Only thing to negotiate is timetable for Israel's withdrawal

© Charley Reese

June 21, 2001

It's the occupation.

That's the complete summation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. For 34 years, Palestinians have lived under Israeli military rule. They are now determined to be free of it.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians have only the facts, morality and international law on their side. The Israelis have a powerful army and the U.S. government, which not only gives Israel an annual $3 billion subsidy but also blocks any and all international efforts to make Israel comply with United Nations resolutions and the Geneva Convention.

(Americans ought to ask themselves why their children are expected to die to enforce U.N. Security Council resolutions directed at other countries if the United States is going to block enforcement of all those directed at Israel.)

Right now the Israelis are spinning the line that they made a generous offer and that, because the Palestinians rejected it, why, they must not want peace. The fly drowning in that glob of salad dressing is that it wasn't a generous offer. It was, in fact, an offer that no Palestinian could have accepted.

First, Palestinians would have had to kiss goodbye West Bank and Gaza land already confiscated by the Israelis. They would have had no control over their borders or the water under their feet. They would have had to endure Israeli "military supervision" for an indefinite period. They would have had to write off the rights of Palestinian refugees, acknowledge Jewish ownership of the land underneath the third holiest site in Islam, and they would have gotten, in return, a non-viable country cut into giblets and at the mercy of the Israelis.

In fact, the only thing to be negotiated is the timetable for Israel's complete withdrawal and dismantling of all the Jewish settlements. Palestinians already have conceded 78 percent of their country. They are not going to concede hunks of the remaining 22 percent.

Furthermore, the Palestinians are daily victims of war crimes. The score card, according to Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, director of the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute, runs thus since the intifada started:

More than 500 Palestinians killed, a third of them children; 27,000 trees uprooted; 12,000 dunums of land (a dunum is 1,000 square meters) leveled in the Gaza Strip; 3,200 buildings destroyed, of which 1,200 were homes; and 23,000 Palestinians wounded. In comparison, he said, 106 Israelis have been killed and 760 injured. The numbers may have changed since he addressed the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, a Washington think tank. I've never seen in the Middle East any two sets of numbers that agree, but you can verify the approximate accuracy of these with Amnesty International and the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

It's not fair to call Palestinians terrorists. It is not they who have used tanks, advanced war planes and helicopter gunships against civilians; it is not they who use death squads and assassinations; it is not they who imposed collective punishments on innocent civilians. The Israelis are doing all of these things, which are war crimes, to the Palestinians with American-made military equipment.

I know that it's hard for Americans to undo so many years of pro-Israeli brainwashing. Just remember that the Palestinians, like the Founding Fathers of this country, are trying to throw off a foreign occupier of their homeland.

It is equally absurd to say the Palestinians don't want an end to the conflict. It is they, not the Israelis, who are suffering. Israel has become a rich country; the West Bank and Gaza are incredibly poor. Some of the Jewish settlements have plush lawns, gardens and even a swimming pool while, at the bottom of the hill, Palestinians have to get water from a communal pump for cooking and washing.

Israelis live in houses, apartments and villas. Millions of Palestinians are jammed in sordid refugee camps. Other than the loss of tourist business, a loss they deserve given the destruction they've laid on the Palestinians, Israelis are leading normal lives behind the green line. If they're nervous because of an occasional suicide bomber, they should think how nervous they would be if they had to face tanks, helicopter gunships and assassins.

I'm sorry our government is an accessory to war crimes and is such a world-class hypocrite. So long as we ignore the terrible plight of the Palestinians, no American should open his or her mouth about human rights, the rule of law or democracy. Such hypocrisy stinks in the nostrils of every sensible man and woman in the world.

One day God will free the Palestinians. I wonder what he will do to us. At least those who had the courage to stand up for human rights and justice will be able to look at themselves in a mirror without gagging.

Reach Charley Reese at 407-420-5315 or creese@orlandosentinel.com.

Copyright © 2001, Orlando Sentinel

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