Jerusalem — In the presidential and parliamentary elections that took place in 1996, I remember clearly my pride in participating in those first-ever Palestinian elections. US President Carter and others were among the many observers who monitored the elections and concluded that these elections were free and fair.
Yasser Arafat won 83% of the votes of Palestinians living in the West Bank (including Jerusalem) and Gaza. At the time, I took my daughter to the voting booth and informed her that I was planning to vote for a woman ArafatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rival, Samiha Khalil. It was a protest vote. I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t expect her to win.
My preference for a different kind of a Palestinian leader was increased the following year, when I was arrested by the Palestinian police. For seven days after the television station that I established, Al Quds Educational Television, broadcast live sessions of the Palestinian Legislative Council dealing with corruption in the Palestinian Authority.
I mention the above because like other proud Palestinians, the Israeli threats to deport or kill Arafat have made us all united behind him.
The popular support for Yasser Arafat therefore is not connected to a specific position vis a vis the Palestinian president, but a clear vote of support for the Palestinian presidency.
When Israel decides to act against a freely elected leader of a people under its military occupation, they are denigrating and humiliating an entire people. While the ever so powerful Israel can run havoc in the Palestinian lands and to Palestinian people, all the military forces in
the world, canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t change the opinions, and loyalties of an individual or an entire people.
The right wing Sharon governmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s reasons for wanting to get ride of the Palestinian leader doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t hold water. His government is blaming Arafat for all the problems facing Israel as they fail to carry out SharonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s election promise to bring the Israeli people peace and security. ArafatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s major sin, in the eyes of Israelis, is their accusation that he has not authorized his prime minister to violently crack down
on the Islamic militants who have carried suicide killings against Israelis.
For over two-and-a-half years, Israel has isolated Arafat in a kilometer square compound, and has crippled his regular security forces. Israeli soldiers have been roaming throughout the Palestinian territories, arresting, killing and destroying trees and houses and yet the attacks against Israelis have not stopped. A ten foot high cement wall is being built way inside Palestinian territories. All this without bring any satisfactory results to Israelis.
So, the Israeli logic goes, if they have not been able to stop the militants, Arafat should do it. And if Arafat refuses to do this dirty job, he must be punished. No attempt is even made to understand that
it is the occupation, stupid.
Ariel Sharon and his militaristic government are not innocent. They have shown a clear disregard to every serious effort for peace. Even the latest peace offer, the road map to peace, coming from IsraelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s American patrons, has been conditionally accepted and has not been seriously acted upon. A pattern of Israeli attempts at sabotoging efforts at reaching quiet has been clearly established.
Israeli assassinations of Palestinian militants have repeatedly followed a publicly declared interest in a cessation of violence here or a unilaterally enforced hudna (truce) there.
Palestinians for their part can give many reasons why they would like not to negotiate with the current Israeli prime minister. Starting from the Kibbya massacre in the 50s through his repressive policies in Gaza in the 70s through Sabra and Shatilla in the 80s and the settlement activities in the 90s, Ariel Sharon is not the PalestinianÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s favorite negotiating partner.
Yet Palestinians have agreed to sit down and talk to the legitimately elected leader of Israel because they have long learned that you donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t negotiate with your friends.
One question, however, does need to be answered. Can negotiations begin before a cessation of the violence. To IsraelÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Sharon and his tough minister of defense the answer is no. Palestinian violence must end before the negotiations can begin.
No attempt is made to realize the duality of the violence and therefore
the need for both parties to cease the military activities. No attempt is made to accept that all violence, whether they are dubbed acts of self defense (trying to kill the wheel chaired, relatively moderate
Sheik Yassin) or terrorists acts (which in Israel are every anti Israeli attack whether victims are civilians or soldiers) must stop. A ceasefire is possible provided that both parties adhere to it, a third party monitors both sides and a parallel movement in the negotiations takes place to bolster the ceasefire.
The United States and its president invested time and prestige to accomplish the desires of Palestinians and Israelis. It must take a strong and proactive role now based on its own democratic values including the rights of the people to determine their own future.
In this context I think the Bush administration must admit that it made a mistake by agreeing blindly to the unreasonable Israeli demands to shun a leader elected on the basis of the US endorsed Oslo Agreement.
Yasser Arafat might not be liked by many in Israel, in the United States and even among many Palestinians. But when a foreign occupying power tries to get rid of him, the attacks are seen as opposing Palestinian integrity and independence. In such a situation all Palestinians become Arafat.