ENCOUNTERING PEACE: The path we must take

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not start this to gain the attention of the American president.

Netanyahu, Obama, Abbas 300 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed )
Netanyahu, Obama, Abbas 300
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed )
I heard so many experts on television this week explain to us that the wave of Palestinian violence was planned by the Palestinian Authority. They told us the Palestinians want to set the ground on fire in preparation for the visit of President Barack Obama. There were so many predictions of a third intifada, and arguments over whether it had started already and how intensive it would be.
I went to see with my own eyes. I went to speak to people on the other side, to listen to them. I also went to meet with some Palestinian leaders. I read the Palestinian media, I checked out the Palestinian social media. I came away with a very strong sense that the violence was not premeditated. There is still no burning desire on the other side to launch a new intifada.
People don’t want to destroy what was built over the past years. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not start this to gain the attention of the American president.
I heard from leaders and people in the street that there is no desire to pull President Obama into the micro-management the conflict, as has been done by previous US presidents. Palestinian ambitions for Obama’s engagement in the conflict are far more strategic and important than having him put out the flames of another round of street violence.
What I heard and saw was a lot of frustration. One of the Palestinian leaders told me that after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on Abbas to calm the situation down, Abbas, in a meeting with the heads of the unions of PA employees, asked them what he should do – how should he respond? He told me that they told him: Mr. President, only you can put out the flames. You have the power to send out the Palestinian police and the people will listen to you. But, they said, what will change? Will we get our salaries? Will Israel release our money they are holding? Will prisoners be freed? Will the administrative detentions end? Will they ever stop building settlements on our land? Will we ever see our freedom and independence? Will there ever be peace? These people told their leader that in another few weeks, or another few months, after nothing has changed we will be in the same situation.
Another Palestinian leader told me, “we are serious about wanting peace. Mahmoud Abbas is the last Palestinian leader who will be able to offer you peace. After he is gone and the chances of peace with him, the people here will give the other side a chance to prove themselves.”
The other side, I asked? “Yes. Palestinians have two choices, he explained, the way of Abbas and the PLO or the way of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood want to destroy you, they will never accept you, they will never make peace with you. He said they are all the same – whether they are called Hamas, Hezbollah, the Salafis – all of them – if we don’t succeed to deliver peace to our people, freedom in a state of our own, we will not be here anymore and you will have to face them.”
I asked him, “don’t they realize that everything that has been built in the past years will be destroyed? The Palestinian suffering, death and destruction will once again be enormous.” He told me, “yes they understand this. They don’t want it, but if you take away their hope, all that they have left is to inflict pain on you. They will want you to hurt. They will want you to bury your loved ones. If you can’t give us our freedom, our people will fight for their honor, their dignity. This you cannot buy with money.” He said, “you Jews are just like us – you would do the same thing.
If you were denied your freedom, if you could not have your own state – you would fight and die and kill with revenge to make the other side hurt too.”
This was such as sad dialogue. It was so clear to me that the person I was talking to was a man of peace. He had made the personal journey in his own life from being a fighter, vowing to never make peace with Israel, to becoming one of the leading advocates of peace within the PA. But a fair peace, a just peace, a comprehensive peace, something that can only be achieved in negotiations.
HE KNOWS Abbas very well. They are political allies and close friends. I tried to challenge him with some of what I hear from Israelis, from my readers in The Jerusalem Post. I said, “but most Israelis believe that Abbas has no interest in ending the conflict – that he will never agree to declare that the conflict is over.” He responded by telling me that Abbas has said repeatedly (and I have heard him as well) that he is against an interim agreement. Abbas wants an agreement that will bring full peace and to end of the conflict and then there will be no more claims and demands.
“But,” I argued, “he is not willing to see Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
He replied that “Jerusalem will be your capital – the places where Israelis live in Jerusalem are yours, the places where Palestinians live are ours. We will both have our capitals in Jerusalem.”
I asked him about refugees and the right of return. He said that there are solutions that can be acceptable to both sides – Olmert and Abbas were very close to such a solution.
Our discussion went on and we spoke about almost all of the important issues.
He stressed that all of the issues must be on the table. We must discuss them all, he said; we can find areas of agreement on every single issue.
I asked what about recognizing Israel as the Jewish nation state. Here we got into a big debate. He argued: “We recognized Israel, why should we define it? Call yourself what you want – why must I?” I said that once we have resolved all of the other issues, we will sit at the table and there will be an Israeli demand for recognition of Israel as the Jewish nation state.
This was tough – he explained why it was hard for them. But we came up with a solution.
We together proposed that after we sign a full, comprehensive peace agreement, we will both bring it to the United Nations, which will grant our agreement the basis of international law, and within the UN resolution supporting the agreement there would be a statement that would say: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and all of its citizens, and Palestine is the nation-state of the Palestinian people and all of its citizens. He said, we will agree that all of our friends and allies in the United Nations will support this.
Gershon Baskin is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit