The Palestinian Perspective on Peace
This article contains important information about resolving the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, from a Palestinian perspective. I
bolded responses that seem very important for Americans to
consider and understand. Peace requires listening to people on both sides
of the conflict. As
is my wont, I have added my thoughts in square brackets, like
[this] – Mike Burch
The U.S.-mediated Middle East peace talks that
began about a month ago have stalled, largely over the Palestinian
demand that Israel freeze settlement construction in the West Bank. Maen
Rashid Areikat, Palestine Liberation Organization representative to the
United States, discussed the peace talks and other issues Tuesday with
USA TODAY's Editorial Board. This Q&A is adapted from that session and
edited for length and clarity.
Question: What is the status of the talks?
Answer: We are doing our best to try to salvage this process. It is unfortunate that the Israelis have managed
to succeed in distracting all the attention from the overall picture to
the issue of the settlements. It goes much beyond that and is basically
aimed at making the realization of the two-state solution impossible. If
the Israelis want to negotiate in good faith and they want to give us
back that land to establish our state, why do they continue to plant
settlements in these territories? [If I want peace with my neighbors, but
insist that I have the "right" to build inside their property lines by posting
armed thugs to "watch over" them, can I expect them to take me seriously? No one
builds on land he plans to give back to the original owner. Israel's actions
belie its stated intentions.]]
Q: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to support a new settlement freeze if
Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Is this workable?
A: The Israeli government is fixated on short-term gains. Netanyahu is negotiating with his coalition
partners. He is not negotiating with us. All he is trying to do is
to please the right-wing parties in his coalition. As long as he
continues doing that, I don't see how we can make progress toward a
resolution. [Netanyahu asking Palestinians to recognize Israel is a Jewish state
is like the Grand Wizard of the KKK asking black Americans to recognize the
United States as White Supremacist State. How is that "fair" to anyone, but
Q: You sound very pessimistic. Is this immediate peace effort dead?
A: I am not saying that it is. The U.S. administration will be preoccupied with the midterm elections now.
The one month just gives them time after the midterms to try once again
to revive it. But are we going to take a different approach? [A big
problem is obviously “politics” as usual in Israel and the US. The
legitimate grievances and concerns of the Palestinians are shunted to
the side whenever Israeli and American politicians are vying for power. But why
should the human rights of completely innocent Palestinian women and children be
held hostage to the machinations and maneuverings of politicians?]
Q: How do we get to that different approach?
A: Everybody in this room would give me the same parameters that I agree will be needed to resolve the conflict. The
two-state solution, the sharing of Jerusalem, the agreed resolution of
the Palestinian refugee problem, security guarantees for Israel, sharing
the water resources. That is why we have to set a time frame and tell
the parties we have to reach that target and figure out what the endgame
is going to look like.
Q: Are the settlements really that important?
A: People don't understand the impact of these settlements and settlers. To
us these are people who are there to uproot us and to take our places. It is an
existential threat for us because they are some of the most hard-line Israelis
in the world. They don't believe in coexistence.
Q: When the Israelis uprooted their settlements in Gaza in the interest of peace, they ended up with Hamas
on their border and rocket attacks. What assurance is there that the same would not happen again?
A: I was closely involved in the disengagement with Israel. One, Israel never wanted the Palestinians to
be involved in the withdrawal. Second, Gaza became a prison after the
Israelis withdrew. Their land crossing points were closed by the
Israelis, their air space, their water was controlled by Israel. The
best way to make sure this does not happen is if we can reach a
satisfactory agreement that will also address Palestinian needs.
Q: You seem to imply that the lack of
Palestinian inclusion is what caused the violence. Was there any
justification for that violence?
A: No, what I said was the Israelis kept us
in the dark completely. They didn't even tell us when they were pulling
out of the Gaza Strip. Certain Palestinian elements are interested in
keeping the tension. Israeli retaliation did not really help. For us
Palestinians, it has to be a strategic choice that we shouldn't resort
Q: How do the Palestinian people perceive these talks?
A: The public mood was against the Palestinian leadership returning to the negotiations. It is because we
have been there before, and they did not produce any end results.
Palestinians have become indifferent. This is the real danger here with
what Israel is doing. Now if the talks fail, the opposition will try to
Q: Is time on your side?
A: Time is not on either side. The more this
stalemate continues, the more the extremists on both sides will become
bolder and stronger. And Israel knows that the only way for them to
maintain their Jewish character is by having a Palestinian state,
because what is the alternative?
Q: What about a coexistence, similar to what
eventually emerged in South Africa?
A: People don't like the word "apartheid,"
but if you're having Jewish enclaves in the West Bank protected by the
Israeli military, different treatment given to settlers and Palestinians
discriminated against, what else can you call that? The two-state
solution is the most ideal to allow both Palestinians and Israelis to
preserve their national identities and hopefully be able to work
together in the future when peace prevails.
Q: For years, people have cautioned that if
the Palestinian nationalist cause became an Islamist cause, peace would
become impossible. How do you reconcile the two?
A: It continues to be a nationalist cause
because Palestinians are secular by nature. Nobody wants to turn this
into a religious conflict.
Q: What about the religious tone of Hamas?
A: You also have some Israeli forces or elements within Israel who when they talk about the republic, the land
of Israel, they're talking about the Bible. It is in no one's interest
to turn this conflict into a religious conflict.
Q: In the 2006 elections, Hamas unseated Fatah with
a platform of continuing its stated goal of destroying Israel. Why
should the Israeli government trust your word?
A: You have to look at the elections of 2006
from different angles. Peace negotiations with Israel had failed for the
last 13 years. Secondly, the Israeli measures against the Palestinians
during the intifada hardened Palestinian feelings about Israel and the
prospects for peace. Third, mismanagement and certain instances of
corruption within the Palestinian authority also fueled anger. Four,
people looked at the models of resistance that they thought forced
Israel to withdraw from the south of Lebanon. So, I would be careful in
characterizing that as a vote for Hamas.
Q: But the Israeli government is responsible
for the safety of its people. How can you ensure Israel's security?
A: We cannot pose a military threat to
Israel. I'm not saying that Hamas should resort to violence to threaten
Israelis. The only answer to that is to try to reach an acceptable
agreement. [A just agreement between Israel and Palestinians is required for
peace, just as white Americans had to stop discriminating against black
Americans before they could expect black Americans to stop protesting and
Q: How big of a threat is Iran's nuclear program to the regional stability?
A: It's a major issue — at least for the
Israelis. Palestinians don't have, and we will not have, any nuclear
capabilities in the future. You cannot call for a Middle East free of
nuclear and weapons of mass destruction and then turn your eyes from
Israel's nuclear capabilities.
Q: Do you condemn Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments about the Holocaust and
wanting to see Israel wiped out?
A: One of our top officials said that we are
not in the business of eliminating countries in the Middle East. We
Palestinians are not engaged in the business of trying to eliminate
Israel, but rather to establish a Palestinian state. Therefore, I think
such rhetoric, such actions, are a reflection of ignorance to history.
People have to show sensitivity to the suffering of other people. [As an editor
and publisher of Holocaust poetry, I must recognize and be sensitive to the
suffering of Palestinians as well as Jews. The Holocaust is over. The Nakba
("Catastrophe") of the Palestinians continues. How can I allow the suffering of
people who are now thankfully beyond pain to excuse the suffering of living
women and children?]
Q: Many Israelis are concerned that
Palestinians are negotiating for a two-state solution as a way to get to
a two-stage solution — and that the second stage is the rest of the
land. How do you see this playing out?
A: I don't think that given the status of
Israel and its military capabilities, that it's even realistic to think
that the Palestinians will be able to get more than what the
international community and what the Palestinians want. We are focusing
on the future state in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem.
The Israelis are stuck in the mentality of
today. We should think about a new order after we sign a peace agreement
with them. Why can't we think of Israelis driving back through
Palestinian cities and villages and coming for shopping and we go to
Jaffa and Haifa to sit on the beach? Why not think of a new order where
we can live in peace? Why do we always think about the day after as
being rockets, Israeli shells, Palestinians attacks? We need to change
that paradigm. If we don't do that, we will be stuck in today and we
will never move forward. [Here in the United States, white racists fought tooth
and nail to preserve the superior rights of white racists. White politicians
created Jim Crow laws that favored whites. White judges ruled that slavery was
"legal" and created a system of kangaroo courts. The result was abject
misery for completely innocent black women and children. Whenever we see women
and children suffering because they were "born wrong" we know something is
terribly wrong. Now something very similar is happening to completely innocent
Palestinian women and children. And yet the government of the United States
continues to plow billions of dollars in financial aid and advanced weapons into
Israel. Why? Why can't Americans tell Israeli Jews to do what Americans did,
when we abandoned Jim Crow laws and kangaroo courts for a much better system
based on true equality and justice? What happened to the Black Panthers, once
the United States had fairer laws and courts? The Black Panthers lost their
ability to recruit and raise funds, and soon faded into obscurity. Like the
Black Panthers, Hamas is not the root problem, but merely a symptom of the
terrible disease of racism and injustice. If Israel wants peace, it must abandon
Jim Crow laws, kangaroo courts and stealing land and water from increasingly
homeless and destitute Palestinians.]