Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

April 12, 2002

General:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of competing nationalist movements battling for a homeland on the same territory. It is not a religious or ethnic conflict at its root. The conflict is not intractable: the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians are willing to accept territorial compromise and share historic Palestine in two states side by side in return for peace and security.

The root of the present war is Israel’s 34-year occupation of Palestinian lands: the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. This phenomenon, rather than the person of Ariel Sharon or the person of Yasir Arafat, is the primary obstacle to peace. The centerpiece of U.S. policy should be to end the occupation, including removal of settlements, as soon as possible. Ceasefires fall considerably short of this goal.

To stop the present frightening escalation in Israel-Palestine, it is urgent that the U.S. support the immediate deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to not only guarantee security of Israeli and Palestinian civilians but also to oversee the end of the occupation.

Palestinian Violence:

Occupation and repression can never justify terrorism. Similarly, terrorism can never justify occupation and repression, nor do terrorist acts by a few negate the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.
The Palestinian Authority under President Yasir Arafat has been inept, corrupt, and autocratic. But Arafat is the elected leader of the Palestinians, and both Israel and the U.S. must treat him as such. The U.S. should support Palestinian NGO leaders’ call for new elections in Palestinian self-rule areas, as well as an end to the Israeli occupation.

A clear distinction should be made between violent Palestinian resistance that targets civilians inside Israel and violent Palestinian resistance that targets Israeli occupation forces in the occupied territories. The former is a war crime and can never be legitimized. The latter is recognized as legitimate under international law. However, nonviolent forms of resistance by the Palestinians would likely be the most effective means of advancing their cause.

Israeli Security:

Israel would be far more secure within its internationally recognized pre-1967 borders than attempting to defend an archipelago of illegal settlements amidst a hostile population. Israelis have died from political violence in greater numbers in the occupied territories than within Israel itself. Similarly, Israel utilizes far more troops as occupation forces than it does defending the country’s borders or maintaining internal security.

As reiterated in the recent Arab summit in Beirut, an Israeli withdrawal to within its internationally recognized borders (perhaps with some minor and reciprocal adjustments), would result in the security guarantees and full normalized relations from Arab states that Israel has long sought. This would put both Israel and its neighbors into compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, long considered to be the basis for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace, and recently reiterated by the Bush administration as the basis of U.S. policy.

The Peace Process:

On virtually all of the outstanding issues in the peace process (the extent of the Israeli withdrawal, the fate of the Israeli settlements, the status of Jerusalem, and the resettlement of Palestinian refugees), the Palestinian negotiating position is far more consistent with international law, UN Security Council resolutions, and U.S. policy prior to the Clinton administration than is the Israeli negotiating position.

United States Policy:

The United States’ contradictory role as the chief mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and as the chief military, economic, and diplomatic supporter of Israel’s occupation has been a major contribution to the collapse of the peace process. Since 1969, the U.S. has used its veto power in the UN Security Council to protect Israel from censure for its violations of international law more than thirty times. Tacit Bush administration support for Israeli offensives in the West Bank in March-April 2002 revealed the complete isolation of U.S. policy toward this conflict in the international arena. The U.S. has so far lost credibility as a broker in the peace process that it should step down. Instead, the U.S. should support UN efforts, most urgently a peacekeeping force, to resolve the conflict based on principles of international law and good-faith negotiations.

U.S. diplomats have encouraged anti-Jewish sentiment in the Arab world by greatly exaggerating to their counterparts the influence of American Jews in shaping U.S. foreign policy as a means of avoiding responsibility for U.S. use of Israel to advance its own strategic interests. A more balanced U.S. policy toward Israel-Palestine is urgent to undercut the anti-Jewish appeals of some elements in the Arab and Islamic world.
Israel’s ongoing violations of internationally recognized human rights standards–including mass detention without charge, collective punishment, destruction of civilian targets, extrajudicial killings, and torture on an administrative basis–requires a suspension of U.S. military aid to Israel under the Foreign Assistance Act, which forbids security assistance to any government which “engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” without a waiver [22 U.S.C. Secs. 2034, 2151n]. The U.S. must make military and other aid to Israel conditional upon its progress in ending the occupation and negotiating in good faith on other outstanding issues in the peace process.

http://www.fpif.info/fpiftxt/413

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Israel and Palestine