The Bush and Olmert Administrations have chosen to withhold endorsement of the Mecca Agreement, and the national unity government comprising Hamas and Fatah formed on the basis of that Agreement, until the government fulfils three conditions:
- recognizes Israel’s right to exist
- renounces violence and
- complies with earlier Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.
Each of the three conditions is intellectually and morally flawed.
How can one ask a people under occupation to recognize the right of the occupier to exist especially when the occupier is making no attempt to end his occupation? By occupation here we are referring only to the Palestinian territories captured by Israel in the 1967 War. Israel is regarded in law as an occupying power. Only if it withdraws completely from the West Bank and Gaza does Israel have the right to ask the Palestinian people to accord recognition to her.
In any case, which Israel is the Palestinian government expected to recognize? Post 1967 Israel with its annexed territories? Or the Israel of 1949 when it occupied 78 percent of original Palestine? Or the Israel of 1948 when the United Nations awarded 60 percent of Palestine to the 30 percent Zionist population without allowing the people to exercise their right of self-determination, as required by the UN Charter? Besides, does Israel even have a map to show what its boundaries are? What are the geographical limits of the ‘Israel’ that Palestine is supposed to recognize?
There is yet another legitimate question that one should ask. If Palestinians are expected to recognize Israel, has Israel ever recognized the right of the Palestinians to establish a State on the West Bank and Gaza which constitute only 22 percent of original Palestine? Isn’t it true that since 1948 it is the right of the Palestinians to exist that has been continuously trampled upon by Israel – an Israel that has no compunctions about massacring thousands of Palestinians, evicting them from their farms and expelling them from their homes? In other words, it is the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people which has been going on for 59 years that is the real issue and yet it is Israel’s – the occupier’s – right to exist that Tel Aviv and Washington are focussing upon.
Similarly, Tel Aviv and Washington want the Palestinian government, specifically Hamas, to renounce violence, but they are silent about Israel’s violence against the Palestinians which is a million times greater than the latter’s violence against the former. Indeed, it is through violence that Israel was created, and it is through violence that it is being sustained. From a moral perspective, the violence of the occupier is far more reprehensible than the violence of the occupied seeking to resist occupation. While we abhor all forms of violence, an occupied people, it is acknowledged in law, have the right to use violence against military occupation.
As with the question of violence, how can Tel Aviv and Washington ask the Palestinian government to comply with all past Israeli-Palestinian accords when Tel Aviv has failed to observe them? Israel for instance violated the Oslo Accord almost immediately after it was inked by expanding settlements in the West Bank. Is the construction of the apartheid wall which eats into large chunks of Palestinian land and gobbles up water wells in line with any previous Israeli-Palestinian Accord? In any case, would any self-respecting Palestinian group or individual endorse accords which have studiously avoided issues which are critical to the Palestinians such as the universally recognized right of return of 4.5 million Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem and the position of Israeli settlements in the West Bank?
By laying out spurious conditions for the recognition of the Hamas-Fatah National Unity Government, the Olmert and Bush Administrations intend to render the unity government ineffective and impotent. They do not want to negotiate for peace with the government for an obvious reason. Negotiations they fear may lead to the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state, side by side with Israel. This is an outcome that they do not want. What they want for the Palestinians is a Bantustan – under Israeli control.
This is why they are wary of the Mecca Agreement. For the Agreement has succeeded in a sense to elicit the commitment of the Hamas leadership to national goals embodied in various resolutions of the Palestinian National Council and Arab Summits. This must include the 2002 Arab Summit in Beirut that called upon Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders and help establish an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. In exchange, all the Arab states would recognize Israel. The Beirut proposal was endorsed by the OIC Summit in Kuala Lumpur in October 2003.
Neither Tel Aviv nor Washington welcomed the Beirut proposal. The vast majority of Zionists in Israel and the US and a huge portion of the Christian Right in the US will not give up a centimeter of Jerusalem. They will not even consider the return of Palestinian refugees, though prominent Palestinian leaders have emphasized that only a small number of them will be absorbed into present Israel while the rest will have to be assimilated into the yet- to- be born Palestinian state or receive compensations and become citizens in their countries of domicile. As for the major Israeli settlements on the West Bank, no Israeli Prime Minister has ever indicated that they are anything less than permanent.
What all this shows is that it is Israel’s arrogant, insolent attitude which is the root of the problem. It is this attitude which is preventing the birth of an independent Palestinian state. It is because of this attitude that the Olmert Administration – backed by the Bush Administration – does not want to recognize the Hamas-Fatah national unity government or the Mecca Agreement.
How can one change this arrogant, insolent attitude? How does one convince the Olmert Administration that it is in Israel’s own long-term interest to end its occupation of the West Bank and its control over Gaza immediately? How does one persuade the Administration that for the nation’s own survival, it has to address Palestinian concerns vis-à-vis refugees, East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements without any further delay? An essential step in moving towards ending occupation and meeting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians is to recognise the unity government and acknowledge the Mecca Agreement.
In the ultimate analysis, it is only the people of Israel, and indeed, the people of the United States, who can get the Olmert Administration to see sense. The people of the world also have a role to play. They should increase pressure upon the Administration to ensure that justice is done to the Palestinian people and all other people in the Arab world and the Middle East who are victims of Israeli aggression and occupation. What better way to do this than to coax Ehud Olmert to endorse the unity government and the Mecca Agreement?