*Subject: Safieh article in Jewish Weekly Forward on MECCA Accords' *
*From: PLO Mission – Washington, DC*
*Feb 14, 2007*
We Palestinians Will Honor Our Word
Afif Safieh | Fri. Feb 16, 2007
I know of no way to measure suffering, no mechanism to quantify pain.
All I know is that we Palestinians are not children of a lesser God.
Had I been a Jew or a Gypsy, I would consider the Holocaust to be the
most atrocious event in history. Had I been a Native American, it would
be the arrival of the European settlers and the subsequent near-total
extermination of the indigenous population. Had I been an African
American, it would be slavery in previous centuries and apartheid in the
last. Had I been an Armenian, it would be the Turkish massacre.
event in history is what we call the Nakba, the catastrophe. Humanity
should consider all the above as morally unacceptable, all as
politically inadmissible. Lest I be misunderstood, I am not comparing
the Nakba to the Holocaust. Each catastrophe stands on its own, and I do
not like to indulge in comparative martyrology or a hierarchy of
tragedies. I only mention our respective traumas in order to illustrate
that we each bring to the table our own particular history.
The fact that the accords reached last week in Mecca between Hamas and
Fatah were met with a variety of reactions, ranging from warm to
cautious to skeptical, makes it imperative to revisit and learn the
lessons of the diplomatic history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Time and again the three “no’s” of the Khartoum summit in 1967 — no
peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with
Israel — are invoked as proof conclusive of Arab intransigence toward
Israel. Such a claim, however, conveniently forgets that Gamal Abdel
Nasser’s Egypt and Jordan accepted United Nations Security Council
resolution 242 just months after the Khartoum meeting.
Also forgotten is that Syria, after the October War in 1973 — the
purpose of which, it should be remembered, was to reactivate a dormant
diplomatic process and to capture the attention of American Secretary of
State Henry Kissinger — accepted U.N. resolution 338, which incorporated
resolution 242. Ignored, too, is that the entire Arab world endorsed a
peace plan put forth by the then-Saudi crown prince Fahd at a 1982
summit in Fez, Morocco, as well as unanimously backed the initiative put
forth by then-Saudi crown prince Abdallah in Beirut in 2002.
For the Palestinian national movement, the October War in 1973 was a
demarcation line in strategic thinking. It is then that we concluded
that there was no military solution to the conflict. Until then we had
advocated a unitary, democratic, bicultural, multiethnic and
pluri-confessional state in Mandatory Palestine.
After 1973, a pragmatic coalition within the Palestine Liberation
Organization emerged. Composed of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, Nayef
Hawatmeh’s Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and As
Sa’iqa, the Palestinian branch of the Syrian Ba’ath Party, the coalition
demanded not absolute justice but rather possible justice within the
framework of a two-state solution. The fact that As Sa’iqa belonged to
that school of thought, it is worth noting, is proof that Damascus can
be a constructive player in the region if properly engaged and its
concerns addressed. Syria is not necessarily the eternal spoiler that
needs to use the Lebanese theater or the Palestinian scene in order to
remind everyone of its presence.
Led by this pragmatic coalition, the PLO was ready for a historical
compromise as far back as 1974. It was not the rejectionist player, as
many have labeled it, but rather the rejected party until the Oslo peace
talks in 1993. Throughout its presence in Lebanon, the PLO aimed to
remain a military factor so as to be accepted as a diplomatic actor.
I have told my many Israeli interlocutors that I believe that the
Israeli posture in peace negotiations was to expect a diplomatic outcome
that would reflect Israeli power and intransigence, American alignment
toward Israeli preferences, declining Russian influence, European
abdication, Arab impotence and what they hoped to be Palestinian
It is this attitude that has resulted in having a durable peace process
instead of a lasting and permanent peace. Peace and security will stem
not from territorial aggrandizement but from regional acceptance — and
make no mistake about it, we Palestinians are the key to regional
acceptance of Israel. For years now, the Arab world from Morocco to
Muscat has been ready to recognize the existence of Israel if it
withdraws back from its expanded 1967 borders. The perpetuation of the
Arab-Israeli conflict is due not to the Arab rejection of Israeli
existence, but to the Israeli rejection of Arab acceptance.
The absence of a credible diplomatic avenue has allowed for the
emergence and the strengthening of radical movements. The electoral
defeat of Fatah in January 2006 was caused by a plurality of factors,
not least of them the fact that Fatah became identified with
negotiations and a peace process that was non-existent for the last six
years and totally unconvincing during the years preceding. To the
Palestinians, the last 15 years of “peacemaking” were years during which
we witnessed the expansion of the occupation — with the number of
settlers doubling — not a withdrawal from the occupation.
Now, however, there is a chance to move beyond this history. As a result
of the agreement reached last week in Mecca, the Palestinian government
will be more representative than at any period before. The new foreign
minister, Ziad Abu Amr, both enjoys the confidence of Hamas and is a
political friend of Mahmoud Abbas — who as PLO chairman is charged with
negotiating on behalf of the Palestinian people and as P.A. president
has prerogative over the conduct of foreign affairs.
Both Fatah and Hamas are in favor of a cease-fire, for which they can
now ensure disciplined Palestinian adherence — especially if it is
reciprocated by the Israeli side and extended to the West Bank, where
alas we have recently witnessed an escalation in assassinations and
arrests. And in Mecca, Hamas and Fatah agreed that the Palestinian
government will honor all agreements signed by the PLO, will abide by
all the resolutions of previous Arab summits and will base its activity
on international law.
The term “honor,” rest assured, has as much a ring of nobility to it in
Arabic — if not more — as it does in any other language.
A territory that was occupied in 1967 in less than six days can also be
evacuated in six days — so that Israelis can rest on the seventh, and we
can all finally engage in the fascinating journey of nation-building and
/Afif Safieh is head of the Palestine Liberation Organization Mission to
the United States./