"A state is not a right – it’s something you earn"

“I’m scared for the peace process to start again,” Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh stated last week at a lecture to a group of interns as he discussed the current situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Khaled Abu Toameh is an Israeli Arab (through his father) and a Palestinian (through his mother) living as a journalist in Jerusalem. After working for the PLO as a journalist, he started reporting for the Jerusalem Post during the 2nd Intifada, when it was too dangerous for Israeli journalists to be reporting on the streets. He willingly shares his unique views on the conflict and often lectures to various university campuses although he prefers to stay in Israel as often as he can – American campuses are so radicalized that “I feel more threatened on American campuses than on campuses in Ramallah,” Toameh said.

“When the Oslo Accords were presented, we were hopeful, we thought we’d have what the Jews had.” But in reality, the Oslo Accords deferred the peace process even further, causing the radicalization of Hamas. “The idea of Oslo was good – to end the occupation,” Toameh said, but the way it was implemented was problematic. The international community believed that if they gave the PLO weapons, the PLO will build proper government institutions and will do Israel’s dirty work and fight Hamas. But the money only went to the wrong things – Arafat’s shopping sprees and, some argue, to the families of suicide bombers. The international community poured money into the PLO without any conditions. Arafat even used some of the money to develop a media center on which he said “kill the Jews, kill the infidels.” Arafat did not care if the international community heard – if he kept the Palestinians hating the Jews and the Americans, they will continue to rely on Arafat to solve their problems and they will stop demanding democratic reforms.

“Arafat deprived the Palestinians of the fruits of peace and so he radicalized them,” Toameh said. As the Palestinians realized the peace process had failed to change their poor living conditions, they began to turn to Hamas, who was advocating for change. The radicalization of the Palestinians can be attributed to two main causes:

  • a) firstly, Arafat’s strategy to ensure his people hate the Jews backfired – rather than this causing the Palestinians to keep Arafat in power, it radicalized them so that they wanted a new representative for the Palestinian people – not a “moderate” one like Arafat.
  • b) secondly, Israel did help arm the PLO but now had a new fear to worry about – the threat of their newly armed neighbor. New security measures had to be in place, resulting in less free movement for the Palestinians. The “good, old days before the peace process” when Palestinians could easily pass from the West Bank into Israel “were over,” Toameh said.

As the international community promised a resolution to the centuries old conflict, the struggle was only worsening. Hamas was now so strong that they were able to “democratically” come to power in 2006. As the world focused on the war between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a new war was emerging – the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, the struggle “between bad guys and bad guys, both fighting for money and power,” Toameh said.” Don’t kid yourselves, “there’s no such thing as a moderate Hamas,” he argued. In the summer of 2007, Hamas kicked the PLO out of Gaza, accusing them of trying to bring down Hamas. Did Israel rejoice that at least one of their enemies had lost power? “Israel was the only country in the world who sent ships and helicopters to save Muslims from being killed by Muslims,” said Toameh.

With Hamas ruling Gaza and the PLO maintaining their weak hold on the West Bank, a two-state solution would not even suffice, since the Palestinians now have two separate entities, each vying for their own state. Toameh even said “if it weren’t for Israel sitting in the middle, they’d be shooting at each other.” The division amongst the Palestinians poses a problem to the new “peace plan” as outlined by Obama. We cannot move forward with a peace process when there is no partner on the Palestinian side. The only way to move forward is to tell the Palestinians to dismantle the terror groups and establish a government, a legitimate partner we can deal with. Easier said than done.

“When I see Obama telling Bibi to accept the two state solution, I laugh. If I were Bibi, I would stand up today and say yes, I accept, because he has nothing to be afraid of. The Palestinians are too divided to form a state,” said Toameh. The pressure from Obama should be on the Palestinians, Toameh said, not on the Israelis. A state is not a right, he said – “a state is something you earn when you show the world you are capable of governing. The Arabs are not prepared for a state.”

If the settlements were the real obstacle to peace, then there should have been peace already, he argued. Israel gave land for peace many times but the result has only been more war. “The international community is using ‘settlements’ as a cover up and the Obama administration is falling for it. If they focus on this, they can forget about Ahmadinijad and Osama bin Laden.”

As the area falls into chaos (or perhaps, more chaos), what is the million-dollar solution here? According to Toameh, we have to acknowledge there is no real solution here. Realistically, there is not enough room on this tiny strip of land for another state. But, he said, “there is room for a new party other than Hamas and the PLO and there have been attempts started by academics but they have no credibility. In our society, it’s more important to graduate from prison than from Harvard, because it’s the people who graduate from prison that run the country.”

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