No forging peace while stoking flames of crisis

Stability in the Middle East is unachievable until Ariel Sharon addresses Palestinian demands, writes Marwan Barghouti.

Israel's assassination of Fatah activist Raed Karmi last week was predictable. Despite Israel's having killed more than 18 Palestinians since Yasser Arafat's call for a ceasefire on December 18, there have been no Israeli civilian casualties. That, according to world governments and the international press, constituted a "lull in the violence". But a lull in the violence is exactly what the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, cannot afford. Elected in a time of crisis, he knows that his rule is sustainable only in a crisis. For his political survival, he will do whatever it takes, and look for any excuse, to avoid a return to peace negotiations.

Hence, more than 600 Palestinians, already refugees, were recently made refugees again as Sharon's bulldozers razed their homes in Gaza. A day later Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem were destroyed. And then, just to ensure that Palestinians were provoked and the cycle of violence started again, Israel assassinated Karmi.

Sharon justifies such measures in the name of "security". But as someone often considered a candidate for Israeli assassination, I can assure the Israeli people that neither my assassination nor any of the 82 assassinations that have occurred during the past 15 months will bring them any closer to the security they seek and deserve.

The only way for Israelis to have security is to end their 35-year-old occupation of Palestinian territory. Israelis must abandon the myth that it is possible to have peace and occupation at the same time, that peaceful co-existence is possible between slave and master. The lack of Israeli security is born of the lack of Palestinian freedom.

Once Israel and the rest of the world understand this, the way forward becomes clear: end the occupation, allow Palestinians to live in freedom and let the independent and equal neighbours of Israel and Palestine negotiate a peaceful future with close economic and cultural ties.

Let us not forget, we Palestinians have recognised Israel on 78 per cent of historic Palestine. It is Israel that refuses to acknowledge Palestine's right to exist on the remaining 22 per cent of land occupied in 1967. And yet it is the Palestinians who are accused of not compromising and of missing opportunities.

And we have no faith in the United States, the provider of billions of dollars in annual aid to fund Israel's expansion of illegal colonies, the "fighter of terrorism" that supplies Israel with the F-16s and helicopter gunships used against a defenceless civilian population, the "defender of freedom and the oppressed" that coddles Sharon even as he faces war crimes charges for his responsibility in the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees.

Watch as the hapless General Anthony Zinni focuses his efforts on "violence" while Jewish settlers violate international law and even US policy by moving into a new illegal colony in occupied East Jerusalem.

Over the past 15 months, Israel has killed more than 900 Palestinian civilians, 25 per cent of them under 18. And still the US has the audacity to veto a UN plan for an international protection force to stop the onslaught.

So we will protect ourselves. If Israel reserves the right to bomb us with F-16s and helicopter gunships, it shouldn't be surprised when Palestinians seek defensive weapons to bring those aircraft down. And while I, and the Fatah movement, strongly oppose attacks and the targeting of civilians inside Israel, our future neighbour, I reserve the right to protect myself and resist the Israeli occupation.

I am not a terrorist, but neither am I a pacifist. I am simply a regular guy from the Palestinian street advocating only what every other oppressed person has advocated: the right to help myself in the absence of help from anywhere else.

This principle may well lead to my assassination. So let my position be clear in order that my death not be lightly dismissed by the world as just one more statistic in Israel's "war on terrorism". For six years I languished as a political prisoner in an Israeli jail, where I was tortured, where I hung blindfolded as an Israeli beat my genitals with a stick. But since 1994, when I believed Israel was serious about ending its occupation, I've been a tireless advocate of a peace based on fairness and equality. I led delegations of Palestinians in meetings with Israeli parliamentarians.

I still seek peaceful co-existence between the equal and independent countries of Israel and Palestine based on full withdrawal from Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and a just resolution to the plight of Palestinian refugees pursuant to UN resolutions. I do not seek to destroy Israel but only to end its occupation of my country.

The Washington Post
The Only Way to Peace in Israel and Palestine
By Marwan Barghouti

Marwan Barghouti, general secretary of Fatah on the West Bank, was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Posted on the Independent Newswire on 20 January 2002

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