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January 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 1)
in the Middle East
Peace Is Still Possible
de Aristegui, El Mundo (centrist), Madrid, Spain, Nov.
connection that dictators and terrorists make between their
supposed causes and the Arab-Israeli conflict, has been one
of the elements that has most contributed to putting the brakes
on the process. What seems to have happened is that a profound
crisis of trust has set in. The terrorist attacks [of Sept.
11] have once again placed the Arab-Israeli conflict in the
eye of the hurricane, and especially its Palestinian-Israeli
component. The radicals on both sides have always had as their
principle the derailment, once and for all, of a process, which,
if it were to succeed, would mean the disappearance of one of
their best excuses [for continuing to fight]. But it would also
mean the advent of peace in a region where the spiral of hate,
mistrust, and instability has fed into fanaticism and terrorism.
A Mideast at peace, where Arabs and Israelis live together side
by side in complete harmony, is the worst kind of news for people
like Bin Laden.
In Gaza the situation is somber, claustrophobic, and tense.
The closing of the border crossings into Israel is seriously
affecting the Palestinian economy; the security concerns of
the state of Israel, on the other hand, demand a higher degree
of control on the part of the Palestinian Security Forces. But
they cannot be as effective in their operations as they would
like, because of their lack of mobility following the restrictions
imposed on them by the Israeli army. Here, too, as in almost
all of the issues involved in this conflict, there is a vicious
cycle, and some way must be found to break it as soon as possible.
A seminar organized by the office of the Commission of the European
Union for the Palestinian territories, [recently] held in Gaza,
entailed a surprise, given the content and tone of the interventions
of some ministers and representatives of the Palestinian Authority.
Some European representatives from the far left made a show
of stale radical rhetoric, which went far beyond anything our
Palestinian hosts were saying. Many still have not grasped how
much the world has changed since 1989. They continue to apply
outdated clichés to a conflict they obviously do not
The tension in some places in the Gaza Strip is noticeable.
The risk that a confrontation on a much larger scale will flare
up from some minor incident is enormous. For this reason, the
prudence and sensibleness of people on both sides will have
to be at a maximum level in the days to come. On the nights
of Oct. 29 and 30, the Israeli forces withdrew from Beit Jala
and Bethlehem, as a result of very intense pressure from Europe
and, above all, from the United States. The Israelis have let
it be known that this withdrawal will serve as a test for the
Palestinian authorities and their ability to control the situation.
Another issue that requires an unequivocal clarification is
that the Islamic Jihad and Hamas can hardly be considered freedom
fighters. If a terrorist got on a bus in London and killed
24 people, this would be considered, in any country in the world,
as an act of barbarous terrorism. It is inconceivable that those
acts perpetrated in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv would not be likewise
branded as terrorist barbarism.After the regrettable failure
of the Camp David talks in July 2000, it is unlikely that any
concessions and offers could be expected that would be close
to the contents of the famous U.N. Security Council Resolution
242 itself. [The resolution, adopted in 1967, established provisions
and principles which, it was hoped, would lead to a solution
of the conflict. It was to become the cornerstone of Middle
East diplomatic rhetoric, calling for the complete withdrawal
of Israel from territories occupied during the Six-Day WarWPR.]
The peace process started with a clear and unequivocal call
to create a Palestinian state and solid relations between Israel
and the Arab states. The debates over the percentage of territory
that should be under Palestinian authority cannot divert our
attention from the more basic and essential issues that have
been at the heart of the conflict since it began: the status
of Jerusalem as a shared capital, an acceptable division of
responsibilities over the holy places, and the principle that
the claims for the right of return for Palestinians should not
involve jeopardizing the very essence of the state of Israel.
Unless these concessions are made, it will be practically impossible
to put an end to so many years of hatred and violence.
Politicians and leaders must realize that their decisions will
affect not only their immediate political aspirations, as legitimate
as they may be, but that their decisions will have a political
and historic significance that goes far beyond electoral expediency.
In terms of the new generation in Palestinian politics, there
are some new hopes, given that four figures are emerging as
political leaders. In addition to enjoying prestige and support
from a significant portion of their people, they have credibility
and are trusted by Israelis. People like Nabil Shaath [author
of the Palestinian draft proposition of the Declaration of Principles
drawn up in Madrid in 1993 and Palestinian Authority minister
of planning and international cooperation], Saeb Erekat [the
Palestinian Authority minister of local government], Sari Nusseiba
[director of Orient House in Jerusalem], and Abu Mazen [the
most likely successors of Arafat]. Resolving a conflict as long
and bloody as this one can only redound to the benefit of allthus
strengthening the international alliance that is waging a war
against Islamic terrorism.