- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Dag Hammerskjold, the distinguished secretary?general of the United Nations observed in the 1950s that “it is diplomacy … that continues to have the last word in the process of peacemaking.”

Unfortunately, the historical record of diplomatic successes in the Middle East conflict resolution during the past half-century is relatively short. The peace treaties between Israel and Egypt in 1979 and Israel and Jordan in 1994 have been remarkable achievements. However, the Oslo Accord of 1993 and the subsequent agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority collapsed as a result of escalating terrorism of the second intifada that began almost three years ago.

Indeed, Hammerskjold’s classic observation is once again seriously questioned despite the commendable statesmanship efforts by President George W. Bush to revive the moribund peace process. Although the summit meetings initiated recently by the president in Egypt and Jordan were a hopeful new beginning of a diplomatic opportunity, they proved to be inadequate in preventing an escalating carnage on the ground.

To be sure, the daily bloody events characterized most dramatically by the suicide bombing of a civilian bus in Jerusalem and intensified military operations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank did not surprise Middle East observers. They fully understand that the core of the Israel-Palestinian conflict stems from the ferocious challenge by terrorist groups like Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades to the validity for Jewish self-determination as a people in a sovereign state. As Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas senior official who just survived an Israeli assassination attempt, repeatedly asserted: “There will be no single Jew in Palestine. We will fight them with all the power that we have.”

This negation of a Jewish entity co-existing alongside an Arab state in the Palestinian Authority’s territories as envisaged in the road map to be formed in 2005, is a critical disposition not limited to the traditional terrorist movements. It is much more widespread in the “Arab street” and thereby undermines any prospect for a genuine peace. According to the latest global survey by the Pew Research Center some 80 percent of the Palestinians agree with the statement: “The rights and needs of the Palestinian people cannot be taken care of as long as the State of Israel exists.”

It is a truism that such an intense antipathy toward Zionism (the national liberation movement to establish and maintain a distinct Jewish State in Palestine) has deep historical roots. Clearly, concern for the fate of Palestine as part of the Arab world began to be articulated as soon as the Arab press published reports on the emergence of Zionism as a national ideology in the 1880s. Anxiety over the future of the area reached a fever pitch after successive blows to Arab national consciousness: the Balfour Declaration of 1917; the reneging of the British promise of postwar support of Arab independence in return for Arab help against the Turks during World War I; and the subsequent British encouragement of Zionist efforts to make Palestine the first “Jewish National Home” in 2,000 years.

The Palestinian Arabs revolted sporadically in the 1920s and 1930s, resorting to terrorism against the Jewish community in British Mandated Palestine. These efforts to change the political map by force were ultimately crushed by the “foreign intruders,” as the Zionists were labeled by Palestinians. But it was the establishment of Israel in “Arab Palestine” (or “usurped Syria”) in 1948, regarded by the Arabs as the “greatest disaster” to befall them, that irretrievably linked the existence of a Jewish entity in the Middle East with “foreign domination.”

In sum, Israel represents to most Palestinians both Western imperialism and Zionist colonialism. It is viewed as a foreign, malignant body in the heart of the Arab world, a presence that is ideologically alien, morally and legally indefensible, diplomatically an affront, politically an injustice, and militarily a constant threat to their security in an independent Palestinian state and their hopes for unity and economic and social advancement.

As long as this perception continues to prevail among the vast majority of Palestinians indoctrinated daily by propaganda against the legitimate right of Israel to exist, the future prospects of peace and stability in the region will remain only a dream of the wise. History teaches us that a fundamental prerequisite to any normalization of relationships between antagonists is the unconditional cessation of terrorism and not merely cease-fire agreements.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, in his speech in Aqaba already promised: “We will exert full efforts to ending the militarization of the intifada. The armed intifada must end, and we must resort to peaceful means to achieve our goals.” He must now begin to seriously dismantle the terrorist infrastructure of religious and secular Palestinian groups. The Palestinian Authority, in coordination with Israel, the United States and the Arab countries (particularly Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia) must put an end to terror, or terror will put an end to any current and future diplomatic initiatives.

The message communicated by Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on May 13, 1940, will therefore continue to be instructive for those policymakers committed to a realistic peace process in the region: “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”

Yonah Alexander is professor and director of the Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies and Jason Korsower is the Center’s research coordinator at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies in Arlington, Va.



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