Basic Truths From Both Sides Of The Conflict
By Rashid Khalidi

April 3, 2002.  How much longer does the agony in Palestine and Israel have to go on before the United States, the only power capable of imposing a settlement, does so?

The Israelis and Palestinians have shown themselves amply incapable of  reaching a settlement. Both sides are convinced that violence is their preferred option. The U.S. has thus far operated on the premise that stopping the violence via a cease-fire is its primary task, and has placed the main responsibility for doing so on Palestinians.

But this approach is doomed because there is a terrible imbalance between the two sides: Israel occupies the territory of the Palestinians, who have been living under occupation for 35 years. Israel is a state that has a powerful army with the awful weapons of mass destruction (many supplied by the U.S.) that it has used in cities, villages and refugee camps. The Palestinians have no state, and no army, but only the terrible weapons of the weak: bombs, automatic weapons and knives, and all too many youths so desperate and hopeless after living their entire lives under occupation that they are willinG to die using them against Israeli troops, settlers and civilians. The casualty figures reflect this gross imbalance: in 18 months more than 1,200 Palestinians and about 400 Israelis have been killed. Most on both sides were innocent, unarmed civilians. And yet the Bush administration demands that the Palestinians cease their violence, passing in silence over the even more deadly violence of the occupation.

This approach stubbornly followed by Washington of focusing primarily on Palestinian violence, with the perspective of an end to the occupation only in the distant future, if ever, has no hope of succeeding. It will continue to fail since it ignores that the Israeli occupation is the core of the problem and must be ended now or the violence cannot be stopped, and that none of this will happen except under U.S. presidential pressure.

The Palestinians universally believe they were deceived when they engaged in 12 years of an American-sponsored "peace process," whose only concrete result was the implantation of another 100,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, the theft of more Palestinian land and the further entrenchment of the Israeli occupation. They will not be so deceived again. A process designed to provide security for Israel as it expands settlements and maintains its occupation will not again be acceptable to the Palestinians. This is not about what Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat does or does not do--and how much longer will Washington look on approvingly as Israel smashes Arafat's offices, kills his assistants, imprisons him and then demands that he do its bidding? A "peace-process" that went nowhere, against a background of frenzied Israeli settlement building, has created a dynamic among the Palestinians that cannot be stopped by calling up 20,000 or 200,000 Israeli reservists, or by reoccupying yet again Palestinian cities and camps. Most Palestinians believe that the occupation will not end, the  settlements will not be removed and they will not have a Palestinian state, unless they fight for it. 

It is time for the U.S. to publicly recognize these facts. It has presumably not done so out of concern for the American domestic repercussions of having to tell Israel that its occupation must end, its illegal settlements must be removed, and it must accept the creation of a viable Palestinian state. 

This is not just a matter for Palestinians and Israelis. The entire Arab world, which just approved a peace plan at the Beirut summit, is in upheaval because of the bloody events in Palestine, and U.S. support for Ariel Sharon. The stability of the entire Middle East is in danger as a result not only of the ongoing violence, but of the failure of the U.S. to accept its responsibilities as the world's sole superpower. 

The only possible way out of this hideous impasse is via a rapid end to the Israeli occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state.

Rashid Khalidi is a professor of Middle East history at the University of Chicago and has been an adviser to Palestinian negotiators. He is also president of the American Committee on Jerusalem.

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

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