinians lose any claim to a moral high ground when they embrace the armed struggle. They must aim their struggle at the hearts and minds of Israelis, most of who still want to live in peace with a State of Palestine as a good neighbor.

Palestinian citizens should also be angry with Arafat for wasting their very limited financial resources; about $15 million for purchasing weapons when at the same time their economy is in shambles and poverty is in almost every home.

Once again, as I have stated in the past few weeks, the people of Israel and the people of Palestine must raise their voices for peace. There is much work to be done. There are those who can do it within their own communities and there are those who can work cross-boundary - Israelis and Palestinians together.

We must force peace onto our leaders. We also need the support of our friends from around the world who share our hopes for peace. We must be realistic and focused. The challenge before us is extremely difficult. The enemies of peace, on both sides, are many and formidable.

We must develop a strategy aimed at building points of power and constituencies for peace. We must aim at building coalitions working together sharing information and resources. We must aim at putting women in the forefront of the struggle. We must not lose hope, even if the struggle will take years. We must not allow the determinism of the enemies of peace to destroy our future.

The occupation must end. Settlements must be removed. Refugees must be given choices that answer their real needs without bringing about the destruction of Israel. We must all reject violence and work against those who destroy us all through their

We will win and there will be peace.

Gershon Baskin, Ph.D.
Co-Director IPCRI - Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information
P.O. Box 9321, Jerusalem 91092
Telephone: 972-2-676-9460
Fax: 972-2-676-8011
Mobile: 052-381-715

Home Page: http://www.ipcri.org

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Cyrien Khano: cyrien@ipcri.org



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