Regular readers will know that I rarely write about politics. But this post is an exception, as it is written in memory of my father, who died on this day 7 years ago. That’s my father on the left, with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died almost exactly four years later.
Some 14 months after Arafat’s death, in January 2006, the Palestinians elected as their leaders the Islamist group Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawamah al-Islamiyya, or the Islamic Resistance Movement).
The election was democratic, in the real sense of the word. Unfortunately, however, the Palestinians elected the wrong leaders, because Hamas is considered to be a terrorist organization by both Israel and the United States.
For most of the time that he was the Palestinian leader, both Israel and the U.S. refused to negotiate with Arafat, on the grounds that he was a terrorist. So, despite the criticisms levelled at the Palestinians, and the subsequent fears of the so-called “international community”, the election of Hamas made very little difference to the situation: Israel and the U.S. will not negotiate with Hamas, because they are terrorists.
The Palestinians are still being punished for their choice of leader. The chaos in Gaza at the moment is at least partly due to U.S. supporting Mahmoud Abbas, but Hamas is unwilling to relinquish power. This fragmentation, with Fatah in control in the West Bank, and Hamas controlling the Gaza strip, plays right into Israel’s hands.
Hamas, we are always told, seeks to destroy the Jewish state. But let’s not forget that the Palestinian state has already been destroyed, and Isreal is intent not only on preventing it from ever being re-created, but also on erasing the very memory of its existence.
The early Zionists considered historical Palestine as “a land without a people, for a people without a land”, and dreamed of turning that land into an exclusively Jewish state. Modern Zionists share this dream. Herein lies Israel’s “demographic problem”: some 25% of its population consists of Palestinian Arabs, which is a far cry from the exclusive Jewish state which Herzl wished for.
To make matters worse, the Palestinians have among the highest birth rates in the world. So, extrapolating current trends, Israeli Jews could actually constitute a minority of Israel’s population, within just several decades. So Israel’s demographic problem is a major one.
Knowing well that the Palestinians cannot be eliminated outright, Israel is instead trying its best to convince the Palestinians to leave of their own accord, by means of collective punishment and brutal oppression.
Without a negotiating partner, Israel can continue to act unilaterally to achieve its aims. It continues to expand its illegal settlements in the West Bank, claiming, inch by inch, land that does not rightly belong to it.
The truth is, that Israel does not seek negotiation with the Palestinians. Even when negotiations were being conducted, they were futile. Israel’s proposed concessions fall far short of the least of the Palestinians’ demands, and the situation in the Middle East seems more complicated than ever.
The responsibility of resolving this seemingly intractable conflict is, as always, placed squarely on the shoulders of the Palestinians. It is they who must renounce violence, and recognize Israel, even though every aspect of their lives is controlled by the Israelis.
Israel, too, must renounce violence, and recognize the right of the Palestinians for self-determination and a state of their own. Israel will never find peace – either with the Palestinains or with itself – until it does so.