Why Palestinians should re-engage with the peace process
Many people look back at the Oslo Accords from 25 years ago and call them flawed. But what was really flawed was the absence of unity and a national desire for peace among the Palestinian people. Extremists, who oppose any peace based on compromise, exploited that Palestinian disarray and fanned the flames of violence to block the peace process.
The truth is that the peace process is not dead. What is dead is the Palestinian mentality that they can achieve peace through negotiations, rather than through violence. Violence can only achieve one goal: Preventing compromise. But the price is steep, with Palestinians continuing to exist in a limbo of violence, frustration and depression.
Even if the peace process failed before, it thrived on hope and common sense, and that at least allowed many Palestinians to aspire to a future that is brighter than the dark existence that has plagued their lives since the UN-imposed partition of 1947.
But pursuing peace offers the Palestinians a real chance to establish a state and eventually take control of their own lives, rather than remaining refugees to the world or benefactors of the state powers of others. Declaring the peace process dead presents a serious risk that the Palestinians will fade into the sunset on the backs of fanatics who have no concern about exploiting Palestinian emotions, Palestinian frustrations and continued Palestinian suffering.
What really killed Oslo? Hamas, Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.
In truth, Hamas was Netanyahu’s biggest asset. It gave him exactly what he wanted but couldn’t get through the Oslo Accords: They gave him the excuse to block peace. And they continue to do that.
The first major act of violence targeting the peace process occurred on Feb. 25, 1994, when an American with dual Israeli citizenship, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, murdered 29 Muslims and injured 125 more as they prayed at the Ibrahimi Mosque. Who said Americans are not terrorists?
Within weeks, Hamas responded with a suicide bombing. Although there had been three suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians between the First Intifada in 1989 and before the peace process started in 1993, the first post-peace process attack occurred in response both to Oslo and to Goldstein’s barbaric terrorist attack on April 6, 1994, in Afula. The targets of the Hamas suicide bomber were civilians boarding a bus. It was supported by Islamic Jihad of Gaza.
Even if the peace process failed before, it thrived on hope and common sense, and that at least allowed many Palestinians to aspire to a future that is brighter
Despite the attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat continued with their determination to implement Oslo. The toughest issue for Israel and for the Palestinians was the right of return. The two sides were discussing the possibility that some refugees could return to Israel, but the vast majority would have to accept a settlement in Palestine.
It’s called compromise, and it made sense. Israel was to return most of the West Bank, with the exception of some settlements, but Israel would trade land inside Israel equal to the settlement lands in the West Bank. And the Palestinians would have a presence inside the Old City of Jerusalem that they could declare as their capital in a shared arrangement that gave Israel control of the city but Palestinians an independent presence.
After 45 years of brutal conflict, the Oslo Accords were the best deal that Palestinians could hope for. And, while the agreement did not absolve either side of the violence they committed between 1947 and 1993, it did seek to find a new start that would nurture friendship and understanding.
That’s not what the Palestinian extremists or the Israeli extremists wanted. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad rejectionists initiated eight more suicide bombings that targeted Jewish civilians and killed nearly 100 while wounding scores more. At the same time, Israel’s military forces killed more than 146 civilians. Nearly 40 Palestinians were killed by settlers who opposed Oslo.
Oslo was derailed, however, on Nov. 4, 1995, when Rabin was murdered by an Israeli extremist, Yigal Amir. How did the Israeli terrorist get past Rabin’s bodyguards? Amir was a disciple of right-wing extremist and anti-peace politician Netanyahu, who was elected prime minister the following year.
Had Rabin lived, we would have two states today. Despite the violence by Palestinian extremists, Rabin’s assassination is the single greatest blow to the peace process. Since then, fanatics on both sides have blocked peace efforts, with Palestinians complaining that the process doesn’t give them enough while Israeli fanatics are insisting they have to surrender too much.
Israeli fanatics are empowered by Palestinian extremists and by the “extremist-inspired” failure of Oslo. What Palestinians should be doing is fighting for peace and re-engaging the peace process in order to undermine Israel’s extremist government. One idea is to replace Hamas in the Gaza Strip with a moderate leadership and declare Gaza as a Palestinian state. Then, through negotiations, work with Israel and use the empowerment that statehood provides to free the West Bank and establish a presence in Jerusalem.
It’s the only way.
• Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist and the author of several books including “Yalla! Fight Back.”
His personal website is www.Hanania.com.