Ziad Asali
(Opinion)
June 8, 2004 - 11:00pm

The cautious President Mubarak has overcome Egyptian reticence to get involved in Gaza. His initial concerns about the risk of getting Egyptian personnel targeted by Palestinians and enhancing the risk of direct confrontation with Israel after four decades of peace, have given way to accepting to take on an active security role in Gaza. It seems that Egypt’s concerns about the ensuing anarchy, or fundamentalist take over in Gaza after the withdrawal, and Egypt’s strategic choice to play the regional power broker in coordination with the US, have all overweighed other considerations. Egypt will play a major role in Gaza, and not only in security matters.

The Palestinians now cannot afford to dwell on the past without an agenda for the future. Dwelling on past grievances and venting anger at the powers that be is no strategy. They must face their circumstances squarely as people living under an oppressive occupation, with a weakened and isolated leadership, without an army and with a tattered security force, a wrecked economy and fractured institutions. They must come to grips with the fact that the support of Arab and Muslim masses cannot and will not solve the problems of Palestine. Their image as defenders of a just cause has gradually been made to metamorphose into that of terrorists. However, the growing awareness of the historic injustice meted out to them continues to define their struggle as the preeminent conflict of our time and therein lays the Palestinians winning card. No single sweeping comprehensive solution will be conjured overnight and the Palestinians must explore all opportunities and avenues that may lead to a viable, contiguous and independent state.

Whatever strategies the Palestinians have utilized in the past have not worked. It is time to reflect, reassess and innovate. Violence may preclude a solution but it will not achieve one. The Palestinians alone cannot liberate Palestine. No people have sacrificed more, or longer, than the Palestinians have, for independence. But sacrifice without a strategy capable of winning is not enough. In a struggle of this magnitude, more allies who share the vision of a state of Palestine alongside Israel are indispensable. Allies in the United States and in Israel, the two countries that play a pivotal role in the outcome of this conflict, have to be identified and mobilized. Violence against civilians alienates these very allies and the Palestinian people must make the fateful choice between military confrontation and peaceful resistance and negotiations.

The Palestinians should insist on their right to hold elections and to be given the opportunity to make and express their choices. It is time; in fact it is past time, for the Palestinians to go to the voting booths and cast their ballots to elect their representatives. The United States cannot seriously prevent a people from voting. That is as Un-American as the monarchy. The United States, once convinced, can engage Israel to make elections feasible. All parties need to see that the compromises required to achieve peace can only be made by elected representatives. It would be helpful to couple the elections with a referendum on a two-state solution based on the Road Map. Such a referendum would define the parameters of the political horizon for the Palestinians. Its opponents will lose the ability to thwart progress if the referendum wins.

The Palestinians must also make choices about the future of Gaza and the Northern West Bank after Israel withdraws. The vacated area must acquire a level of sovereignty no less than the sovereignty afforded to the Iraqi government. The withdrawal from these areas will offer the Palestinians an unusual opportunity, the opportunity to plan for a future event rather than to cope with a done deal. It should be viewed as the first milestone in establishing their viable state. The proper political structure, perhaps not unlike the Iraqi government model put together with the assistance of UN envoy Brahimi, can govern the vacated areas and be empowered to negotiate final status issues as stipulated by the Road Map. Concrete plans for housing, roads, parks, industrial plants, schools and all aspects of living must be made and ready to be implemented.

Free elections, with issues contested and choices starkly defined, will make it possible for legitimate representatives to tackle issue of Palestinian and Israeli security under the indispensable American umbrella. Egypt and Jordan can and will play a significant role to bring this process to fruition.

The president of the United States must be taken at his words that the final status issues will be determined by the parties. Prejudging the outcome will not work. Only empowered legitimate representatives of both peoples have the authority and ability to make the compromises needed for peace, and only they can make such peace permanent.



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