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An article of mine, "Israel does have a partner for peace" (May 1), recently appeared in this newspaper reiterating President Mahmoud Abbas' often-repeated position regarding his readiness to immediately resume negotiations with Israel, and questioning whether there is an Israeli partner for peace.
I was overwhelmed by the many negative responses I received, vehemently criticizing both the author and the message. I somewhat expected such a reaction because readers of The Jerusalem Post have been accustomed only to the most extreme, negative reporting of anything Palestinian, Arab or Muslim. This explains such a negative reaction to our message of peace and reconciliation.
The editorial line adopted by the Post and most of its columnists is tilted too much to the Right. This is not merely unsubstantiated name-calling; the facts of how the Post touts its anti-peace message are plain for all to see. The Palestinian people are treated as if they were a terrorist nation. President Mahmoud Abbas has been ridiculed, described as weak, ineffective and not to be helped.
The late president Arafat was described as a "serpent." The Jerusalem Post is constantly fanning the flames of Islamophobia through a constant theme being ingrained in its readers' minds almost every day by different right-wing writers.
The Post purposefully does this with a major objective in mind: to associate the Palestinian national movement for freedom and liberation from Israeli occupation with the much-hated extremist Islamic movements around the world, such as al-Qaida. And therefore, according to this logic, the war on terror should also be waged against the Palestinian struggle for liberation and freedom.
FORTUNATELY, the extremist line adopted by the Post was defeated in the last Israeli elections. It appears that a majority of the Israeli public have moved to the center, which is a step in the right direction. But this certainly is not enough.
Palestinian violent resistance to the occupation is controversial, but what should not be controversial is the targeting of civilians on either side. President Abbas and a significant majority of the Palestinian public strongly oppose and utterly reject suicide bombings; he has described the recent Tel Aviv suicide bombing as a mean and despicable act.
However, Palestinians are also strongly opposed to Israeli collective punishment, and the killing of Palestinian men, women, and children by the Israeli occupation forces. In this light, it goes without saying that those who are under the hammer of the occupation forces, denied their freedom, are insecure in their homes and unable to protect their land and property from confiscation and destruction cannot be taught to love their occupiers.
ABBAS AND the majority of the Palestinian people all say that it is time for the vicious cycle of violence in our region to come to an end. The message of peace I tried to convey in this newspaper on behalf of President Abbas to the Israeli and Jewish American readers of the Post is a sound message that should be understood in its overall context: Mahmoud Abbas, the elected president of the Palestinian people, is sincere in his efforts to reach peace.
His ways have always been peaceful, and he is a decent, honorable man. He is strong, determined, and firm in his belief that a peaceful negotiated settlement can be reached, based on international legitimacy resolutions, recognition of legitimate Palestinian rights, signed agreements, and explicit recognition by Israel that it must withdraw from the land it occupied in 1967.
Abbas intends to work to advance his peace strategy, invigorate the environment with peace, convince all parties that violence is not the way, and create an internal Palestinian movement against the use of violence to end the occupation.
He specifically intends to create a new track of thinking for Palestinian youth who are wholly possessed with negativity and frustration by encouraging them to seek out better ways to channel their energy and efforts. However, this cannot be done unless Palestinian young men and women, and the public at large, have a space in which they can work and live freely, allowing for the evolution of an economically strong Palestinian middle class.
Sport stadiums, leisure parks and educational institutions should be built and expanded, small businesses created, borders opened for transport, import and export allowed. Investment in our strengths, such as the future tourism sector, is essential.
THE BASIC premise upon which all this depends is political. The Palestinian public must first be convinced that Israel has no territorial ambitions in the occupied Palestinian territory, that it is willing to relinquish all occupied territories taken in the 1967 war, and that it is willing to seek a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem with the help of the international community.
On the economic side, international financial assistance to the Palestinian people should be resumed, and uninterrupted trade with Europe, the Arab world and the international community made possible.
The Palestinian people is essentially a conservative people with liberal inclinations. They are nation-builders, entrepreneurs, full of initiative and able to create wealth and prosperity. As such, they should be allowed and encouraged to become a contributing factor toward prosperity and peace in our region.
However, the environment in which this vision can become real is one free of Israeli occupation. Ending the occupation will immediately begin transforming people's minds in the direction of peace, and they will start rebuilding their lives in an atmosphere free from fear, intimidation and insecurity. All other negative forces that emerged among Palestinians against peace because of the Israeli occupation cannot but diminish as a natural result.
A collective initiative from the peace camp in Palestine, Israel and neighboring countries, assisted by the international community, should work together to back Abbas in achieving the desired goal - a viable Palestinian state, established on the land occupied by Israel in 1967, with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side with Israel.
The writer is director-general of external relations at the office of the chairman of the Palestinian Authority.
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