Topic | Choose topic/s and define your search
Affiliations / Personalities
Date Range

Peace in Palestinians' hands

Sometimes, you simply cannot split the difference. Diplomatic language and negotiations can help bridge disagreements, but in the end, there are some questions that require a clear answer. For Palestinians, the fundamental, crucial question about the future is simple: Do they or don't they accept the right of Israel to exist? It's a simple Yes or No question. So far, the answer remains No.
After months of shooting at each other, the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, reached a power-sharing agreement during talks in Saudi Arabia. The sides came under intense pressure to make a deal after their armed followers took Gaza to the edge of civil war. Their own militias shot and killed at least 90 Palestinians, including several children. The Saudis and other Arabs worried about the strife and about the growing influence of their rival Iran, which used the chaos to ally itself with Hamas.
Terrorist organization
The power struggle between the secular Fatah, commonly described as moderate, and the Islamic Hamas, began a year ago, after Hamas' victory in legislative elections. Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by Europe, the United States and other countries, formed a new government. Conditions in the Palestinian territories quickly deteriorated after the international community suspended aid.
The international quartet -- made up of the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations -- slashed hundreds of millions of dollars in aid that had sustained the Palestinian economy. They told the PA that aid would resume if the Hamas-led Palestinian government recognized Israel's right to exist, accepted previous agreements between Israel and the PA and stopped its terrorism. Hamas, whose charter explicitly calls for the destruction of Israel, refused. Months of negotiations produced vague offers of a long-term truce with Israel, but no recognition.
Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the PA, tried to bring back aid by seeking a unity government with Hamas and insisting that Hamas accept the international conditions.
Now comes word of a deal between Hamas and Fatah. And, by all indications, it appears that Fatah has caved. Many details in the agreement are ambiguous, but Hamas is clear on one point: It will not accept Israel's right to exist. What remains to be seen is whether the diplomatic gymnastics in other areas of the agreement will give European countries the cover to ease sanctions. (France already said the international community should back the new government.)
Whatever comes as a result of the deal, the reality remains that if Palestinians want a normal country -- one whose energies are dedicated to improving the welfare of its people, rather than one whose passionate motivation is to destroy their neighbor -- they will have to answer just one crucial question -- in the affirmative. We know where Hamas stands. But there are indications that the ''moderate'' Fatah does not truly accept Israel either, even if the suit-and-tie Abbas pushes to make the radical Hamas more palatable to the West.
The latest proof of the PA's -- and even Fatah's -- rejection of Israel comes in a report just released by the office of Sen. Hillary Clinton and the watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch. PMW reviewed textbooks issued to Palestinian students under the direction of the Palestinian Curriculum Development Center, a committee headed by a long-time Fatah member:
• The books deny Israel's right to exist.
• The students learn from maps where Israel does not appear, in a curriculum that almost completely ignores the peace process.
• The texts describe the United States as the enemy and paint the conflict as a religious one centering on the defense of Islamic lands, with no room for compromise.
Separate states
A generation raised on this message will refuse to make peace. A generation raised watching adults use violence to settle differences is a generation that will know no other way to resolve conflicts. That's what we saw in the fighting in Gaza.
Palestinians deserve better than this. They deserve leadership dedicated to building a nation where people can live peaceful, happy, productive lives. True peace, however, will not come before Palestinian leaders persuade their followers to accept the reality of Israel's existence, a reality they have so far been instructed to reject.
An overwhelming majority of Israelis -- including the government -- have accepted the right of Palestinians to have their own state. If Palestinians do the same, the sides can compromise on other issues. When it comes to accepting each other's right to exist, however, there is no middle ground.
Frida Ghitis writes about world affairs. She is the author of The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television.