Wednesday, February 26

MCC Palestine Update #73

MCC Palestine Update #73

February 26, 2003

"Our Church is the Church that is experiencing the meaning of war. We know the meaning of destruction, death, oppression, injustice and even demolition of homes. It is a Church that suffers with all its members in order that her suffering will become a witnessing voice for justice, peace, truth and reconciliation." These words were part of a sermon delivered by the Lutheran bishop of Palestine/Jordan, Munib Younan, at a ecumenical prayer service held on February 19, 2003 at St. Stephen's Dominican church. The service, which included representation from all of Jerusalem's churches and which was attended by hundreds of Palestinian and international Christians, was held so that Christians might make a public witness against war: against a war on Iraq and against the war brought about by military occupation. The service was organized by an ecumenical committee of churches and church-related organizations in which Mennonite Central Committee participated. The committee issued a statement at the prayer service in Arabic and in English which read in part: "As Palestinians, and as Christian organizations, we believe that God is a God of love and peace. We believe that war should never be an option, no matter what the justification. Wars have failed dismally to bring about a just and equitable solution to the illegal occupation of Palestine. On the contrary, the Israeli occupation continues to dispossess the Palestinian people of their land, deny them of their rights and aggravate their suffering and oppression . . . We call upon all our brothers and sisters, the world over, to join us in our prayers and to do all they can to avert the impending catastrophe, so that a justice peace may prevail in Iraq, in Palestine, and all over the world."

One of the groups instrumental in organizing the prayer service was an MCC partner organization, the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. Sabeel this winter is beginning a series of meetings for Palestinian Christians on the theme of nonviolence in an effort to encourage reflection on the possibilities of nonviolent action. Among other materials, the group will be using an Arabic translation of a volume of essays edited by Bob and Judy Zimmerman Herr entitled Transforming Violence; the Arabic translation and publication of the book was facilitated by MCC Middle East workers.

Those persons among our readers who enjoy occasionally subjecting themselves to something of an academic bent are encouraged to go to the CrossCurrents website and access an article by Alain Epp Weaver entitled "On Exile: Yoder, Said, and a Theology of Land and Return," published in the winter 2003 issue. The article looks at how the motif of exile functions in the theology of the late Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder and the political and critical writings of Palestinian-American literary theorist Edward Said and goes on to explore how the view from exile might inform theological approaches to questions of land and refugee return. []

Below you will find two pieces. In the first, Gideon Levy of Haaretz newspaper looks at the relative lack of Israeli protest against the war looming against Iraq. In the second, Haaretz journalist Uzi Benziman examines Israeli plans for imposing a new leadership on the Palestinian Authority (with help from the United States and the European Union. Benziman's article provides helpful background for understanding the goals of the Israeli and American administrations: to establish a Palestinian regime which will maintain order (i.e., Israeli security) while also solidifying the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We have written before of the tremendous pressures which will be placed on the Palestinians to accept a "provisional" state in 40% or so of the West Bank and 60% or so of the Gaza Strip (and in none of East Jerusalem). A Palestinian leadership might very well be found to accept this provisional state. What must be stressed repeatedly, however, is that the creation of this "state" will not mean an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but will only, at best, produce a period of relative calm (at least for Israelis). In the meantime, continued Israeli colonization of the occupied territories will make a viable two-state solution an impossibility.

--Alain Epp Weaver

1. A great silence over the land
by Gideon Levy, Haaretz, February 16, 2003

The United States is poised to go to war within missile's throw of our homes, but no public discussion is taking place in this country, either about the necessity for a military campaign or its rightness. From one end of the world to the other people are taking to the streets to demonstrate against the war. Only in Israel, which is more likely than most of the world's countries to sustain military and political harm, does silence prevail. Almost the only position that is getting a public hearing is that of the establishment and its spokesmen - in favor of war. Some of them are not even trying to hide the fact that they are eagerly looking forward to this. Commentators from various fields are busy explaining the array of golden opportunities that will become available to Israel after the war - the economic crisis will be resolved as though it never happened; Yasser Arafat will be removed; peace will be at hand; liberal democracy will be introduced throughout the Arab world; tourists will again stream into the country; and as a special bonus we will at long last be rid of the irksome intervention of Europe in our region. Channel 2's Arab affairs commentator Ehud Yaari this week described the preparations for war in captivating sports terms - the "volleyball team" is already prepared, he explained, and the "soccer team" is still on its way, meaning the U.S. air force and land forces. No one is talking about the death and destruction a war will entail, no one is daring to press the question of whether they are necessary. Faithful to the approach that has come to dominate political thinking in Israel, according to which political problems can be resolved only by bringing into play as much force as possible, a crushing blow to Iraq also seems to hold out great promise. The military correspondents are preoccupied with daily declarations to the effect that "the deployment of the defense establishment for the war has been completed." Completed? There's are shortages of suitable gas masks and gas masks that have been recycled, fire-fighters who have no idea what they are supposed to do, public bomb shelters that are sealed tight, tens of thousands of foreign workers, and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, who are defenseless - so what's "completed?"Questions about the morality of a war, whose victims will be above all the Iraqi people, and about the double standard of the United States, which chooses its targets of attack with selective vested interest, are not raised at all. This rash of one-sided commentaries, some of which are aggressive and vulgar - "France is a whore," Dan Margalit wrote in the daily Ma'ariv on Friday, and Channel 10 News described the Iraqi ruler as the "butcher of Baghdad" - are almost the only voices heard in Israel. International writers like Paulo Coelho and John Le Carre have expressed themselves sharply against the United States. Our writers are silent. In every country, statesmen and politicians are speaking out against the war, but not in this country. Masses are taking to the streets. Here, there is hardly any sign of this. Yesterday evening there was a protest demonstration in Tel Aviv, organized by the radical left, but it did not bring tens of thousands into the streets. Why, in all the radio and television current events programs is another voice rarely heard, a voice that is against the war and believes it is unnecessary, that it will not contribute one iota to peace, stability or freedom, and which is motivated by hypocrisy and self-righteousness? Isn't such a voice legitimate? All this is especially puzzling given the findings of a public opinion survey by the Dialogue Institute, published last Thursday in Ha'aretz. It turns out that nearly half of Israelis are against an immediate war - 20.4 percent think the U.S. should refrain completely from attacking, and another 23.4 percent are in favor of an attack only if all the inspection and mediation efforts fail. Figures in America are amazingly similar but there at least the voice of protest is being heard, not to mention in the majority of the states of Europe. How does it happen that the voice of nearly half of all Israelis is not given expression? Why are they showing such indifference in the face of developments that are liable to endanger everything they hold dear? These events recall very strongly the Israeli positions regarding conflict with the Palestinians. The majority of Israelis - 54 percent, according to the Dialogue survey - support the dismantling of some of the settlements, but they are not lifting a finger to make this a reality. The majority - 58 percent, according to the Peace Index - are also in favor of a Palestinian state, but are doing nothing to help bring it about. Everything - terrorism, occupation, unnecessary killing by both sides - is accepted as some divine decree against which nothing can be done. Within the cloud of complacency and inaction that has fallen over Israeli public life, even the gross pollution of the sea with sewage because of lengthy failures by the authorities was taken with stoic detachment and submission - this is how things must be. It was not always thus. The blunder of the Yom Kippur War generated waves of protest that eventually brought down the government. The Lebanon War brought masses of Israelis into the streets, bringing about a commission of inquiry and the removal of Ariel Sharon as minister of defense. But today? People are scooping up nylon sheets and water bottles and entering their safe rooms, without even a word.

By Gideon Levy

2. Corridors of Power / Dream team
by Uzi Benziman, Haaretz, February 21, 2003

1. Tailored tender

If the plan is followed, the Palestinian Legislative Council
(parliament) and the Central Council of the Palestine Liberation
Organization (PLO) will meet in Ramallah in the first week of March and
elect Salam Fayyad as the first prime minister of the Palestinian
Authority. The two bodies will also approve a series of additional
appointments: Abu Mazen will be elected vice-president, Mohammed Dahlan
will become national security adviser and, the crowning achievement,
Yasser Arafat will retain his status as president of the PA, but
henceforth with mainly symbolic tasks. Something like Moshe Katzav in
Israel. Abu Ala will remain Speaker of the Legislative Council.

That is the Israeli plan, which has the backing of the Quartet (the
United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations), Egypt
and Jordan. The finishing touches were put on the plan this week in
London, when the Israeli delegation gave its consent to the convening of
the two bodies, provided no one tainted with terrorism participates.

Israel has so far prohibited the two councils from meeting. The new
leadership of the Palestinians is intended to become an alternative
source of power to Arafat and a center of government that will take the
place of the PA, shattered by Israel in the past two years.

A first attempt to foment this quiet revolution was made last September,
in the wake of the destruction of the Muqata, Arafat's headquarters in
Ramallah, but Arafat was then able to thwart the effort: Shots were
fired at the home of Abu Mazen, who proceeded to travel to Kuwait; Abu
Ala underwent heart bypass surgery in Amman; Dahlan disappeared in
Europe; and Salam Fayyad was still largely an unknown, though he was the
representative of the World Bank in the territories.

The new version of the tailored tender is being issued on the basis of
the assumption that it will be possible to implement the plan under the
pressure of international efforts, Israeli military pressure on the
residents of the territories and the coming to fruition of internal
processes within the Palestinian leadership.

The new Palestinian leadership is supposed to be a totally different
governmental pyramid from the one that managed the PA's affairs in the
past. The Quartet, Israel and the Palestinian figures mentioned above
have seemingly agreed amongst themselves on the creation of a new
administrative apparatus through which the funds of the PA will be
channeled transparently and under international supervision. This
structure is meant to cut off Arafat from his sources of power and
ensure that the PA's funds, the majority of which originate with the
European Union and the United States, will not be diverted to terrorist

Responsibility for ensuring this procedure will be shouldered by Salam
Fayyad (he has already begun to assume it in his post as PA finance
minister), who will enjoy a greater status by virtue of his election as
prime minister. In practice, he is supposed to inherit most of Arafat's
powers and assume supreme responsibility for managing the affairs of the
PA. He will be joined by Mohammed Dahlan as the top official in charge
of the PA's security affairs, a post that will enable him to bring under
his authority all the militias (meaning the terrorist organizations)
that operate in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

To ensure this, an international supervisory mechanism will be
established, which will report to the Quartet and enable its members to
impose economic sanctions on the PA if the new leadership fails to meet
its security commitments. Abu Mazen is slated to be the senior
statesman, coordinating the PA's diplomatic moves, and Abu Ala will
continue to fulfill his role at the head of the Legislative Council.

Immediately after Fayyad assumes his post, the Quartet will take steps
to enhance his status in order to boost his prestige in the Palestinian
street and entrench his power. He will be invited to visit world
capitals and meet with international leaders, who will give him
extensive economic aid. His name will also be linked in the Palestinian
consciousness with the improvement in conditions that will befall them
in the wake of the cease-fire that will be worked out between Israel and
the new leadership, followed by an interim agreement that will include
Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state in Areas A and B, and the
economic betterment that all this will bring in its wake.

2. Rosy vision

This rosy vision is shared by the highest political and military levels
in Israel and by the Quartet, which has undertaken major efforts in the
past few weeks to prepare the ground for its materialization. All these
distinguished personages believe that the scenario will be played out
and that within a few weeks there will be a dramatic change for the
better in the state of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation.

The chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, stated in an internal discussion that
there is a chance that the current round of violence in the conflict
will end within a month.

Asked for the reasons for their optimism, policy makers in Jerusalem
offer the following argument: The group that is earmarked to succeed
Arafat reached the conclusion that his decision to take up the terrorist
weapon in order to obtain his demands from Israel was a mistake of
fateful proportions. The situation of the Palestinians in the
territories is dreadful and they long for a cease-fire and for the
withdrawal of the Israeli army from the cities of the West Bank. In the
Gaza Strip the residents are fearful of a broad Israeli military
operation, perhaps even the conquest and reoccupation of the Gaza Strip,
and there are signs there that Hamas is being rejected.

Operation Defensive Shield last April and President George Bush's speech
on Middle East policy last June made clear to the Palestinians the price
they will have to pay for their mistake of turning to violence: Arafat,
who for years was a welcome guest in the world's salons, became a leper
whom many world leaders blame for the flare-up of the past two and a
half years. The PA under his leadership is perceived as a corrupt and
untamed government with which it will be impossible to reach a

Fayyad and the other Palestinian notables reached the conclusion that in
order to change this image, and to better the melancholy situation of
the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, it would be best to accept
the demand to introduce governmental reform in the PA. Arafat objected
to this course of action, but now he has been weakened. Clearly he will
continue to try to undermine the move, but there is a good chance that
he will be compelled to go along. The plainest sign of this is his
agreement to create the post of prime minister.

The Israeli leaders also believe that the alternative group to Arafat
understands that using violence against Israel will not pay off in the
future, either, and that it must act energetically to neutralize the
terrorist organizations. To that end, Egypt stepped in with an effort to
work out an understanding between the Tanzim militia and Hamas. However,
Cairo failed in this effort, not least because Arafat did not cooperate
in the initial stage. In the past two weeks the alternative leadership
has exerted its influence to prevent terrorist attacks inside Israel and
the firing of Qassam rockets (an effort that was sustained for three
weeks, until four rockets struck the southern town of Sderot on

The shift in relations between Israel and the Palestinians is expected
to be seen in relation to the American war in Iraq: Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon and Arafat believe that after that conflict the Bush
administration will direct its energies to resolving the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and therefore they are taking steps ahead
of the realization of the Bush speech and the "road map." The Jerusalem
officials add that the Palestinian dream team is made up of people who
are not dependent on Arafat and who have expressed both readiness and
interest in fulfilling the positions allocated for them.

According to this assessment - which is not a figment of the wild
imagination of this reporter, but a summary of the most authoritative
joint situation appraisals of the political and military levels - Israel
is facing a dramatic change in its situation, which will be played out
in the coming month or two (on the assumption that the American
offensive in Iraq is successful): cessation of terrorism, neutralization
of Arafat, governmental reform in the PA, the start of diplomatic
negotiations intended to bring about an interim agreement and a
significant improvement in the economy.

3. Landmines on the way

This highly appealing scenario is threatened by various landmines. The
first of them is the conception itself. Israel has already been burned
in the past by its pretension of imposing leaders on other nations: This
was the case in the attempt that involved Mustafa Doudin and the Village
Leagues in the territories, whose creation Israel initiated in 1977 with
the aim of establishing an alternative Palestinian leadership to the
PLO; and it was again the case in 1982, when the government of Menachem
Begin tried to make Bashir Jemayel the president of Lebanon so that he
would sign a peace treaty with Israel.

Israel's conception that it has the right to dictate to its enemies who
their leaders should be, and that it can accomplish this by means of
armed force, is immoral and doomed to failure. In addition to this
conceptual failure, the road to implementing the idea is strewn with
pitfalls of many kinds. The Quartet and Israel do not have concrete
control of the process by which the candidates for the new positions
will be elected: The appointment of the vice-president, the prime
minister and the national security adviser is Arafat's prerogative;
true, he knows what is expected of him, but it is clear that he will
maneuver to avoid acceding to the demand in full. Arafat will strive to
appoint people who are subject to his authority, and at best will choose
compromise figures who, even if they are not considered his flunkies,
are also not independent, determined individuals.

Israel is aware of this possibility, but believes that Arafat will
buckle under international pressure. If this belief proves illusory, the
result will be no more than a virtual reform, and Israel will not agree
to any quid pro quos from its side, thus blasting the hope of a new
dawn. Similarly, terrorist activity by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the
intervention of Iran, could disrupt the plan or completely wreck it.

On the Israeli side, too, problems are likely to arise in the
implementation of the scenario. The IDF, for example, is of the opinion
that it is wrong to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state,
even in part of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, without a declaration by
the Palestinian alternative leadership that it accepts Israel's right to
exist as a Jewish state.

The evaluation of the IDF's current leadership is that the Oslo accord
failed because Arafat is incapable of accepting Israel's existence as a
Jewish state. When he was director of Military Intelligence, Moshe
Ya'alon suspected that this was Arafat's true position (and also
suspected that he would refuse to forgo the right of return) - a view
that was contrary to that of the head of the Shin Bet security service
at the time, Jacob Perry. The Ya'alon analysis was given official
expression in a paper prepared by Military Intelligence under its then
director, Amos Malka, in October, 2000.

The high command also maintains that negotiations on an interim
settlement should not be launched until after the Palestinians have
internalized the awareness that a return to the 1967 boundaries is out
of the question. The IDF view is that the Palestinian leadership today
thinks that a complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories is
assured as part of an agreement.

The political situation also poses questions in connection with the
Quartet plan: Will Sharon have at his disposal a government that will
support this move?

4. Mitzna blinks

The shift that occurred this week in the approach of Labor Party leader
Amram Mitzna concerning the possibility of Labor entering the government
came against the background of the scenario that was described above:
Mitzna learned of it in his talk with Sharon (and also about the grave
situation of the economy), and what he heard induced him to reconsider
his position.

He will have to decide very soon whether to give credence to the
possibility that the Quartet plan will in fact come to pass; whether to
give credence to Sharon's statement that he intends to carry out his
part of the plan, provided the Palestinians do likewise; whether to
consider Sharon's declaration of intent as merely a gambit designed to
undermine Mitzna's opposition to entering a coalition with him; and
whether to plan his moves based on a true intention to examine Sharon's
diplomatic agenda and be ready to be part of it, or with the aim of
evading the prime minister's bear hug and blaming Sharon for the fact
that a broad government was not established.

Both Sharon and his aides and the leaders of the Labor Party formed the
impression that Mitzna has undergone a concrete change and that the
possibility that Labor will join the government cannot be ruled out.

Labor has already come up with a rationale that will serve as the excuse
for such a turnabout: Sharon will incorporate the Quartet plan in the
government's policy guidelines and will declare Israel's agreement to
the establishment of a Palestinian state; he will commit himself to
remove illegal outposts in the West Bank and to the accelerated
construction of the separation fence between Israel and the West Bank;
he will sign a coalition agreement that will abolish the preferential
budgetary allocations to the ultra-Orthodox and the settlers (under the
umbrella of budget cuts); and he will introduce the registration of
civil marriages (to be known as "registration of family").

Labor will come to the public with the announcement that a secular
government (perhaps with the addition of the National Religious Party)
was formed thanks to its endeavors and that Sharon's policy views have
undergone a sharp change.

Even though Mitzna this week seemed to have blinked first, and even
though there were signs of an erosion in Labor's position (it dropped
its demand for an evacuation of settlements and is ready to make do with
the dismantlement of illegal outposts), some of the party's leading
members believe that Sharon will not be able to sign off on these
formulations. In that case, they say, Mitzna will do to Sharon what Ehud
Barak did to Arafat: He will expose his true face and prove that there
is no partner for a peace agreement.

By Uzi Benziman

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