, January 20, 2005

People who know Javier Solana are impressed with his vitality and his ability to win friends through constructive dialogue. It was last week, when I met Mr. Solana, who infused optimism into the meting which was called by the Palestinian Council of Foreign Relations. It was a little strange to feel optimistic in that meeting, especially because we were in Gaza, the site of Israeli destruction and discussing the gasping Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

There are no doubts that there is some room for optimism. The election of Abu Mazen with 63 % of the vote is an Arab precedent to respect peoples minds and electing a man like him who is not untouchable by holiness or symbolism makes him one of us: accountable and not above the law. Indeed Abu Mazen started, even before his election, by dismantling one notorious militia “The Death Squad”, and declaring his courageous commitment to stopping all forms of violence and demilitarize the Intifada. He even ordered not to allow advertisements of congratulations and expression of loyalty in the local newspapers. Then he reopened the Beach Road in Gaza which was closed for nearly 10 years, by the presidential guard. I am sure that Abu Mazen will insist on not naming streets or schools after himself and to leave that kind of thing for history and for people. The optimism of Solana and ours does not decrease our anxiety or relief us from worrying about Sharon and his plans, Bush and his visions, money and reconstruction, armed militias and above all the rehabilitation of Fatah to become a democratic political movement where all its members, particularly the senior ones abide by the rule of law. Rehabilitation of Fatah is the opening for reconstruction of the Palestinian Authority. All this undoubtedly will bring many of personal and factional explosions within Fatah.

Abu Mazen will need a lot of courage and wisdom to get rid of much of the parasitic elements which has infested Fatah and many of the pathological growths which have infiltrated its core. He has to be careful of those who suddenly landed from other skies and those who have suddenly had a vision to call for accountability when they themselves were part of the old, corrupt system.

What invites us to be optimistic too is the position of the European Community in its solid commitment to the Palestinian rights and its readiness to supply money and political pressure. But Europe needs our help in order for Europe to help us. After 4 years of brutal violence, death and destruction in which we lost the international support due to our usage of suicide bombings against civilians, it is time to realize that we have been using the weapon which Israel is better at, namely arms. We have to be acutely aware that the masters in Israel today are those who believe that peace poses a mortal danger to Israel by threatening a civil war and the existence of Israel. They will try to discredit Abu Mazen and to force a civil war in Palestine instead.

If that happens they can parade the word, claiming that Palestinians are good for nothing. This is exactly what they did on the eve of Abu Mazen’s inauguration by declaring cutting off all contacts with him. In the following day they killed children, who trying to save dead children, by deliberate sniping, injecting more hatred and asking for more violence. The truth is that these extremists in Israel are running away from facing the issues of justice, acknowledgement of guilt and serious peace. This is why we have to rethink our strategy by giving ourselves a chance to reestablish solid international support in Europe particularly. We have to free Europe from the intimidation and pressure, put forward by the American-Israeli alliance: that Israel is victim of terror.

What makes me optimistic too, is what is happening in Israel itself. There are growing number of expressions of guilt and the immorality of the occupation. That kind of spirit was prevailing and rising during the first Intifada, which we tragically killed by suicide bombings and by destroying the peace camp in Israel. Abu Mazen, Solana and all wise people know how important it is to have a vital peace camp in Israel.

I was witness to a very moving expression of guilt by a Jewish student from Haifa who stood up in the FFIPP-conference in Jerusalem some two week ago, expressing guilt and his desire to apologize for the immoral Israeli occupation and its crimes. His words were as genuine as his tears. A young Palestinian student responded by saying “how could I hate you anymore”.

I was talking to a friend about our need to hold on to hope, when my friend said: “Optimism is good – but it should be based on facts and reality. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of expectations from Abu Mazen who looks like an intellectual romantic rather than a politician”. He continued: “False hope is like romantic feelings: they merely torment the lover who only sees his beloved in his daydreams”. I responded: “The distance between hope and happiness can be paved by sanity and wisdom”.

* Chairman of the Board, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, and a human rights activist.