1948: 60 Years After, Independence/Nakba, What Is Next?"

On August 25, 2008, the Palestine-Israel Journal, under the auspices of the Canada International Development Agency (CIDA), hosted a public event at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem to mark the publishing of its double issue, “1948: Sixty Years After,” Vol. 15 No. 1&2. More than 100 people attended the event to join Colette Avital, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Jibril Rajoub, Former National Security Advisor to the PA President and Former Head of Preemptive Security Forces – PA. Both speakers offered thoughts and answered questions on the topic of “1948: Sixty Years After Independence/Nakba...What is next?” Welcoming remarks were made by PIJ Co-Editor Hillel Schenker, who introduced Ambassador David Viveash from the Canada Representative Office to the PA in Ramallah. Ambassador Viveash began with the quote, “governments don’t make peace, people do.” He continued to express his respect and admiration for the Palestine-Israel Journal in developing public awareness and understanding with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Additionally, Viveash announced that CIDA will fund the PIJ’s next issue, which will focus on the topic of human security. Viveash concluded his remarks by expressing the importance the Canadian government sees in supporting efforts that make a contribution to helping people to make peace.
From left to right: Hillel Schenker (PIJ Co-Editor), Amb. David Viveash, Jibril Rajoub (PA), Colette Avital (Deputy Speaker of Knesset), Ziad AbuZayyad (PIJ Co-Editor).
PIJ Co-Editor Ziad AbuZayyad was the moderator of the public event. He introduced the speakers and later moderated questions and comments from the audience. Colette Avital offered an Israeli perspective in the “wider context of the region.” Avital noted that a shift in power has occurred in the Middle East since the 1950s when the “Arab Middle East” was dominated by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria. “Today,” Avital stated, “Syria, Iran and Turkey, which is turning to the Middle East in lieu of the EU,” are the more influential powers in the region. Avital remarked that there is a return trend toward religion and “tribal, religious parties” in the Middle East, as nationalism in Arab society appears to be waning. In light of this regional development, Avital expressed her frustration with Israel, which is “acting slow” in response to the Arab Peace Initiative (originally the Saudi Initiative); of which she felt its importance could not be more exaggerated, as it is a comprehensive agreement among nations that would recognize and normalize relations with Israel. “In 1948, Israel was defending itself against invading armies. Today, that is not the case. Israel is not fighting a war of survival,” Avital continued. Rather, Israel is engaged in sub-conventional wars that are challenging and difficult to win. These include demography and maintaining Zionism, which is ideologically and demographically reliant upon a Jewish country with a Jewish majority, without which Israel loses its raison d’etre. Over the past two years Avital has noticed a “sea change” in public opinion. Approximately 80% of Israelis consistently accept and admit that a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel is a necessity. The continuing challenge is how to create the reality. Meanwhile, “Israel is making every mistake possible.” Avital stressed that the longer the Palestinian state is postponed, more and more Palestinians will ask the question, “who needs it?” and become more in favor of a bi-national state. She warned that without establishing an agreement in the near future, Israel may lose the opportunity for a two-state solution for good, which will force Israel to become a “bi-national state or an apartheid state.” There is also a chance for resurgence in violence. The Deputy Speaker also touched on the subject of Hamas and the fact that Israel has to "recognize the reality of the Hamas and figure out more creative ways to deal with it." If the issue of Palestine becomes an entirely religious conflict, it will be difficult if not impossible to solve, as conflicts labeled as such are termed in absolutes. Avital ended her remarks with the statement that it is “high time to have a Palestinian state,” in which people live in dignity, freely and independently. Furthermore, the unresolved issue of the Palestinian State becomes a moral issue connected with the survival of an independent, democratic Jewish state that is based in respect for human rights. Following Avital, AbuZayyad passed the microphone to Jibril Rajoub.

From left to right: Ziad AbuZayyad and Herbert Pundak (Journalist).
Rajoub expressed his hope that the next time an event of this nature takes place he could welcome and host the audience in Ramallah or Nablus. He started in Hebrew, with a quote from Rabbi Hillel, "Im ein ani li, mi li? V'im ani rak l'atzmi, ma ani? V'im lo achshav, eimatai?" (If I am not for myself, who am I? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?) In 1948, the creation of Israel and the articulation of the Palestinian cause marked an important moment in history when two peoples were given the same legitimacy as refuges under recognition of the United Nations. However, since then, the predominant trend of both sides has been to erase the other’s existence. Then, on September 13, 1993, a recognition of, “each side, each other’s existence…changed the history of the Middle East,” said Rajoub. There was talk of normalization and Israel’s security. In turn, since Oslo and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Israel has focused on terror and terrorism versus reconciliation, which has only led to more killing. According to Rajoub, the time surrounding Rabin’s assassination marked a change in the Israeli track, e.g., Israel focused on undermining the PA, using expansionist policies that have contributed to remaining in the same vicious circle in which the other side doesn’t recognize the Palestinian entity within 67’ borders. This reality is evident vis-à-vis the policy in Jerusalem and the suffering and humiliation of the Palestinian people.

From left to right: Jibril Rajoub, Colette Avital, Ziad AbuZayyad

While Israel believes it can dictate the facts on the ground, it cannot dictate the solution for the other side. Rajoub listed four issues/realities that affect the path toward peace. First, a military solution is not a valid one for establishing peace. Second, neither is terrorism. Only a political solution with mutual recognition based on legitimate international treaties and documents will lead to peace. “The other side doesn’t recognize the Palestinians’ political and national aspirations,” evidenced by the fact that Israel, “on the ground is undermining everything,” stated Rajoub. Third, another obstacle to moving forward is the lack of confidence felt between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There is a “sea of blood,” suffering and a deep mistrust between the two peoples, with victims from both sides numbering in the thousands. This reality draws attention to the importance of a fair, honest third party that can be entrusted by both peoples to work toward each side’s stability. This third party, however, is “not the current American administration,” said Rajoub. And finally, fourth: the issue of separation. There has to be engagement in order for there to be disengagement. Israel has to decide if it wants to be a part of the Middle East or if it wants to remain as a foreigner, stranger and enemy. There is a decision to be made, that is: Is the desire for peace, security, recognition and normalization? Or, is the desire for settlements (serving to undermine the possibility of a two-state solution) and continued rebellion?

Michael Jordan (PIJ intern) helping at the PIJ informational table.
“Israel is carrying out the worst occupation in the world today,” said Rajoub. Without the recognition of a Palestinian state as necessary and a crucial element for regional stability, peace will never come. What is taking place on the ground today is not a positive approach. It does not convince the Palestinians they are partners with Israel. It is Israel’s job to “convince the Palestinians that we’re partners—is Israel looking for a partner or for subordinates?” asked Rajoub. Rajoub emphasized that the UN’s decision of 1948 created a birth certificate for two states in Palestine, a Jewish and an Arab state. So far only half of that birth certificate has been fulfilled. Rajoub concluded his statements by communicating the responsibility of the Arab world to contain fundamentalism and its rejection of Israel. Rajoub posed the question, “does Israel want it?” Following the conclusion of both speakers’ comments, AbuZayyad opened the floor to questions and feedback from the audience. Questions were accepted in groups of three or more, with the speakers responding to elements of the questions they felt most compelled to answer.

Ronan Harrington (PIJ intern) and Simon Petermann (Political Advisor to EUBAM-Rafah) holding the microphone.
A woman working for a Palestinian human rights monitoring group expressed her belief that Israelis have no idea of the state in which Palestinians are trying to survive and that the idea of Palestine is not treated as a reality in Israeli society. She emphasized that security is more of a Palestinian issue than an Israeli issue at this point in time. From the audience, Simon Petermann, Political Advisor to the European Union Border Assistance Mission-Rafah (EUBAM-Rafah) questioned whether or not talks between the PA and Hamas mediated by Egypt have the possibility of resulting in an accord between the two factions? Other questions from the floor included concern for corruption in the Palestinian Authority, particularly among Fatah leaders; negotiating with Hamas; the issue of settlements; and the possibility of the future State of Palestine giving Palestinian citizenship to Jews who live on settlements within the borders of a future Palestine, should those settlements not be dismantled. Colette Avital addressed the initial round of questions, first. She divulged that on September 25, 2008, a meeting will take place in New York among the members of the Quartet to assess and proceed in this most recent peace process. The meeting will give a clearer idea of where things are heading. Avital acknowledged that there is a lack of trust shared by both sides, which is based in fears. “Perhaps we don’t realize we are stronger,” mused Avital. She agreed with speakers from the audience that Palestinians live in much worse conditions than Israelis, citing the lack of movement imposed upon Palestinians by Israel as one of the more unbearable conditions suffered by the Palestinians. However, “we each look at our own concerns and not those of others,” said Avital, offering that, possibly, “more exposure may lead to more empathy,” on the part of Israelis. Speaking to questions regarding the interaction between Hamas and Israel, and Fatah and Hamas, Avital expressed her conviction that there isn’t a military solution for or in Gaza, and she believes that a tahadiyeh (calm) within Palestinian society would be helpful. Rajoub continued with the issue of corruption. As a member of Fatah, he admitted that mistakes have been made but that corruption is a challenge to democratic process everywhere. Regardless, Fatah is recharging, reconsidering and figuring out how to act according to the rules. Again, he stressed the importance of a third party to monitor and help the democratic political program that is part of Fatah’s strategy for the future. With regard to Fatah and Hamas, dialogue between the two parties and recognizing the reality of Hamas should be the principle policy of the Palestinian Authority. For the past 15 months, Hamas and Fatah have been under pressure from the Arab world to come to an agreement. Rajoub stressed the importance of success in this dialogue in order to prevent outside elements that would use the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause as a means through which to send a message to the West and/or Israel, that is unrelated to the realization of a Palestinian state. He added that Fatah has certain conditions which have to be met for the internal dialogue to be successful. On the topic of settlements, there are creative policies being formulated to stop settlement growth and to create compensation packages for settlers who will return to the State of Israel, and many settlement residents are interested, claimed Avital. Both Avital and Rajoub concurred that whether or not there will be Jewish citizens of Palestine is entirely up to the Palestinians. Avital expressed her doubt that any Jewish-Israelis would necessarily wish to be citizens of Palestine. Rajoub added that there is no legitimacy for settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The public event, 1948: Sixty Years After Independence/Nakba...What is next?, was made possible by a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

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