Mustafa Barghouthi
The New York Times (Opinion)
May 19, 2011 - 12:00am

The Israeli government regrettably does not seem to realize what a unique opportunity the Palestinian unity agreement provides. This agreement presents, for the first time in decades, a unified, moderate Palestinian consensus, which includes Fatah, Hamas and the democratic camp.

From a Palestinian perspective, this fruit of the Arab Spring and a post-Mubarak Egypt is a vital development as we seek to move beyond internecine strife and focus on the need to end the Israeli occupation and secure our freedom.

An open-minded observer of the speeches made at the signing of the agreement in Cairo on May 4 will see that all groups involved have accepted the two-state solution along the 1967 borders, with a Palestinian state in the occupied territories and East Jerusalem as its capital; that all parties have committed themselves to abstain from any form of violence; and that in his speech, Palestinian Authority President and P.L.O. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas declared his commitment to all previously signed agreements with Israel, with no objections from those present.

As head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Abbas will be authorized to negotiate on behalf of all Palestinian factions, taking away the Israeli excuse that they can’t negotiate with a divided Palestinian polity.

The unity agreement offers a chance for Israel to make lasting peace with all Palestinians, from left to right on the political spectrum, and for the two-state solution to be implemented immediately.

The agreement also provides for the renewal of Palestinian democracy, including an effective parliament, independent judiciary and separation of powers, and free democratic elections within a year. It will give Palestinians the right to choose their leaders freely and democratically once again. If the U.S. Congress supports these goals in Egypt, Libya and Syria, then why not for Palestine and Palestinians?

In elections held in 2005-2006, the Palestinians provided a shining example of democratic practice to the whole region, but it was undermined by the siege imposed on our 2007 national unity government, which represented 96 percent of the Palestinian electorate. The siege served the purposes of its architects and led to internal Palestinian division.

I have always believed that the only lasting peace is one between democracies. The experience of Europe is the greatest proof of that. A democratic, unified Palestine will be more capable of achieving its freedom and independence, and of keeping a durable and just peace.

Unfortunately the reactions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters to the agreement reflect a backward-looking approach, rather than a forward-looking one, which is harmful to the future of both Palestinians and Israelis.

Their position is indefensible and hypocritical. How can they demand that Palestinians respect existing agreements while at the same time Israel violates those very same agreements by withholding Palestinian tax money, depriving doctors, nurses, teachers and even the security officers that they frequently praise of their salaries? Where is the wisdom in depriving Palestinian hospitals and clinics of medicine as punishment for moderating the position of the Palestinian national movement?

We have spent years trying to pave the road toward a just peace, and to convince our people that nonviolence is the best strategy, and now we are threatened with punishment for succeeding. Reimposing a siege on the Palestinian Authority and the unity government carries with it the huge risk of causing the total collapse of the P.A., and with it the two-state solution.

If Israelis do indeed desire a lasting peace based on the two-state solution, the road is wide open for them. On the other hand, if they want us to remain oppressed under military occupation forever, we will remain resilient and unified in our just struggle for freedom.

The time has come for President Obama and the international community to grasp this opportunity and change course to avoid yet more disaster and bloodshed in the Middle East.


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