By Joharah Baker
Even Lewis Carroll would have a difficult time picking through the politics of Palestine and Israel. In Alice’s world, everything is upside down – cats that disappear and reappear at their own will, talking rabbits, hookah-smoking caterpillars and rabbit holes that lead to a world of wonder. Still, at the end of Carroll’s famed "Alice in Wonderland", Alice realizes that logic and reason are not as mundane as she once thought and serve a purpose in real life.
In Palestine, logic and reason go but so far and what politicians say and pledge is far removed from their realities. In our own Alice in Wonderland version of reality, peace is near and the world is on the side of establishing a Palestinian state. Unfortunately, neither logic nor reason follows this vision given the hard facts on the ground, which prove the opposite.
Let’s examine the Wonderland version first. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is invited to the home of Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. This is the first time any Palestinian president has been invited to the Jerusalem home of an Israeli president. The closest Palestinians have ever gotten was when late President Yasser Arafat was invited to former Israeli President Ezer Weisman’s home in Caesaria.
The meeting was accompanied by all the fanfare afforded to heads of state complete with a red carpet welcome. "I am full of confidence the problems will be resolved," Peres told reporters. "I feel both sides believe there is no alternative to peace."
Abbas was a smidgen more realistic but duly offered the optimism expected from him on such an occasion. "Despite the passage of time, despite difficulties and obstacles, there is an end to this long conflict," he said during the visit.
Both Palestinians and Israelis are no strangers to such lofty words from the mouths of those who lead them. Just a few short weeks ago, on July 13, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert prophesized that the Palestinians and Israelis "have never been as close to a possible peace agreement as today." The Israeli premier was speaking at the Union of the Mediterranean Conference held in Paris, flanked by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and President Abbas. Both sides, he concluded, "are serious and want to achieve peace."
That is probably true. There is virtually no one on this earth who doesn’t ‘want’ peace. What kind of peace, however, is a different story. Even as Olmert was offering his pearls of wisdom, Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem continued to expand, despite international condemnation and the fact that these houses are being built on expropriated Palestinian land.
Olmert and Abbas both seem to have the idea that the prospect of peace is within reach, much like President Arafat who died with the words "we are in the last quarter hour" [before liberation] on his lips. International figures also seem to think so, with French President Sarkozy outlining the tasks that need to be accomplished before this can happen during his Knesset address last month. Israeli settlement building must stop, the refugee issue must be dealt with and Jerusalem must be the capital of both states. The Palestinians, he added, would have to take better control of their own affairs, "terrorism" in particular.
The economic world is singing to the same tune. During his visit to the region last week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown pledged an additional $60 million to boost the ailing Palestinian economy over and above the $500 million Britain has already promised over the next three years. The Palestinians were pledged close to $7 billion at the Paris Economic Conference last December in a bid to bolster the Palestinian economy and also boost President Abbas’ secular West Bank government in the face of Hamas’ continued Islamic stronghold on the Gaza Strip.
Ambitious plans to create job opportunities for Palestinians, establish industrial zones, strengthen the Palestinian security forces and alleviate unemployment have all been part and parcel of the overall peace process restarted in Annapolis last November. The parties, including the United States, were so enthusiastic they even estimated that Palestinians and Israelis would be able to sign an agreement by the end of this year.
So much for that. As the Palestinians’ wonderland vision fades into the background, the reality of the situation comes to the fore. In contrast to Olmert’s prediction that "peace has never been nearer", the Palestinians feel it is miles away. Nothing on the ground has changed in terms of Israeli promises to ease restrictions on the Palestinians’ everyday life such as removing some of the 600 or so checkpoints peppered throughout the West Bank. Jerusalem is as sequestered as always, if not more. Today, following the second bulldozer attack in west Jerusalem by a Palestinian, which resulted in several injured Israelis, the Israeli government has pledged to crack down even harder on east Jerusalem residents. Punitive measures such as demolishing the homes of "terrorists" and revoking their residency rights are currently being discussed in Israel’s legal corridors of power. In the overall scheme of things, this only serves Israel’s broader goal in Jerusalem, which is pushing out as many Palestinians from the city as possible and making room for an even wider Jewish majority.
If nothing else, such adverse developments in the city can only further hinder any agreed on reaching a solution there. Furthermore, while the international community continues to reiterate its commitment to helping the Palestinians create their state if they prove capable of governing themselves, Israel continues to undermine this very effort. How can the PA’s security forces assert their authority on the ground when Israel constantly raids and arrests the very areas they are meant to control?
Last week, Israel closed down several facilities in Nablus on the claim that they were Hamas affiliated, including a shopping center, medical clinics and kindergartens even though Palestinian security forces have been patrolling the city for months.
We all want to believe Ehud Olmert when he says Israel wants peace. We know for sure that President Abbas wants it because governing a people under a foreign occupation is hardly an enviable position. What we need now, however, is to somehow bridge the enormous gap between these two parallel realities. The fairytale-like vision of peace leaders here and elsewhere feed us in a constant stream of statements crosses the line between being practically optimistic and quite frankly, delusional. A just, lasting and comprehensive peace may be attainable somewhere down the line. At least we all hope it is and will continue to work towards this goal. It is not, however, that close.
-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. (This article was originally published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org.)