ON THE MADRID -PEACE PROCESS
The presentation was delivered at a symposium sponsored by the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine and held in Washington DC
November 12, 1991
I sincerely do believe that Palestine is resurrecting, and as you know, we in the Holy Land have had some previous experience in resurrection.
The Palestinian people are one of the few peoples in the history of mankind that never got their legitimate share of sympathy, solidarity, and support. We have always attributed this to the fact that we have been in the Middle East, the victims of the victims of European history. In our crowded calendar, in our tormented Middle East, the date of December 9,1987, will always be remembered as a regional historical turning point. The Intifada, which has been our cry for freedom out of captivity and bondage, was a turning point. It was an eye-opener. For the first time in Western public opinion, the perception of the Palestinians in this bipolar Israeli-Palestinian relationship started to be that of an oppressed and persecuted people who had an interest in the achievement of peace. Western public opinion then began to see us as the victimised party in this bipolar relationship. People started understanding our ceaseless quest for the achievement of peace, because we were the ones whose territory was totally occupied, whose people were living endlessly under either occupation or in forced diaspora-ization, whose land was being expropriated, whose water was being plundered, whose houses were being demolished, whose individuals were being deported, whose bones were being broken, and whose schools and universities were being closed. And I believe that this interest in the achievement of peace stems from and explains the fact that we in the PLO have been unreasonably reasonable in dealing with peace opportunities that have arisen lately. I had the political privilege of accompanying Yasser Arafat in 1988 on several of his political trips. I was with him in September 1988 in Strasbourg when he addressed the European Parliament. I was with him again in Stockholm, then in Geneva in December 1988. Still ringing in my ears is the sentence he repeated on those occasions: "I extend my hand in peace, hoping that an Israeli De Gaulle will seize it." One had to wait endlessly to see that no De Gaulle emerged. Not even a DeKlerk, and a DeKlerk would have been good enough to start this snowball process. In 1988, 1989 and 1990, there was already an American endeavour at peacemaking in the Middle East. The PLO and the Palestinian people were known to have been available for that exercise. We had welcomed the ten points of President Mubarak, we had welcomed and were favourably inclined to the five points of Secretary of State Baker. At that time, the diplomatic equation was the following: we were hoping that the Israelis would accept them as a basis, while the Israelis were hoping that we would torpedo them. Any serious analysis of the endeavour of 1988-1990 would demonstrate that it failed then because the American administration allowed the peace process to remain a hostage of the Israeli domestic political arena, as the Israelis had a very ethnocentric conception of peace-making. Some saw peace with us as a compromise formula halfway in between Likud and Labour. Even worse others saw it as a compromise halfway in between Shamir and Sharon. The Israeli government then was a national coalition government described by observers as a government of national paralysis which slumbered and fragmented over differing attitudes on how to respond to the Baker initiative. Shimon Peres made an attempt at coalition-building, failed, and Shamir came back to power with indispensable extreme right-wing coalition partners. The process then was temporarily interrupted by the US administration which had allowed the Israeli government to determine the ceiling of the possible and the permissible and had allowed the slowest actor to dictate the pace of the peace process. And as you know, a turtle compared to Shamir looks like Speedy Gonzales. An accurate assessment of that period should be made so that we do not fall into the trap, once again, in our endeavour of 1991-1992. Why was the American attempt to bring the belligerent parties together at the negotiating table successful now? I for one believe that there were three major factors. The first was the Gulf crisis and the Gulf War, which many thought was an unnecessary war, and during which, many thought that diplomacy was not given a serious chance to bring an equitable, acceptable solution to fruition. Yet, the fact that the Americans and their allies went into war to discipline a misbehaving regional actor made inactivity on the American side toward the other misbehaving regional actor - Israel very un-understandable. And I believe the fact that Iraq was bombed back to the pre-industrial age was a factor that motivated the administration to show assertive dynamism toward that other unfinished business of Israel/Palestine. And, since no one was asking the administration to bomb Israel to a pre-industrial age, but just to exercise and exert some friendly persuasion to bring them to the negotiating table, that type of endeavour had started to be seen as possible. Inactivity on the part of the American administration toward that other misbehaving regional actor - Israel, would have been very badly perceived from Morocco to Malaysia, because inactivity would have been seen as excessive patience, which resembles indulgence, which borders on complacence and complicity. The second factor was the end of the Cold War and the end of the bipolar international system and their repercussions on the pattern of relations between the United States and Israel. I personally believe that Shamir is not yet fully aware of the changes that have intervened to alter the client-patron relations away from the model to which we all have grown accustomed for decades. Israel drew enormous advantage throughout the era of superpower rivalry and succeeded in convincing American policy-makers that it was capable of containing Soviet expansionism. As a result of that it received unlimited, unconditional and unquestioning support. Now that the United States is no longer obsessed with the containment of Soviet expansionism, we should put on the American agenda the containment of Israeli expansionism. Now that the Soviet Union has been rolled back from its East European acquisitions, we should put on the American agenda how to roll back Israel from its Middle Eastern acquisitions. There were always two schools of thought competing for the explanation of the fascinating and intriguing American-lsraeli relations. The "who wags whom" debate has occupied and preoccupied a generation of scholars. The first school spoke of an American Israel, an Israel that is a sort of belligerent Sparta at the service of the contemporary Rome. For the adherents of that trend of thought it is the United States that dictates to its local ally what should be its regional policy in accordance with the US global vision. The second school projects the image of an Israeli America, a complex relationship where the global superpower simply adopts the regional policy of its client state and integrates it in its global strategy. This is seen as a result of powerful American domestic considerations where "Capitol Hill is that other Israeli occupied territory that needs to be liberated" if ever we are to have an even-handed approach toward the Middle East. Both of those schools of thought are accurate but at different moments in history depending on a variety of considerations like the strength (electoral and intellectual) of the American president, on how comfortable he is in the country and in Congress and on how comfortable the United States is in the world. I believe that now a new era is being ushered in where the strategic function, utility and raison d'8tre of Israel have been drastically diminished in American eyes. The fact that the Arab World, the Palestinians included, no longer challenges Israel's existence but only it expansions has further enhanced the possibilities of American pressure on the recalcitrant Israeli leadership. The third factor is the following: It is no longer the 1950s and the 1960s, when the Arab World was governed by militant nationalist leaders. Whether one likes it or not, in a way the regional Arab system is a moderate conservative system, and Israel, by obstinately wanting to continue its occupation of the Palestinian and Arab territories, is defying, delegitimizing, and destabilising a regional system that is not being a nuisance to Western perceptions and interests. It is Israeli expansionism that today is emerging as a nuisance to American global and regional interests. We went to Madrid, and I for once believe that history is in the making. I believe that there is an enormous window of opportunity, and we, the Palestinians, have been unreasonably reasonable in order to make Madrid possible. I believe that the pride of the Palestinian people, welcoming the return of the Palestinian negotiating team back into occupied Palestine, is proof that we the Palestinians genuinely desire peace, and I fully endorse the olive-branch strategy. Tomorrow the olive branch is by far more subversive than any other instrument of political expression. We were not very comfortable with the scenario that was being offered to us. We were in favour of a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict, yet we thought and dreamt of an international conference sponsored by the United Nations, with the presence of the five permanent members of the Security Council, to implement and not to interpret the UN resolutions, etcetera. That was not the negotiating process that all the belligerent parties were invited to. We felt uncomfortable, and we had many a legitimate reservation. Yet, because we had confidence in ourselves we accepted to undergo the test. There is a need to clarify certain conceptual matters. I have always defined the Intifada as the gradual exercise of Palestinian sovereignty even under continued Israeli occupation, and I have always seen the Intifada as being more than stone-throwing. The Intifada is the parallel institution-building, it is the proliferation of popular committees that deal with all social needs, from education to medication, from culture to agriculture. I have always seen the Intifada as a our attempt to recuperate from the occupying authority domains and spheres of decision-making that had been usurped by the occupying authority for so long. And I believe that this definition of the Intifada will prevail in the coming weeks, months, and years. We have always said that it will be an Intifada only towards independence.
The other definition is that of the PLO. Some Israeli commentators like to say that the PLO was excluded from the process, yet I still remember Abba Eban, whom I have encountered in one or two symposia, saying that Mr Shamir, toward the PLO, had a very ostrich-like attitude. I still remember Abba Eban saying, in his particular manner, "and the ostrich posture is both uncomfortable and inelegant." What is the PLO? The PLO is more than an institution, it is an ideal. The idea is much stronger than the institution. It has always been our challenge, we in the PLO, to have an institution strong enough to carry the idea. If 10,000 Palestinians work in the institution, the five million Palestinians are the powerful vehicles of the idea. Israel constantly made a mistake: wanting to crush the idea, it attacked the institution, thus reinvigorating the idea. Just as the PLO represented the Palestinian people for 25 years, today the Palestinian people are representing the PLO, and they are doing a hell of a good job.
Despite all the constraints that were inflicted upon us, we succeeded in outsmarting those who were putting these capricious demands upon us. They tried to exclude East Jerusalemites, and there comes Faisal Husseini as political co-ordinator of the Palestinian team, and there comes Hanan Ashrawi as the visible and vocal tip of that iceberg as the Palestinian spokesperson, here comes Sari Nusseibeh as the technical scholarly co-ordinator of the negotiating team. And they are all prominent members of the Jerusalem community. They are Jerusalem. They wanted to exclude the diaspora, and here the PLO re-smuggles back into the process Rashid Khalidi, Camille Mansour, and Anis AI-Qasim. Among us there was no problem of who was at the table and who was in the adjacent room. As long as we have this mutual self-confidence it becomes of such banal importance, and we have succeeded in ridiculing the capricious exigence of the other side. The battles ahead will not be easy. Looking at Israel - which is today rich in politicians and very poor in statesmen - I often think of Nahum Goldman, who in my opinion said in the middle of the 1970s three things relevant to our exercise today and tomorrow. Nahum Goldman in the middle of the 1970s, commenting critically on the Kissinger approach, said, "it seems to me that diplomacy in the Middle East is the art of delaying the inevitable as long as possible." This definition was painfully accurate. For Nahum Goldman, already in the middle of the 1970s, the inevitable was the Palestinian dimension, the Palestinian factor, and the Palestinian actor. And tomorrow, the Israeli negotiating team will get on our nerves, and probably everybody else's nerves, trying to delay the inevitable as long as possible, while we will be seeking historical shortcuts so that we can achieve peace, for their children and ours at the earliest possible moment. Nahum Goldman said another thing in the middle of the 1970s that I think is extremely relevant today. He mentions in one of his books a discussion he had with Moshe Dayan, and he writes that he said. "Moshe, the Americans give you much aid and some advice. Up to now you take all the aid and you leave the advice aside. What would happen if ever they were to tell you, 'You can only take the aid if you also take the advice'?" And according to Nahum Goldman, Moshe Dayan with resignation said, "Then we have also to take the advice". And I believe there is a big historical lesson to be drawn from Nahum Goldman, who says, "Let's make the linkage between the American aid and American advice." And we hope that the American advice tomorrow will be compatible with universal principles of human law, of international law. Our aspiration has always been to see an American administration that reconciles its power with its own principles. The third thing that Nahum Goldman said, commenting on the disengagement agreements between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Syria, was that the Americans have a big reservoir of possibilities of leverage and pressure on Israel. And in his opinion they should not be wasted on marginal, peripheral issues of partial solutions, but to exercise the bulk, the capacity of this reservoir of pressure in order to obtain a solution on the crux, the central issue of controversy in the area. And I hope that tomorrow there will not be procedural battles on marginal issues, where the capital of possibilities of pressure will be wasted on a succession of small battles instead of being waged on the big battle, the central core issue. I saw Mr Shamir on television say in Madrid that Israel had a hunger for peace. And I believe today that we the Palestinians can solemnly and publicly say we can satisfy Israel's hunger for peace if ever Mr Shamir abandons his appetite for territory.