There is no military solution
Last week some Washington Post columnists advocated that Israel should “escalate the violence” (Michael Kelly); recommended “a lightning and massive attack on every element of Arafat’s police state infrastructure” (Charles Krauthammer); and suggested “a short war… to destroy other physical infrastructure useful to the Palestinian Authority, including all newspaper and broadcasting facilities” (George F. Will).
It was shocking to read those pieces, given that it has been almost a year since the worst fighting of this generation began in earnest in the Middle East. In that time, both sides have become more entrenched in their unwillingness to negotiate and more willing to accept the unthinkable — that this generation will not know peace in its time.
After 11 months of violence, the innocents on both sides now hate each other more fiercely. Palestinian children are shot by Israeli soldiers and Israeli children are killed by suicide bombers. No winners, just blood -soaked streets.
In a way, though, there are victors: the extremists on both sides. It used to be that moderate Israelis agreed the Palestinians had a right to a state to call home, while moderate Palestinians agreed that Israelis had this same right. Now all seem to have forgotten.
The failure of peace talks — and the continuing occupation of ancestral land the Palestinians view as their own – has led to extremism on both sides. These extremists are Israeli soldiers killing innocents and Palestinian suicide bombers doing the same. How much blood will be shed before reasonable people reclaim the debate and deny extremists the stage?
To achieve peace, both sides must accept the other’s fundamental right to exist. Even when Jerusalem was under Muslim control for hundreds of years, there was always a Jewish quarter. Muslims did not invent anti-Semitism; that disgrace belongs to Christian Europe.
And since the state of Israel was created in 1948, there have been hundreds of thousands of Muslim and Christian Palestinians living inside its original borders and not at war with their Jewish neighbors. Peace among these neighbors is a candidate to be another casualty of the present war.
Two million Palestinians in the West Bank and one million in Gaza continue to live under occupation. The same is true of those inhabiting East Jerusalem.
How can anyone wonder why young Palestinian men are driven to violence when they watch Israeli soldiers harass and spit on their relatives at checkpoints? The 10-mile trip from Ramallah to Jerusalem has become an all-day exercise in futility for Palestinians.
This does not excuse suicide bombers who take the lives of Israeli citizens. The suicide bombing must stop, just as violence and torture by Israeli soldiers and settlers against Palestinians must stop.
Instead of each demanding something of the other before peace negotiations can begin, both Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon should worry less about who threw the last stone and get back to the table before more innocent lives are lost.
Over the long term, one thing is certain. Making peace is vital to the survival of Israel. It cannot exist forever as an enclave on the edge of the Middle East, surrounded by hostile neighbors. It must make peace and integrate itself. There is no military solution to this problem, and Israel’s current military superiority will not guarantee its survival.
History teaches us that military superiority is ephemeral. It also teaches us that change is an absolute inevitability.
Israel will never make peace with its hostile neighbors until it makes peace with the Palestinians. Without peace with the Palestinians, Israelis will never truly be safe.
Some contemplate absurd solutions such as the building of a large wall. But what would they do with the Palestinians who live inside the wall? They cannot throw them all out.
They must also allow the land called Palestine to be ‘whole’ and viable, not a handful of unconnected parcels. Both sides must come to an agreement enabling Jerusalem to be shared.
The only lasting solution is for there to be two states, Israel and Palestine, with Jerusalem as the shared capital of each. If Ariel Sharon or Yasser Arafat knows of another, he should let us know. If not, the two should come to the table and hammer out a solution along these lines.
If they fail, let them step aside. There are Israeli and Palestinian children who will not live to be adults if an agreement is not reached. The whole world has a stake in peace in the Middle East, and it should guide those leaders, or whoever replaces them, to this historic compromise.
Dr. Ziad Asali is president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. Source: The Washington Post, August 23. Distributed by Common Ground News Service.