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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 white supremacists?]

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 to violence.

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 exploit that.

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 creating disturbances.]

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.]

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