I was quite surprised at the rallying of Israeli troops and the high-alert calls
of the army and the police beginning Friday morning and lasting throughout May
15 – Nakba Day. I was interviewed repeatedly by local and international media
regarding what was expected to happen here. Is this the beginning of the third
intifada? Will the Palestinian territories now erupt in violent or non-violent
marches to the Israeli borders and checkpoints until September?
Was the internal
reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah the green light required to launch the
“Palestinian Spring,” inspired by the events in Tahrir square in Cairo? I kept
checking my sources, speaking to people all around the West Bank and Gaza. I
looked at my Twitter account and on Facebook to see if there was something I’d
missed that the IDF and Shin Bet saw. I kept coming up with the same assessment
– nothing major was planned, so if there were no significant provocation or
violence, May 15 would pass this year without anything remarkable taking
The most memorable events of the day were of course those launched
by Palestinians on the outside, and these were quite predictable because they
had been in the planning stages for months, on Facebook and other social media.
I started receiving e-mails about the May 15 “March to Palestine” months
PALESTINIANS ARE really in a different place right now, and the
Nakba is not really marked by a day in the calendar, but as a central part of
The sharpest daily reminder of the Nakba for all
Palestinians is the continuous growth of settlements, settlement roads, fences,
walls and armed Israeli civilians who are above the law, or at least living by a
different law than the one under which Palestinians live.
Yes, there have
been many achievements over the past several years, and most Palestinians are
quite pleased to feel they might someday have a normal life. They appreciate the
economic growth, the stability, the ability to move from place to place more
But for all Palestinians, there is an overbearing sense that no
matter what has been achieved, they are still living in a cage controlled by
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Palestinians recall that they paid a great price for the second
They do not want to return to that.
leadership is committed to leading its people to freedom, but not with the gun
or the suicide bomber. Real change has taken place within Palestinian society
since the horrible years of the second intifada.
Right now, Palestinians
want to see the reconciliation process between the two major political movements
take hold in the form of a new non-partisan government that will prepare for new
They see the split between the West Bank and Gaza as one of
their darkest periods and are pleased that it is coming to an
Palestinians want to see what will happen at the United Nations in
They are mostly convinced that the United States will continue
its blind support of Israel, and will try to block Palestine state membership in
the UN. They have no great expectations that the international community will
rescue them. They are tired of fighting; they are tired of the
They don’t comprehend why Israel enjoys the impunity that it
does in the international community, and why international law has no relevance
when it comes to Israeli actions.
They want to be treated as a state, and
they want to determine their own future. They are also quite ready, if need be,
to drop the struggle for separate statehood if that is the continued choice of
Israel and the United States.
They are prepared, after September, to
adopt a new call: “Give me the right to vote. You won’t give me a state? Fine!
Then I demand the right to vote in your state!” This fall-back plan is widely
accepted all around Palestine.
THERE REMAINS an underlying contradiction
among average Palestinians in the territories that causes us Israelis great
concern. A large majority of Palestinians are quite prepared to make full,
comprehensive peace with Israel, which in our terms is called “end of conflict,
end of claims.”
The parameters of what they are willing to accept are
known – a state based on the 1967 borders that, with territorial swaps, will
remain the size of the territory occupied by Israel in June 1967, with east
Jerusalem as its capital and Palestinian control over the Muslim holy places in
Jerusalem. Within these parameters, as Mahmoud Abbas and other Fatah leaders
continually say, is the statement that the refugee issue will be based on the
Arab peace initiative – “Achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian
refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly
They emphasize the word “agreed” to assure Israel that
it will be negotiated and not imposed. But it takes days like Nakba Day for
Palestinians to confront their narrative and realize how deeply rooted the
concept of return is to them. It remains a central theme and the common thread
of identity for all Palestinians. It is, without doubt, the single most
difficult issue for Palestinians to make concessions on.
In one of the
important speeches leading up to May 15, Abbas talked about return to the
“homeland,” and not the right of return to “our homes.”
This is more than
a subtle difference.
It in fact holds the real key to the final
resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I expect we will hear more and
more speeches about a “return to the homeland” in the coming months.
if September comes and goes without the great achievements the Palestinian
leadership is hoping for, the Palestinian people are coming to the sense that
they are on the final leg of their journey to freedom. As Jews who struggled for
so many centuries for our own freedom and independence, we really should be more
understanding of what they are going through. If we were really a people with
vision and foresight, and not only a conglomerate of our collective historical
experience, we would understand that the Palestinian process of achieving
freedom is unstoppable. We would comprehend the power we possess to launch a new
era of true reconciliation.
The Arab Spring has taken people throughout
the region, including Palestinians, beyond the barriers of fear.
when it will happen to Israelis as well.The writer is the Co-CEO of
IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org),
and is now founding the Center for Israeli Progress
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