No, We are Not Who You Thought We Are
By Musa Budeiri

In democracies, soldiers - characterized by a Teutonic mindset - are not usually reincarnated as political leaders. This is another area in which Israel does not conform to the dominant West European model. Perhaps this explains the ease with which the state opens fire on and kills its own citizens, and the near total consensus of its citizens with regard to the righteousness of such actions.

What is even more puzzling is the inability of Israel's political leaders - whether they are embarking on murder missions (Barak in Beirut) or on negotiated settlements (Barak at Camp David) - to comprehend the Palestinian "other."

After more than a century of Zionist emigration to a land without a people - with discoveries at various historical junctures that there are indeed forms of human life in this pocket-sized piece of territory, only to be followed by lapses of memory - there seems to be a sense of shock and betrayal pervading all shades of the political spectrum in light of the discovery that over the past seven years, the erstwhile enemy hesitantly transformed into a "peace partner," very unlike the partner it was perceived to be. The shock is real; the wound is deep!

Barak and the rest of the Zionist "peace camp" are indeed correct. The Palestinians are not who they thought they were. Some 50 years after the expulsion from Palestine and its dismemberment; 33 years after the onset of the occupation and the colonial regime instituted by the Jewish state; 18 years after the onslaught on Beirut, the siege and the bombardment; and eight years since the beginning of the Oslo process, which appeared to be the only practical alternative to Gaza refusing to "sink into the sea," the Palestinians are still the same.

Whether in Jerusalem, Nablus, Acre, Damascus, Nazareth, Beirut or Amman, and whether traditional or modern, religious or secular, faithful or adulterous, left or right, apathetic or political, middle of the road or lunatic fringe, pragmatists or seekers of paradise, straight or gay, they have not become Zionists nor have they acquiesced to their own dispossession and dehumanization. 

Their grudging support for the peace process, initiated at Madrid and Oslo, was their acceptance of a historic compromise to partition Palestine and to afford Israel and Israelis the opportunity to integrate themselves into the neighborhood. Notwithstanding the frequent disparaging references to the "unsuitability" of the neighborhood, Israelis are well advised to remember that they were not invited guests, but arrived here on the tailcoats of British bayonets. Those who are fond of referring to their aversion to the neighborhood are obviously suffering from historical amnesia.

The nature of the Central and Eastern European neighborhood from where their parents originated was the very reason that forced them to leave that particular neighborhood in the first place. To be sure, most went to "the new Jerusalem," but some made their way to Palestine, embarking on a colonial, nation-building project under the banner of a secular religion, Zionism, which was meant to liberate them from the shtetl and its medieval shackles. In  any case, an earthquake soon overtook their original neighborhood and it was no more.

The perception of the Palestinians' current "betrayal" and consequent disqualification as "peace partners" says more about the substance of the "peace process" Israel wishes to impose both on the Palestinians and the region than all the proposals and agreements that have been circulating since a short-sighted and opportunistic Palestinian leadership acquiesced to Israeli
dictates at Oslo.

Israeli politicians of all hues, buttressed by an ideological media reminiscent of the conformist-peddlers and opinion-enforcers of the recently-departed authoritarian regimes of Eastern Europe, do not tire of repeating, parrot-style, the Barak/Ben-Ami line about the generosity of Israel's "for a limited time only" offer at Camp David. This has been handed to the Palestinians in  the form of an ultimatum, with the implied, and often stated, rider that this is more than they justly deserve.

Israeli self-perception is that it is giving of itself. Whereas Palestinians perceive it as a compromise between Israelis and that the only serious negotiations in which the Israelis are prepared to indulge are negotiations among themselves.

What is on offer is Sharon's plan of autonomy: no sovereignty, no territorial contiguity, the permanence of settlements, window-dressing in Jerusalem and, in effect, the establishment of a Palestistan, with a free option for the Palestinians to call it a state or even an empire if they so choose. 

Israel, variously characterized as "the only democracy in the Middle East," an ethnic democracy and a garrison democracy - among other laudatory titles - is openly transforming itself into an apartheid state. This is clearly evident in its treatment of its Palestinian minority, a million strong, who for fifty years were "tolerated" by a secular Zionist mindset, only to be redefined as "a cancer" and "a fifth column" the moment they dared express their identity as a Palestinian national minority in a state in which the intellectual elite are celebrating the arrival of multi-culturalism and post-Zionism.

The Palestinians are not who you thought they are. Surprising or even shocking as it may appear, their perceptions of a peace settlement do not stem from the needs and requirements of Israeli security or the ever-lasting debate over the Jewish character of the state. 

Perhaps foolishly, they view themselves as victims, initially of superpower rivalries and European conflicts. Since 1948, and in an age of nation states, they alone were deemed to be non-deserving. 

Having arrived at Oslo, still foolish, they assumed that their acceptance of a two-state solution and their making do with less than a quarter of the territory of historic Palestine would satisfy Israeli demands for recognition and legitimation. This was the historic compromise and "peace of the brave" that would satisfy Israel and enable them to begin the reconstruction of their national life, shattered since 1948. All that was left was to negotiate the modalities of ending the occupation.

What transpired in the seven years since has made Palestinians realize that the Israelis are not who they thought they were. The Israeli search for a peace partner was confined to candidates within the Israeli political spectrum - the Likud, and perhaps the National Religious Party or Shas. 

From an Israeli perspective, the task was not to end the occupation of the territories conquered in June 1967, but to reach a set-up that would enhance Israel's security by getting rid of the maximum number of Palestinian Arabs while retaining the maximum amount of Palestinian territory. 

Authority over the Palestinians would be handed to Palestinians who would be entrusted with the task of safeguarding Israel's security, without being hampered by democratic niceties, contradictory as this may seem, in that Israel is probably the only country in the world which has legally sanctioned the use of torture and where assassination squads operate openly.  

The sense of betrayal felt in light of the Palestinians' refusal to continue with the charade of a peace process, the guiding light of which is the preponderance of military might and the use of force to pound the "peace partner" into submission, would be laughable, were it not for the tragedy it portends for all the inhabitants of the region.

Israelis could do worse than re-read Hannah Arendt's trenchant critique, written as far back as 1945:  "It will not be easy either to save the Jews or to save Palestine in the twentieth century; that it can be done with categories and methods of the nineteenth century seems, at the very least, highly improbable."

(Dr. Budeiri lives in Jerusalem and teaches political science at Bir Zeit University)

This article is from the English Edition of HA'ARETZ *Tuesday, October 24, 2000).

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