Standing alone: A Palestinian's lament against the Saudi Peace Plan in the San Jose Mercury News
Here is a piece written by Palestinian activist Lamis Adoni that appeared in
the San Jose Mercury News on Sunday. The Mercury News is the said to be the
largest circulation newspaper in silicon valley.
In the article, the writer suggests that the Saudi peace plan adopted by the
Arab League is not just "flawed", but that it "may, in fact, weaken the
Palestinians' negotiating position".
Read and reflect.
Sun, Mar. 31, 2002
PALESTINIANS' SENSE OF ABANDONMENT ISN'T DISPELLED BY FLAWED ARAB PEACE PLAN
By Lamis Andoni
San Jose Mercury News
As Israeli tanks shelled Yasser Arafat's compound last week, the prospects
for peace seemed as distant as they had in years, if not decades.
But even before the Palestinians saw their leader cornered, they were
feeling under siege -- and very alone. The reason for the despair? There was
no end in sight for the Israeli occupation of the territories. And the Saudi
peace initiative that was being celebrated by the United States and some
Arab leaders brought no relief to the Palestinians.
The plan is considered a landmark because even hard-line Arab nations agreed
to live in peace with Israel if it met certain requirements. But the
initiative, approved by the Arab League on Thursday, does little to correct
the balance of power between the Palestinians and Israelis. The plan may, in
fact, weaken the Palestinians' negotiating position.
For many Palestinians, the impact of the Arab League's summit was
compromised from the moment Israel effectively barred their leader, Yasser
Arafat, from attending by suggesting that he might not be allowed to return
home. To them, the move symbolized Israel's continued control over their
lives, their leaders and their fate.
It reinforced the fear that Israelis will never see Palestinians as equals
and that Israel will try to dominate the Palestinians even if it withdraws
from most of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The Arab League proposal
The version of the Saudi plan endorsed at the summit was, in the end, much
closer to Palestinian demands than the original idea announced in February.
The initiative calls on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, as
well as calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state and for a
``fair solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees'' -- all in return
for Arab states' establishing ``normal relations'' with Israel.
But the initiative falls short of unequivocal support for the right of all
Palestinian refugees to return to their homes -- a right that many
Palestinians believe is a prerequisite for peace. The Arab plan's indication
of flexibility on this subject actually gives Israel an upper hand in any
negotiations over this crucial issue. The careful call for a ``fair
solution'' leaves room for negotiating compensation for, and possible
resettlement of, refugees dispossessed in 1948 and 1967, rather than their
The Saudi plan also provides no plan of action -- or consequence -- if
Israel makes a commitment to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza and
doesn't live up to it. As a result, even some Palestinians who view the
initiative as a possible opening to negotiations fear that the Arab leaders
are leaving them besieged and in the unenviable position of conducting
Already, some leaders of the intifada have challenged Arab leaders to
develop a plan if Israel doesn't do what the initiative asks. And Mustafa
Barghouti, a Palestinian representative to the Arab Civil Forum -- attended
by grass-roots groups as an alternative to the Arab League summit -- said
Arab governments should commit to sever all ties with Israel if it does not
end its occupation. (Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties with Israel, while
Morocco and Qatar have maintained low-level, although suspended, diplomatic
Plan doesn't deter Israelis
Arafat welcomed the Arab initiative without public reservations, but that
may be because he believes any help is better than none right now. The
Palestinian leadership was hoping the initiative could block Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon from reoccupying the Palestinian territories and
dismantling the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli troops' advance into
Arafat's compound quickly proved that the peace plan had not stopped Sharon.
The Arab states' seeming unwillingness to address the power imbalance
between Israelis and Palestinians could deepen the hopelessness many
Palestinians feel and the belief among many that violence is the only way to
achieve their goals. That belief explains the alarming increase in the
number of Palestinian men, and women, willing to act as suicide bombers --
as well as the polls that show more Palestinians beginning to support their
``Human bombs'' have become the Palestinian response to the massive Israeli
arsenal of U.S.-supplied sophisticated weapons. Many Palestinians I have
spoken with express hurt that the world condemns the suicide bombings while
often watching in silence as Israel builds settlements on what little land
Palestinians occupy and humiliates their leaders.
The depth of hopelessness we see now resulted from the 2000 Camp David
summit in which then-President Clinton mediated negotiations between Israeli
Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat. It was precisely the widely hailed
``generous offer'' put forward by Barak that shattered lingering Palestinian
hopes -- raised by the 1993 Oslo accords -- that Israel would concede to a
truly sovereign Palestinian state.
While Israel was ready to withdraw from most of the West Bank and the Gaza
Strip, the Camp David proposals would have allowed Israelis to control the
Palestinians' borders, water resources and airspace. Barak's proposals also
left the Palestinians with a demilitarized and fragmented entity. Under his
offers, Israel would still control several remaining settlements and the
roads in between, as well as some military outposts and watchtowers.
In the end, many Palestinians felt they might have ``a state,'' but it would
be more like a colony than a sovereign country.
Barak also did not recognize the refugees' ``right of return'' and wanted to
divide East Jerusalem, granting autonomy to ``Arab neighborhoods,'' while
annexing the large blocs of settlements built on confiscated Arab land.
The Israelis made improvements on their offer at talks held in January 2001
in the Egyptian resort of Taba, but those remained non-binding
understandings that still fell short of establishing a viable and sovereign
Quest for genuine sovereignty
Intifada leaders I interviewed at the time said the U.S.-backed Israeli
position at Camp David left no doubt that the flawed structure of the Oslo
process would only perpetuate Israeli control and foreclose Palestinian
sovereignty. Seen in this light, the current intifada is partly a
Palestinian attempt to recapture some control over their fate.
Many Israelis now see the failure of Camp David -- and the insistence of a
full right of return -- as proof that the Palestinians lack a sincere
commitment to peace. They appear to have believed that when Palestinian
leaders expressed a desire at Oslo for the creation of a state in the
occupied territories, the Palestinians had given up the idea that they could
return to live in Israel if they chose.
Some Palestinian leaders then, and now, do seem willing to compromise on
this point. But in retrospect, they, the United States and Israel
underestimated the Palestinian people's commitment to a genuine
independence, including sovereignty over East Jerusalem and the right of
That commitment has become increasingly clear since the Oslo accords, which
put off the refugee issues to a later stage in the peace process. Refugees
in camps across the territories and throughout the Arab world felt that they
had been left out of the process. Movements in support of the right of
return began sprouting in the camps and among Palestinians in exile. This
includes the grass-roots Al-Awda ( Arabic for ``the return'') organization
in North America and Europe.
In fact, the mobilization for the right of return has been the biggest since
the formation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the '60s. In the
days leading up to last week's summit, demonstrators in several Arab
countries demanded that their leaders give unequivocal support for the right
For Palestinians, the right of return is a crucial and difficult point. It
constitutes the essence of their historic rights as indigenous but largely
dispossessed people of Palestine. Refugees, inside and outside the camps,
still keep the keys to their homes and recount memories of lost lives,
groves and smells to the new generations.
Israel has suggested that refugees return to live in ``a Palestinian state''
in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. But the small area cannot possibly
accommodate the needs of all the refugees. More significant, many people are
not willing to continue living and dying as permanent and rootless refugees.
Palestinians are especially incensed that Israel's ``law of return'' allows
any Jewish person, even a convert to Judaism, automatic rights to live in
any part of the state, while Israel expects Palestinian refugees to forsake
their land, history and identity.
For Israelis, allowing the right of return is paramount to the destruction
of the Jewish state. They reason that demographics would soon result in
Israel having a larger Arab than Jewish population. (Israel is populated by
nearly 5 million Jews, and there are somewhere between 4 million and 6
million refugees and their descendants. The Palestinians also have a higher
It is true that demographics could eventually mean that Israel is no longer
a pure Jewish state. But many Palestinians ask why they should be asked to
accept their dispossession as a price for maintaining a Jewish majority.
There is no consensus at the moment about what to do with those feelings.
There is no doubt that many Palestinians -- especially in the West Bank and
the Gaza Strip -- feel that an end of Israeli occupation and the
establishment of an independent state remain the main goals of the
Palestinian struggle. But even they are not all ready to make the trade-off
of the right of return -- even if Israel were to finally allow Palestine to
be a truly sovereign state.
One long-term solution being promoted by some intellectuals and activists is
an equitable sharing of land in which all people -- Arabs (both Christian
and Muslim) and Israeli Jews -- enjoy freedom and equal rights. Such a
vision would culminate in the establishment of a secular, democratic state.
Israelis may reject such a vision because it would mean the end of Israel as
a Jewish state. But it would also mean the end of an apartheid-like
structure in which those in power control through military force.
Activists who promote such a plan say the creation of a Palestinian state in
the occupied territories is probably the most achievable first step toward
such a longer-term solution. Statehood would begin to establish the sense of
equality and freedom that so many Palestinians feel is the key to devising a
plan for the future that they and Israelis could embrace.
For now, even that short-term goal is elusive.