Our day on the West Bank was the most exciting and hope-inspiring of the trip. The Palestinians we met expressed aspirations, attitudes and respect that made us feel that they could be our cousins. After I tell you what transpired I will end this section with a caveat.
Sulaiman Khatib served 10 years of a 15 year sentence for lightly injuring an Israeli soldier with stone throwing when he was 14 years old. Jail served as a university for him where he learned about non-violent resistance as an effective weapon in the fight for independence. Along with Israeli army veterans in Combatants for Peace, he is seeking non-violent strategies to bring about a two-state solution.
Faisal Awartani, CEO and founder of Alpha International for Research Polling and Informatics, provided lots of statistics to show the negative effects that occupation imposes on goods and movement. The Second Intifada resulted in a sharp decrease in the employment of Palestinians in Israel from 180,000 to 40,000. The US is subsidizing the Palestinian Authority rather than working to reduce economic restrictions. Palestinian support for a two-state solution, including land swaps, is dropping from 70% to 60%. Thirty percent want one state. If there were two states, Gaza would support Fatah over Hamas. Women now occupy 15% of high positions. Currently 95% of children get at least an elementary education. The West Bank is 97% Muslim and 3% Christian.
Mohammad Shtayyeh is [was] one of the Palestinian peace negotiators. He has been involved in talks of one kind or another since 1991, including Madrid and Geneva. He is the Palestinian Authority’s minister in charge of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR). I am reporting what he said in what I hope is an objective nonjudgmental manner, so you can gain some understanding of where he is coming from. This does not mean that I endorse the whole of it. Although we were told several times that nobody would talk about what was said at the negotiations, this man did. He was calm, charming and very sincere, especially when he talked about the normal life he would like for his people.
He was just about the only one who felt the process had a chance to succeed, because:
- both parties have the political will to be at the table
- there are agreed terms of reference
- an agreed limited time frame
- confidence building measures
- an honest broker is present.
He thinks Palestinians will benefit most from peace but is worried they are reaching a serious crisis. From his reading, 72% of Palestinians want a two-state solution but 92% do not believe that the process will achieve this goal.
He said that the Arabs have made many compromises, agreeing to just 22% of the land they called Palestine, a demilitarized state fully cooperating with Israel and if necessary a third party to oversee security. But they will not agree to Israel’s demands for a presence in the Jordan Valley, a right of hot pursuit against attackers, an emergency deployment or for Israel to control the sky. He argued that the US can patrol via overhead satellites. He expressed awareness that events in surrounding counties were a source of concern for Israel.
He was resistant to the demand for Palestine to recognize Israel as a Jewish state for reasons of the past, the present and the future. Although recognizing that Jews have a past here, as do the Muslims and Christians, he’s afraid that these other narratives would be denied. Would it lead to ethnic cleaning of the 1.6 million Arabs living in Israel presently and would it prohibit any resettlement of refugees in the future? He saw that with the creation of a Palestinian state, his people could choose to stay in other Arab lands where they have settled, come to Palestine, go to another non-Arab country, or some could go to Israel.
Negotiators need to empower each other. His people are talented and deserve happiness. They need to feel “normal.” In response to a question, he stated that if he had total control of the outcome he would establish the borders at the ’67 lines with minor adjustments. Jerusalem would be an open city to all. The refugees would be accommodated and the Arabs would have no limits on their dignity, sovereignty or independence. Then they could have joint economic development with Israel.
When asked why there is no movement in the Arab community compared to Peace Now, he told us the 2000 American Palestinians would be coming to Ramallah shortly and he would bring this idea to them and that he would welcome speakers from Israel to address them. He finished by saying that Oslo’s phasing in was a mistake. Instead we should go with a comprehensive plan with phased implementation.
Ms. Wolofsky’s observations conclude with Part 3.