What Went Wrong

by Sami Adwan

The Palestinian and Israeli conflict has entered a new phase and restarted again after a short period of the so called Peace Era. This so called Peace Era started with the signing of Oslo Agreement in September 13, 1993 and was preceded by secret talks between representatives of The Palestinian Liberation Organization(PLO) and the Israeli Government that took place in a small town called Sarbesborg, located in the South West of Norway in an old company building.

The secret talks in the early 90s were very astonishing and surprising for governments, officials and ordinary citizen as well. In another track, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were meeting in Washington under the eyes and the ears of reporters and media representatives.

There were so many expectations mixed with high hopes that the Oslo Agreements would resolve the almost one hundred years of bloody conflict.

Of course, both Israel and the PLO had to recognize each other's existence. This recognition was far away from happening unless serious changes took place in both societies, or at least in the minds and the hearts of both leaders.

And in 1991, as a positive gesture to change the relationship, not only between Palestinians and Israelis but also between the Arab and the Muslim worlds, Arab and Muslim countries voted for the cancellation of the UN General Assembly Resolution number 3379 that called for "equating Zionism as a form of Racism", that had been issued in 1975. The cancellation of this resolution was a sincere attempt to change the negative stereotype of Zionism.

The PLO issued the Declaration Of Independence in Algeria in November 15th, 1988. The main reference of the Palestinian State, as stated in the declaration, was UN resolution number 147, that was issued in 1947, that called for the establishment of a Jewish and an Arab State in Palestine and clearly defined the borders of each state.

In the 1948 war, hundreds of Palestinians were expelled from their homes and lands and became refugees all over the world. The majority of them settled in parts of Palestine to be called later the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The rest settled in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and other places. Now about 35-40 percent of Palestinians are refugees.

The UN Resolution number 191 calls for "the return of all 1948 Palestinian refugees and compensating them for all their losses: lands, properties and sufferings."

The Oslo Agreement did not address the issue of the 1948 Palestinian Refugees, along with the final status of Jerusalem, Jewish Settlements in the Occupied Territories, water, and finally the borders. These serious and most difficult issues were postponed to the stage of the final status negotiations.

Six years after the outbreak of the first Palestinian Intifada (Uprising) in 1987, as a peaceful call for ending the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the same youth who used to throw stones, burn tires and block roads — in that Intifada — started to throw flowers and hand olive branches (the symbol of peace) to Israeli soldiers, after the signing of the Oslo Agreement.

The PNA was established in 1993 in areas from which Israeli troops withdrew. The area of PNA was enlarged more and more according to the implementation of the stages of Oslo Agreements. The Occupied Territories were divided into three areas: Area A, where the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has full control over security and administrative issues. Area B is under PNA administration and under Israeli security. And, finally are C is under Israeli full security and administration control.

Palestinians, in 1996, organized national election for the first time in history to choose their President and their representatives in the Palestinian Legislative Council in a direct election. The government later formed ministries.

The PNA has launched many projects to improve and develop the Palestinian infrastructures in all fields that were neglected by the Israeli Occupation.

It was a dream come true for Palestinians to be able to travel for the first time in history with a Palestinian passport, to raise their flag freely and without being afraid of being shot at or charged and to sing their national anthem every morning in schools. Palestinians slowly were in the processes of building their national identity.

Palestinians, throughout their history, were eager to write their own school textbooks and to be able to teach their children their own history and stories. Up until that time, Palestinian children were studying school texts that were not theirs. As a result, Palestinian identity become shattered and their culture became silenced. At the start of the school year 2000/2001, they were able to introduce school textbooks for grades one and six for the first time in history. At the beginning of each coming school year, they will introduce school textbooks for another two grades.

In August of 1998, the Palestinian National Council voted on the cancellation of the article that calls for "the destruction of Israel" from the Palestinian National Convention.

Reports show that there has been much progress toward state building, but at the same time, indicates cases of misconduct of certain Palestinian officials. The misdistribution of wealth and the absence of adequate social welfare will produce two classes in Palestinian Society: one very rich one and very poor one. Palestinians are still far away from being able to develop civil society and democracy. The Palestinian state should be built on democracy, freedom and justice to be able to face the challenges and to survive. It should focus on developing human power to its maximum abilities through transformation and empowering children by giving them accessibility to knowledge through dialogical means. I think the Palestinian State should be a de-militarized state due to the will of the Palestinian people, and not due to pressure.

The peace processes form the other side with all peace talks and meetings failed to resolve the conflict and to reach a comprehensive settlement of the conflict. The peace processes faced so many deadlocks and either progressed slowly at times or completely froze at others. International intervention was mainly carried out by the United States as the major player, with minor involvement of the European Countries. The USA, for apparently many reasons, could not play a neutral role and was accused of taking the Israeli position. Lack of international intervention, as well a biased one, only worsened the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

Signing the Oslo Agreement allowed or gave a green light for cooperation between Israelis and Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGO's), individuals and institutions. The Oslo agreement clearly encourages People-to-People projects, as stated in Article 13 of the Agreement. Cooperation in forms of joint workshops, research, encounters, meetings, conferences and interventions were organized. These kinds of cooperation were intended to build the peace.

Joint Palestinian and Israeli NGO's were even established to work together to build peace and bring more understanding between the two sides, such as The Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME), The Israeli Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), Friends of the Earth and The Palestinian Israeli Environmental Secretariat (PIES).

The so-called Peace Era has been interrupted by sporadic conflict. There have been numbers of attacks on Israeli buses, buildings and markets by Palestinians. During the so-called Peace Era, The Israeli Prime Minster Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jew. In addition, the right wing Israeli doctor, Baruch Goldstein, committed a massacre in the Abraham Mosque in Hebron, killing 31 Palestinians and wounding around one hundred. In Jerusalem, the Israeli government opened up a tunnel under the Muslim Holy Shrines in East Jerusalem that also sparked a bloody conflict. Israel continued building new settlements and enlarging the existing ones on confiscated Palestinian lands. Freedom of movement of Palestinians continued to be restricted.

In the time that Netanyahu was the Prime Minister of Israel, the peace processes were completely frozen. Israelis and Palestinians had high hopes that Barak would bring life back to the dead peace. Actually, so many attempts were tried, but without success. It was difficult to reach a compromise on the remaining issues. Implementation of the International resolutions and real concession by the parties is needed to end the conflict.

Parties should ask themselves what they have done for peace instead of blaming, criticizing and accusing one another for not reaching a solution to the conflict, especially after the second Camp David round of negotiations.

Arial Sharon provocatively visited the Aqsa Mosque on Sept. 27, 2000. The visit sparked the second Intifada — the Aqsa Intifada. The Intifada also erupted as a result of the complete frustration from the failure of the peace processes. And later, Sharon, the head of the right wing Likud party was elected as the Prime Minister of Israel, with the largest margin in Israeli history. The Intifada has been going on for the last 11 months now without any sign of when and how it will be stopped.

The conflict has left many people killed and thousands injured so far. Approximately 700 Palestinians were killed and over 30 thousand have been injured. A large percent of the injured are left with permanent handicaps and disabilities. The excessive use of power against Palestinians by Israeli Forces has been unjustifiable and was never expected. The collective punishment and the siege of Palestinians' towns and cities inflicted much suffering on them. Using gun ships, tanks, F16 fighter and heavy gun machinery have caused much destruction to Palestinian homes, lands and infrastructures. Uprooting trees, destroying agricultural lands and cutting off roads have destroyed the environment as well. Palestinians have been forbidden from driving on certain roads, which are open only to Israelis or Jewish settlers. Jewish settlers have attacked and terrorized Palestinians on their own, or with Israeli soldiers.

There is clear evidence that Israel has committed human rights violations and war crimes against the Palestinians. Israel violated many international conventions, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention.

On the other side, Palestinians carried out many suicidal operations against Israelis, leaving many killed or injured. These suicidal operations continue to threaten the personal security of Israelis.

The language of wars, hate and the desire for revenge and incitements are very dominant these days and they drown out the language of peace and love. Religious leaders, such as Ovadia Yosef — the spiritual head of Shass — said: "The Arabs are like snakes and should be killed", "they grow like ants" and "they do not deserve life."

After an Israeli air raid on Gaza camps that left many Palestinians killed and injured, and in which scores of homes were destroyed, Ovadia Yosef said "Ala-Kief Kefk", as a compliment to Sharon — "Yes, this is the way to go-bravo!"

What went wrong? Palestinians and Israelis were so close to reaching a lasting peace just less than a year ago, but why are they now so far away form it? Why does the wisdom (?) of conflict and hate prevail over the wisdom of love and peace now? One can ask the same question in many ways.

Carefully looking at the so-called Peace Era, one can draw the following reasons for WHAT WENT WRONG:

  1. The two formulas of peace: peace making-top-down and peace building-bottom-up processes did not progress at the same pace. While they were many programs of peace building projects, the peace making processes were at a stalemate most of the time.
  2. The peace makers — the politicians — and the peace builders — the people or NGO's — could not develop a joint language or mutual understanding and failed to share the same perspectives. Both formulas have to meet each other at certain levels. While the peacemakers are oriented toward "products", the peace builders are process-oriented. However, they should share the same perspectives.
  3. The Palestinians and the Israelis hold different expectations and understandings of peace. Peace, for most Palestinian people, means the ending of Israeli Occupation over their lives and their lands, the establishment of an independent state with its capital as East Jerusalem, and then living in peace with Israel. On the other hand, peace to most Israeli people means no wars and no conflict and keeping the status quo.
  4. Ordinary people on both sides did not feel/live peace in their daily lives. The personal or individual security of the Israelis was not achieved, even though Israel as a state is considered to be a secured state. The Palestinians, on the other side, remained living under Israeli Occupation and the suffering from its practices continued: there was confiscation of lands to build new settlements or to enlarge the existing ones or to build new bypass roads, freedom of movement and traveling continued to be limited/restricted, and reaching work places was hindered.
  5. The situation of both Palestinians and Israelis is one of asymmetry. They are not at the same stage of development in all aspects: political, economical, educational…
  6. The leaders of both sides came from military backgrounds. Most likely they feel more comfortable in resorting to the use of war and power to achieve what they want or to maintain their political status.
  7. The peace camps in both sides did not grow or enlarge. The same people and faces are always involved in the peace building projects. They failed to attract people from the center or the right into the peace camp.
  8. The peace camps of both sides neither developed nor formed an agenda to influence the peace processes and put pressure on politicians. They did not develop a plan of intervention during the eruption of the conflict.

The list of reasons could go on and on to more reasons why we Palestinians and Israelis are in this mess. Why did we go back to enmity? Why did it become so easy to shoot at one another? Why have human values and dignity become so cheap and easy to dispose of?

I think it is important to stop the cycle of killing and the use of all forms of violence right now. The Palestinian and Israeli conflict will never be resolved by wars, power and by more killings. Measures should now be taken to stop the madness and to prevent any outbreak of violence again or in the future. A total and a comprehensive resolution is needed and not a cosmetic one.

The Israeli Occupation of the Palestinians should be ended and dismantled very soon and Palestinians should be able to establish their own independent state in the 1967 borders. The issue of the 1948 Palestinian refugees should be justly resolved. Jerusalem should be kept open as capitals of both states. Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories should be evacuated, water should be shared and borders should be lined but not walled.

Both states should commit themselves to live in harmony, side by side. Cooperation in all fields and good neighbor relations should be the characteristics of their relations.

Children should be able to live and grow up in peace. Children deserve a better future that we had. They should be protected from all forms of harm.

On the one hand, Israel, with its entire advanced arsenal cannot destroy people who want to live. They will never be victorious over a people who ask for their freedom from the longest and the last occupation in the world. Of course, they can destroy military installations and win over an army. Occupation is destroying Israel as a state and also killing Jewish ethics and values. It will be so difficult for Israel to be integrated in the region and at the same time remain an occupier. In a few days the UN conference of racism is to be held in South Africa. Arab countries and others are pushing "to re-equate Zionism with Racism" as a response to the Israeli Occupation practices against Palestinians.

On the other hand, Palestinians should realize that resorting to the old strategies of using violence will not liberate them from the occupation. They will never reach the military level of Israelis. The world will not allow a destruction of a state as much as it will not allow the continuation of oppression.

Finally, real peace is the only guarantee that things will not go wrong again between Israelis and Palestinians in the future. Conflict will be inevitable if the Israeli Occupation continues.

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is associate professor at the American University School of International Service in Washington, DC and executive director of the Salaam Institute for Peace & Justice.

is an associate professor in the faculty of Education at Bethlehem University.

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