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Standing alone: A Palestinian's lament against the Saudi Peace Plan in the San Jose Mercury News

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  • The Muslim Chronicle
    Friends, 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
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2002

      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.

      Tarek Fatah
      Sun, Mar. 31, 2002

      Standing alone:

      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
      uneven negotiations.

      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
      Palestinian state.

      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
      of return.

      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
      birth rate.)

      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.
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