Sunday, January 28, 2007

A breath of fresh air

Dear Friends,

I always hear and read of a genuine desire peace by most Israelis.  Yet there seem to be no voices on the Palestinian side interested in achieving that goal.  So called "moderates" like Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas talk the talk but simply don't walk the walk.  They talk peace and moderation in English, but in Arabic they glorify "martyrdom", encourage their people to "turn their rifles on the occupation", create an economy that cannot sustain peace and is dependant on international welfare and then direct that welfare to violence and corruption.

A breath of fresh air is Salam Fayyad, former Finance Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, who is considered one of the few Palestinian politicians who is not corrupt.  He ran as founder and leader of the new Third Way political party, and sits in the Palestinian Authority Legislative Council.

Fayyad took the unusual step of accepting an invitation to address the Herzliya Conference, in Israel.  This conference is an annual event, intended to enhance national policy and contribute to the upgrading of the strategic decision-making process.  An internal Israel talk-fest. 

His speech is worth reading and circulating.  While clearly I won't agree with every word, if he can ever become more than a lone voice, there may yet be a basis for peace in the Middle East.

Statement by Dr. Salam Fayyad

Seventh Annual Herzliya Conference
January 24th, 2007

I would like to extend my thanks to the conference organizers for inviting me to speak before you.  I recognize the importance of this conference – it is the very platform where major Israeli policies have been laid out including, most recently, unilateralism in the form of the Israeli "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip.  As a Palestinian, who has felt the effects of these policies, it is my hope that today I will be able to shed some light on this issue, and on how together we can chart a new, brighter, more promising future for the Middle East – not just for our two peoples.

It would have been very easy for me to focus my talk today on economics and finance. But owing to the very important role that politics play in the success or failure of any economy and indeed the future of any state, I decided instead to focus my comments on matters of politics, leaving matters of economics and finance aside for the moment. 

Examining the past 6 years of this conflict, I would characterize the Israeli-Palestinian relations over this period as having been too intimate – too intimate for the Palestinians and too intimate for the Israelis.  You may be stunned by this characterization, for many have characterized it as the opposite. But the nature of relations today between Israelis and Palestinians has reached levels of micromanagement, where Israel is involved in the minute details of the lives of Palestinians.  It is important to remember that the entirety of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is ruled by military orders – not by politics, logic, or reason – but by military orders with "security" dictating the rules of the game.  Whether through the erection of hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks throughout the West Bank – most of which have no real security rationale, the requirement that Palestinians obtain permits to travel even within the West Bank or some of the absurd rules which are largely unknown to Israelis, the occupation has seeped into almost every aspect of Palestinian life.  Take, for example, the recently announced prohibition on Palestinians riding in Israeli yellow-plated cars.  While to many there is a clear security rationale, what is ignored are the ramifications of such policies.  I know many Jerusalemites for whom this new policy means that they cannot transport their own relatives who happen, by the fate of war, to be characterized as "West Bankers." I also know many Palestinians – whether in Jerusalem or elsewhere – whose land has been taken away and whose families have been divided for the construction of the wall.  These are the details to which few Israelis are exposed but the very reality that Palestinians continue to live and suffer from daily. 

And, while I understand that in the design of these and other measures there may be a "security" rationale involved, the effect is not to create more security for Israel, but rather to create more conditions for future instability.  Why?  Because at its core, this conflict is NOT a security conflict with political ramifications but instead a POLITICAL conflict with security ramifications.  Unfortunately, for the past six years, and arguably longer, the focus has been solely on security, ignoring the inherent link between Israel's lack of security and the Palestinians' lack of freedom.  This is not a humanitarian conflict needing a humanitarian response, nor is this a security conflict requiring a security response.  What we are both suffering from is a political conflict requiring a political solution. 

There was once, arguably, a focus on the larger picture – beyond checkpoints, dirt mounds and permits – to major political issues:  Jerusalem, borders, refugees, the settlements, etc.  Unfortunately, the process took center stage and not the actual need for peace.  While meetings between the two sides and with the international community abounded, what was ignored was whether progress was actually being made to end the conflict – the occupation – and give both peoples what they want:  peace.  Today, meetings have been reduced to discussions on small, practical (and sometimes not so practical) issues that are peripheral to the conflict.  By focusing on the peripheral, we are no closer to solving our problems and hence no closer to peace.  We need to broaden our view and look to politics – not only to the small issues that are not germane to the fundamental nature of this conflict. 

It is easy for Israel to shrug away and do nothing.  Israel – as the stronger party to this conflict – has the luxury to do nothing.  But in doing nothing, Israel is doing something:  it is not contributing to solving this conflict; it is making it fester.  Many believe that we are stuck between doing nothing and between unilateral approaches. Yet from our experience we should now know that neither approach works:  both doing nothing and acting unilaterally only serve to make matters worse. 

What then should be done?  We need bifocals.  Yes, bifocals.  By that, I mean we need clear vision to address the short term and the long term.  While it is important to address the immediate concerns that preoccupy Palestinians and Israelis on a daily basis, we need to do so within a framework that provides a clear and agreed definition of where we are going and how we are going to get there. Ever so skeptical of transitional solutions, the need for a concrete definition of the "final status" was, for a long time, perceived to be a predominantly Palestinian need. But, I would argue that the adverse developments of the past few years, including the misgivings of unilateralism, have made working toward transitional arrangements in the absence of an agreed final status equally unattractive from the point of view of Israelis as well.

A peaceful solution is inevitable.  It is.  It is impossible to maintain the status quo because the status quo is not static; it is fluid and, unfortunately only gets worse, not better.  There is no question that there will be stability when the Palestinians are given their freedom.  The vision that has been laid out by President Bush and embraced by President Abbas is that of peaceful coexistence.  For Israelis, this means feeling safe and secure; for Palestinians this means being free of Israeli interference and also living in safety and security.  But these are just statements.  What I really want to lay out for you is a vision for positive relations; not just coexistence.

Palestinians have a vision of peace.  We want our state to be a qualitative addition to the region and model of democratic values and good governance.  When I speak of good governance I mean it concretely – not as a lofty and unattainable goal but one in which the rule of law and not the rule of the gun will prevail.  Palestinians have the highest rate of PhD holders per capita in the Arab world (I am one of those statistics), and our focus will be on creating a generation of smart, educated Palestinians who will demand no less than a credible system of laws and respect for rights.  Many might ask why this has not happened already?  The answer lies mainly in the occupation and the lack of freedom for the Palestinians.  When you live in a context where there is no respect for laws under a suffocating and oppressive occupation, it is very difficult to demand and enforce civility.

That said, I will never use occupation as an excuse to allow ourselves to be sloppy or lax in the building of our state.  As a Palestinian nationalist and someone who is committed to working to end the occupation, I will demand certain things from our independent Palestinian state on behalf of all Palestinians.  I want to see a state that is free, where respect for rights is guaranteed (not simply sloganized), where education is at the fore, and where democracy is guiding principle. 

These are matters that are of concern to Israel.  But more importantly, I want to spell out a vision of peace with Israel.  I seek a warm peace with Israel.  I don't want it so warm that you are in our backyard as you are now, but I seek a warm peace.  I seek strong political ties with Israel; I seek strong economic ties between the independent states of Israel and Palestine .I seek warm relations with Israelis.  Yes, we seek warm relations with you.  We do not want to simply get to a point where we just accept each other – we want to have warm relations where we both recognize the mutual economic, political, intellectual and spiritual benefits of living and working together.  We do not want to erect walls; we want to see bridges.  We do not want to close you out of our lives – we want to live with you – as your neighbors and as your equals.

At heart, I am an optimist.  Why?  How?  After so much effort from all parties and after such spectacular failure, many question how I can persist in my optimism.  The answer lies in the fact that I know that there is a great deal of depth of goodwill on both sides, and on the part of the international community.

This does not mean that the solution will be easy.  It won't.  If it were, obviously we would have been there.  Political and other sacrifices are required and we will need to be bold and explain to our respective publics what we want and how to achieve it. 

Time is running out for us.  Time is not on our side.  I am part of the last generation of Palestinians who see Israelis in normal settings, who meets with Israelis and who can call Israelis "friends."  The cold separation coupled with the micromanagement of affairs must disappear soon, for if it does not, we will never be able to live together as equals with mutual respect.  In Arabic, there is a saying which is, ironically, the opposite of its English language counterpart – "absence makes the heart grow colder".  As a father and husband, I fear that our hearts are growing colder the more that we are separated.  I want a future for my children and I am certain that you do too.  The future that I seek is a warm, bright one for them.  And I know that you share this vision too.  Too much time has been wasted.  It is time for us to get back on track and work to end this conflict so that our children's future can be marked by Palestinian-Israeli friendships; not Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

When appeasement becomes racism

Dear friends,


It is a fundamental right of every individual to be judged equally amongst his peers. Without it, democracy becomes unsustainable. And yet, multiple standards are almost intrinsic to human nature.    Double standards infect almost every realm of human endeavour.  A prime example is the use of human shields.


Outlawed by the Geneva Conventions, the use of human shields is decried by all.  The former UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan, denounced the use of human shields by guerilla rebels in refugee camps of West Timor.

So what action was taken in Palestinian villages presided over by the UN?  UNWRA headquarters in Jenin was used as cover for Palestinians to shoot at IDF soldiers. Human shields were, and are, a common tool. Terrorists were even caught opening fire while taking cover behind a woman holding an UNWRA flag. 


How was UN condemnation phrased on this occasion? The Weekly Standard described it well. Local UN officials fabricated an Israeli army "massacre" of "unarmed civilians" and UNRWA Commissioner General Peter Hansen gave dozens of lip-smacking interviews recounting his eye witness account of Israeli atrocities. But the Weekly Standard concluded, based on foreign journalist and international observer evidence, that Hansen "is a bald-faced liar."


This determination to vilify Israel and exonerate Palestinian fabrication is evidenced in any event where Palestinians being used as human shields are accidentally killed – whether by Israelis as collateral damage or by Palestinian "work accidents." Deep indignation is loudly shouted.  By contrast, Palestinian murder of deliberately targeted Israelis is addressed by a muted voice whispering mild concern.


The Palestinians have well understood that the international the media and politicians will grant rewards for every civilian death in their struggle against Israel – whether of Jew or Arab.  President Mahmoud Abbas publicly declared that Palestinians must avoid civil war, and turn their guns against Israelis.  And the world declares amen to depictions of this man as a "moderate" deserving of hundreds of millions in arms and military training.  Media reports adopt his language: "Jerusalem church leaders alarmed at worsening relations between two main political parties are calling for an end to violence and an urgent return to the "real priorities" of Palestinians." Code words lifted almost directly from the Palestinian leader's speeches; quickly translated: Stop killing each other and get back to killing Jews.


The human shields themselves have also reached a new level of boldness and sophistication.  Knowing that Israel will avoid killing "innocent" civilians, they call for the murder of their Israeli counterparts, while protecting terrorists and arms caches with their homes and their bodies. 

In recent months, Israeli security forces have used telephone calls to warn Palestinian militants and others near alleged militant safe houses and weapons caches, giving them up to a half hour to evacuate. When militia leader Mohammed Baroud got the call Saturday, he enlisted neighbors to protect his house from the Israeli military. They've now set up a system of shifts to protect the house around the clock.

"This kind of [peaceful] resistance cannot replace the rocket resistance," says Jamila Shanti, a female member of Hamas who helped organize a permanent presence of female human shields around the house. "The popular resistance is to protect the people from the bombing. The rocket resistance is to confront the Israeli machinery." (

The US, on the other hand, solves the dilemma by simply following the rules of war. According to the Geneva conventions, as Kofi Anan pointed out in Timor, armies are not required to protect human shields.  Whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or more recently Somalia, the results have been devastating.  But the world quietly applies the international standard, as long as the attacker is "one of us." Israel, as "the other," must respect human shields deliberately hiding terrorists and their weapons.  Palestinians, "the lesser," are not up to these international ethical norms.  Using human shields and murdering civilians are minor faults which cannot be allowed to distract the flow of international aid.

However you slice it – that's racism.

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