Israel Must Make a Choice

By Osama Al Sharif

To say that time is running out for a just and peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict is a gross understatement. But it is a fact that few in today’s world understand its true meaning and harrowing consequences. Israel’s planned celebrations of the 60th anniversary of its ‘independence’ is a brutal reminder that, six decades later, the Palestinian people are still struggling to gain their freedom and exercise their inalienable right to self-determination.

To separate Israel’s celebrations from the ongoing plight of the Palestinians is criminal, hypocritical and irresponsible. It is like attending a wedding party when the neighbors are mourning the loss of a dear one. The birth of the Jewish state in 1948 continues to exact a heavy price, not only through the trauma of its 40-year-old occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands, but in terms of the affront to international laws and conventions over which Israel has trampled for years.

In fact, it is this organic attachment of both issues, and both peoples, which makes it impossible to view one event in isolation of the other. Israel’s celebrations can never be complete or free of the historical offense and guilt, unless the grievance of its twin, Palestine, is addressed courageously and fairly. Sixty years ago, two creatures emerged from the dark womb of British Mandate in Palestine, but only one was recognized and allowed to thrive. Israel’s birthday is not the property of the Jewish people alone; it marks the beginning of one of the longest and most sinister chapters in the century-old Palestinian odyssey.

Israel and its people can never look back on their own history without seeing the haunting specter of the struggle and sacrifices that the Palestinians have gone through to claim their right to exist. The fate of the two people is so entwined, both physically and emotionally, that for one to pretend that the other does not exist is an exercise in futility.

It is probable that the tragedy that befell the Palestinians would have ended long ago if the world had mustered enough moral and physical courage to correct a historical injustice. The Palestinians have paid dearly for the capricious adventures of their own brethren, but to blame them and their allies and friends for their ill fate is a feeble attempt to exonerate oneself from guilt and responsibility.

The reality is that the offense committed against the Palestinian people is a shared one. The troubling fact is that the collective punishment has never ceased. Israel continues to occupy, subjugate and persecute the Palestinians, and it does this with impunity and audacity. Crimes against the Palestinian people rarely elicit world condemnation. The annexation of land, the killing of civilians, the destruction of homes, the use of hi-tech weaponry, the expulsions, the assassinations, the siege, the building of illegal settlements and many others have become the norm in Israel’s treatment of the people and the land it occupies.

The world agrees on how to solve what has become one of most complicated conflicts today, but it has failed to provide mechanisms and tools to do so. It is ironic how much agreement and support exists today for the basic tenets of such a comprehensive settlement. In fact, even the Arabs have altered their position to comply with such tenets in their peace initiative adopted in Beirut in 2002 and reiterated in the Riyadh and Damascus summits.

The Palestinians have accepted even less than that. But the challenge is how to bring Israel to adopt such benchmarks and honor its commitments afterward. As Israel marks its 60th anniversary celebrations, its position on Jerusalem, the occupied territories, the refugees, the settlements and others is moving farther and farther away from any reasonable, not to mention workable, compromise. At 60, Israel today is more intransigent than at any time before in its history.

In Damascus, a few days ago, the Arab leaders agreed to keep the Arab peace initiative on the table. Again Israel brushed it aside. With no visible practical alternative, the Arab side finds itself in a dilemma. It cannot keep its initiative on the table for infinity. Demographic and political realities in the occupied territories and beyond are changing so fast that time may have already passed for any realistic implementation of an equitable land-for-peace deal.

So what looms ahead? Israel is committing the cardinal mistake of believing that the political status quo can go on forever both globally and regionally. Yes, the Arab side has never been weaker, and the same applies to the Palestinians, but arrogance and vanity cannot guarantee the security of the Jewish state. Arab states may be losing heart, but the Arab people are not. Israel is not an island and cannot stay ahead of geographical, demographical and cultural detriments for long.

Time may be running out for a peaceful settlement that gives the Palestinians their long-sought after justice, to have their own state, along side Israel, and to live as a normal nation. The alternative to peace is not only an Arab dilemma, but an Israeli one as well. The world too has to worry about the consequences of letting the last chance for peace crumble into dust.

Sixty years is not a long time in history; most of the modern Arab states gained independence at the same time as Israel was born. But this region has been Arab for millennia, and it has had more than its fair share of conquests and invasions. And so, at 60, Israel has more reason to ponder over its future as a state living in peace than to rejoice over having made it so far.

-Osama Al Sharif is a veteran journalist based in Jordan. (This article was originally published in Arab News – www.arabnews.com – April 2, 2008)

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