Between Desperation And Faint Hope
We are soon approaching the fourth anniversary of the second Intifadah, so perhaps it is a good time to take stock of what has happened since that infamous day in September 2000, when the first Israelis and Palestinians were killed. Their deaths signaled the beginning of the destruction and despair that continue to this day. Struggling to restore some normalcy to relations shattered by indiscriminate violence, both Israelis and Palestinians are searching for a way out of the morass. There may be a faint hope for the maddening rage to end in the growing recognition among many on both sides that the violence has gained them nothing.
Meanwhile, both sides are trying to cope in their own way with the current reality. In Israel, the Intifadah brought Sharon's Likud party to power. Today the Israeli military continues to target Palestinian militants; more than 3,000 have been killed. The deteriorating security condition has set back the Israeli economy tremendously. And the continuing violence has also pushed to the fore the idea of separation from the Palestinians as manifested in the accelerated building of a wall to separate much of the West Bank from Israel proper. This barrier, it is hoped, will help stop the suicide bombings that have killed 1,000 Israelis while injuring thousands more. In such an environment, it is hardly surprising that the road map for peace is virtually abandoned. The International Court of Justice has recently ruled the barrier to be illegal and ordered it torn down; Israel so far has largely ignored the Court. But Israel's own Supreme Court while endorsing the wall, has also instructed the government to create a balance between protecting national security and preserving the rights and humanitarian needs of the Palestinians. None of these events have prevented Israel from continuing to receive unqualified support from the United States. Meanwhile, Prime Minster Sharon has decided on unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank. The extreme right-wing members of his coalition have resigned in protest, and he has lost his majority in the Israeli Parliament. Even with these setbacks, Sharon remains popular, and he has invited Labor to join him in a national unity government, which it appears that Labor will eventually do. As I witnessed in a recent trip to the region, in one form or another, the Israelis have come to create a new reality for themselves, one that permits them to endure and even thrive.
On the Palestinian side, the picture is considerably gloomier. The Israeli military incursions into Palestinian-held territories have left most cities in ruin. Arafat is confined to his nearly totally destroyed compound in Ramallah. The economy is in shambles; nearly half of the labor force is jobless, with most municipal services in disarray. The Palestinian Authority has lost much of its power, and disenchantment with Arafat's leadership is growing, although he remains the nominal leader. Public security and safety is nonexistent, vigilantes roam the streets, and kidnaping and extortion are a daily routine. Although Hamas is still popular, ordinary Palestinians want an end to the violence as they debate the effect of the pending Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Although many private institutions continue to function in isolation, the signs of desperation are everywhere, and a majority of Palestinians seem to feel the need for a change in direction. Nearly four years of Intifadah have left most people wondering how is it possible that so much went wrong. Why and how did they allow themselves to be so misguided? So many opportunities have been missed, but now a large constituency made up of Palestinian intellectuals, professionals, and politicians are saying, "Enough is enough."
The second Intifadah that was planned and put into action by Arafat has not advanced the Palestinian cause one single iota. Rather, it has set it back perhaps by a generation. But much else has also transpired both regionally and inside the territories. Saddam Hussein is gone, the Arab states have once again shown their inaptitude to do or change anything. The United States has taken an unequivocal position against terrorism, regardless of its source or cause, and the Palestinians have been left alone to fend for themselves against a mighty Israeli military machine that will do whatever it must to ensure Israel's survival. Enraged by the wall, as they should be, especially when it encroaches on their territory and causes undue hardship, the Palestinians must remember that the wall could come down faster than the time it will take to complete it once they reign in the militants among them who still rejects Israel's right to exist. There is still a faint hope that some normalcy and human decency could prevail in the present environment. But it will take Palestinian men and women of valor and foresight to rise up and declare a new Intifadah. This Intifadah would be a fight against the current order of Palestinian misery and despondency, an Intifadah against the corrupt leadership that has led a proud people to the precipice, and an Intifadah that will chart a new course for the next generation of Palestinians so that they may live and prosper with dignity.
However inadequate Sharon's unilateral withdrawal plan might appear, it offers the prospect for a new beginning. The plan provides an opportunity for Palestinians to lay the foundation of their cherished state and a new and brighter future. But for these to happen, the Palestinian people must change the dynamic of the conflict with Israel by pursuing a political solution, for it offers the only avenue for peaceful coexistence.