Choose peace

'Al Quds' finds that 86% of Palestinians feel their situation is worse since Hamas took office.

abbas peace 88 (photo credit: )
abbas peace 88
(photo credit: )
When the bullets are flying and the guns are flailing, polls are notoriously unreliable. The surveys that indicate a tight race in possible Palestinian elections might be far off the mark. Yet one new survey response, a step removed from asking people to overtly side with one armed faction or another, certainly rings true. A poll of 800 people conducted by Near East Consulting and published in Al Quds found that 86 percent of Palestinians felt their situation had worsened since Hamas took office, while 14% claimed an improvement. It is not clear that there will be Palestinian elections in the near future, despite Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's claim that they will be called, and despite open US and British support. Hamas has shown no signs of accepting elections now, and is accusing Abbas of staging a coup. In any case, it would be a mistake for anyone to become caught up in the idea of new elections as a panacea. Abbas, while opposing terrorism, has taken a hard line on the Palestinian demand for a "right of return" and has recently insisted that he is not demanding that Hamas recognize Israel's right to exist. Elections, in other words, might allow Palestinians to choose between warring factions, but do not seem to present them with the choice that matters most for their destiny. The fundamental choice is not between Hamas and Fatah, or even between terrorism and negotiations, but between continuing a war to destroy Israel and accepting a peace in order to build their own state. So far, the Quartet has done the right thing by forcing the Palestinians to make such a choice, in the form of its three conditions for international assistance: ending terrorism, accepting Israel's right to exist, and accepting previous agreements. This steadfastness has put Hamas in its current bind, and must continue. But what if there were elections and Fatah won, yet returned to a policy of allowing terrorism? Or what if a "unity government" emerged that did the same thing? It is in this context that the larger purpose of the Quartet conditions must be remembered - not just to return to the pro forma acceptance of a peace process, but to make a more fundamental choice to live with Israel. Over the past 13 years, since the Oslo Accords, Israel has undergone a wrenching transformation. Over this period, the question of support for a Palestinian state has gone from something that split our people and politics bitterly into two, to a position adopted by Ariel Sharon and taken as a given across most of the political spectrum. This has created the ironic situation where Israelis are more solidly behind the idea of Palestinian statehood than Palestinians are. Most Israelis have given up the idea of "Greater Israel," but it is far from clear that the Palestinian majority, let alone their leadership, has given up their dream of "Greater Palestine" - the destruction of Israel. There is no visible Palestinian "peace camp." Only one Palestinian leader we know of, academic Sari Nusseibeh, has said openly that the "right of return" must be only to Palestine, not to Israel. While the majority of Israelis are ready to recognize Palestinian national rights, few if indeed any Palestinians will suggest that the Jewish people has a right to restore its sovereignty and exercise its right to self-determination in this land. For years, the international community thought it was advancing the cause of peace by refraining from pressing the Palestinians to choose peace - in the belief that it was Israelis who needed the pressing. That mistake has led Palestinian belligerency and radicalization to sink in deeper than ever, despite the trend of Israeli moderation. The key is not only to keep up the peace pressures on the Palestinian leadership but to make them more explicit. The hints that have recently come from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Italian President Romano Prodi regarding the need for Palestinians to give up the "right of return" need to be made part of the Quartet's formal policy. While there is much that can and should be done to address the refugee problem, so long as the Palestinians claim a "right" to flood into Israel, they have not truly accepted Israel's right to exist, the road map or the two-state solution. Peace depends on the Palestinians finally making that choice.