The Direction of Peace and its Challenges

by Hazem Saghiyeh
London - The achievements of President Mahmoud Abbas represent tangible proof that politics works, even in a region like ours, ravaged by violence, mutual fears and other conditions that operate against it. The London Conference brought about material and security support, highlighting how much has changed since the passing of President Yasser Arafat. After the cruel siege at the Muqata'a and widespread international marginalization, Palestine returned to the forefront of global concern and perhaps even contributed to agreement between the United States and Europe, after their dispute over the Iraq war.

Although the Palestinian elections preceded these developments and cleared the way for them, other events accompanied the London Conference, most important of which were increasing western concerns, including that of the American administration, over Israeli actions. These were sometimes voiced as subtle disapproval of Israel and sometimes even as outright criticisms in clear and legible language.

The personality of Mahmoud Abbas was essential in this transformation. The Palestinian President is a faithful adherent of three implicit basic principles:

First, there is the issue of the balance of power. Though the balance of power is a consideration in every conflict, this concept was largely absent from political thought in the Arab world until it became critical after the cold war, when the United States emerged as the leader of a unipolar system. It became even more important after September 11, 2001. But in this conflict, it has become clear that a balance of power cannot be achieved with violence. The classic doctrine that says violence is what leads to negotiations has ended and the prevailing concept now is that uprooting violence (regardless of the different scholastic definitions of resistance and terrorism) is what leads to negotiation.

The second is that a president and a state should be bound to the pledges they make to a foreign party. Abbas proved this by sacking high-level security officers, and thereby causing change in Gaza's security landscape.

The third is that the Palestinian issue is not something for Arab parties to manipulate in a way that fits their interests and strategies. Although Egyptian aid, which is of a political and diplomatic nature, is acceptable or perhaps even required, ideological, radical, and struggle-related interpositions of various types that could blow in from other states carry nothing short of damage to the Palestinian people.

Abbas' adherence to these principles does not mean that we are nearing the achievement of joyful bliss. A great distance still separates us from regaining momentum on the road map, then getting rid of the separation wall and reaching the stage where a contiguous and viable state can be established. Along this road, two dangers stalk the Palestinian-Israeli peace project. There is no doubt that Ariel Sharon's government will continue its security blackmail, stemming from internal party pressures, placing the responsibility on Mahmoud Abbas' government for each and every shot fired by a Palestinian or a non-Palestinian towards Israel. And as long as politics is one thing and good intentions another, the Israeli establishment will not give up this policy. In other words, there is a need to snatch the national Palestinian project from Sharon's jaws by continuously expanding the circle of friends and by working hard at presenting a convincing model that is attractive and transparent in the areas under the Palestinian National Authority. In this context, civil resistance options of all types definitely should not be surrendered, as they represent a necessary effort that complements this peaceful strategy.

In return, the damage inflicted on Palestinians by "third parties," referred to by Abbas after the recent terror attack in Tel Aviv, should not be taken lightly. Regardless of whether these parties are states or state-sponsored organizations, the Palestinian Authority should be cautious because there are numerous parties in the Middle East nowadays who want to solve their problems by riding the Palestinian issue. A settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be a heavy burden to these powers-in-crisis if it would take precedence over them and their fronts with Israel. After all, radical elements in the region have used this as an excuse since the establishment of Israel in 1948.

The truth is that Palestinians today can, if their current approach achieves substantial success, contribute to reversing the familiar equation: they can influence the Arab situation, instead of Arabs interfering in theirs. Palestinian influence, however, would be the presentation of their model, based on politics, democracy and transparency, though interference in their affairs was based on violence and violent ideas. What can be said about the new Palestinian experience may be said about the two new experiences in Iraq and Lebanon as well.

It may be said that these are all floundering processes with the possibility of failure. This is true. But what is also true is that their collapse would leave us face to face with catastrophes and the potential for boundless anarchy, bloodshed and terror. At that point, the dominant discourses will not concentrate on "the political" any more in this part of the world, but will move to something deeper and more basic within our culture. It will then be said that we produce nothing but violence in response to challenges, while we fail to produce alternatives that are superior and more profound.

We all hope for the success of the initial steps, represented on the Palestinian side by Mahmoud Abbas achieving a cease fire agreement with the radical Palestinian factions and on the Israeli side by the return of control over some Palestinian cities to the Palestinian Authority, presumably followed by the withdrawal of Israel from the Gaza Strip. Moving in this direction might help us prevent the worst.

* Hazem Saghiyeh is a writer, commentator and columnist for the Arabic newspaper al-Hayat in London, and author of books on Pan-Arabism and Political Islam.

Source: Common Ground News Service, April 1, 2005.

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Actions Are Needed To Make Peace A Reality
A Simple Plan
Urgent Steps Needed To Sustain The Fragile Window Of Opportunity
Promote Negotiations or Abandon the Two-State Solution
The Palestinian Ceasefire: A Window of Opportunity Looming on the Horizon
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Only Public Support Can Sustain a Window of Opportunity
Palestinians and Israelis Should Talk Amongst Themselves
What to Do with the Gaza Settlements
Learning from Previous Mideast Mistakes
Religion and the Issue of Jerusalem
Religion Must be Part of the Solution
Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Worthwhile Steps before Final Settlement
Achieving Long-Term Political Change in the Middle East
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Other articles in this series

Actions Are Needed To Make Peace A Reality by Nizar Abdel-Kader
A Simple Plan by Hady Amr
Urgent Steps Needed To Sustain The Fragile Window Of Opportunity by Dr. Ziad Asali
Promote Negotiations or Abandon the Two-State Solution by Naomi Chazan
The Palestinian Ceasefire: A Window of Opportunity Looming on the Horizon by Mohammad Daraghmeh
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly by Khaled Duzdar
Only Public Support Can Sustain a Window of Opportunity by Jason Erb
Palestinians and Israelis Should Talk Amongst Themselves by Shira Herzog
What to Do with the Gaza Settlements by Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Learning from Previous Mideast Mistakes by Daoud Kuttab
Religion and the Issue of Jerusalem by Jonathan Kuttab
Religion Must be Part of the Solution by Rabbi David Rosen
Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Worthwhile Steps before Final Settlement by Michael Young
Achieving Long-Term Political Change in the Middle East by Dov S. Zakheim