Israeli-Palestinian conflict:Two sides speak

I was asked by the editor to write a pro-Israeli opinions piece on the latest wave of violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians. As one of many other Israelis whose voice is not heard often enough, I find it difficult to be pro-Israeli in justifying the ongoing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The monsters who slaughtered two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah — and no excuse can take a way the cruelty of what they did — are the inevitable results of the thirty-year long occupation that keeps these territories underdeveloped and their inhabitants without basic rights. Although Israel is in no way solely responsible for these conditions, we Israelis cannot look horrified at the results and say, “This is not of our making.”
Having said that, we should not rush into approving the scapegoat position that Palestinian politicians and speakers lately proclaim. It might be the Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon that provoked the recent wave of violence, but I do not buy the claim that the response is a spontaneous one. There is a hand that arranges and guides the riots though unfortunately does not control them.
This strategy is self-defeating for the Palestinians in at least two ways. First, while it is easy to begin violence, it is much more difficult to direct it and to bring it to an end. If the Palestinians can learn one thing from the miserable experience of Israeli occupation in Lebanon, that should be it. While writing these words, it seems that Arafat is no longer holding control over the riots. Regardless of the question of who initiated the violence, by allowing it to spread, Arafat helped unleash forces that are now beyond his control. This certainly does not help him in the process of state-building.
Second, Arafat helped the extremists in both sides in making arguments against the peace process. A strong supporter of the peace process myself, I am now without an answer when asked if Israel does indeed have a partner for peace. Against a strong opposition at home, the Israeli government allowed an armed Palestinian police force to replace the Israeli army in maintaining order inside the Palestinian cities. What should the government do now when the Palestinian police uses their guns against the Israeli army? Though the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak might not be the Palestinians’ ideal partner, they should acknowledge that he is the best one they have had yet: one who made some courageous moves, including a unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon, the bringing of Jerusalem to the negotiation table and the impressive restraint from the using of excessive military force to regain order in this latest wave of violence. This is not something to be underappreciated!
The Palestinians now have a premise that it is only force that compels Israelis to concede to the Palestinians. The Madrid peace process, the argument goes, is a result of the riots of the intifada, and the withdrawal from Lebanon is the result of the fight of the Hizballah. A bit more of rioting and maybe some terrorist attacks, and you would find Israelis on their knees ready to surrender everything.
This argument is strikingly similar to a claim traditionally made by the Israeli right wing. The parallel argument, not surprisingly, is that the Arabs understand only force. They will try to destroy Israel until they realize that they cannot. Only then will they seek peace and compromise. It is easy to find historical support for both claims. The problem with these kind of hard-nosed arguments is that the policies they affect are the best prescription for the continuation of enmity. When both sides focus on building military strength, they avoid confronting the real problems — underdevelopment, poverty, abuse of human rights and lack of democracy. When you do not confront the problems, you can rest assured that they will not be solved. Palestinians should not overlook the genuine interest of the peace-camp in Israel to address these problems. I didn’t like the “they understand only force” premise in its Israeli version; I don’t like it anymore in its Palestinian incarnation.
I don’t know what my Palestinian colleagues wrote in the “pro-Palestinian” column. I hope they would share with me this final appeal. We should not seek to articulate the “pro-Palestinian” and “pro-Israeli” positions. Let’s leave that for the official spokespersons — that’s their job. The position that we should seek together is a ‘pro-peace’ one. There is no other alternative!
Amit Ron, an Israeli native, is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Political Science. He welcomes comments to [email protected]