The Ayalon-Nusseibeh "Peoples' Voice" - a critical reading / Yehudith Harel

Repeated expressions reach us of public interest in the Ayalon-Nusseibeh project, known as " the Peoples' Voice " , as well as considerable efforts to lobby for it. This calls for a critical reading of its Statement of Principles and of what it says explicitly or between the lines.

The aim of the project is most laudable, of course. It is to amass public support in both the Israeli society and the Palestinian society for negotiations for a Peace settlement based on mutually accepted principles. The project was bravely launched in a most difficult time, when large sectors of both societies lost hope in a negotiated peace as it lost all faith in its feasibility and in the diplomatic efforts to put an end to the present tragic situation and the ongoing mutual terror activities. It is intended to give hope a chance and to mobilize positive energies on both sides in the service of a rejuvenated campaign for peace. Nevertheless, and despite possible good intentions of the initiators of this project, its Statement of Principles is a problematic document. It is even dangerous. It is another misleading document that might spread false hopes and unrealistic expectations. It is a recipe for another setback, for a guaranteed failure, and subsequently for more disappointment and for a deepened sense of despair. We cannot afford these. The Oslo disaster has inflicted lethal blows and wounded the peace proepects deeply. After that, one more disappointment may even give the peace efforts a kiss of death.

The Statement of Principles contains the more-or-less agreed upon body of the mutually accepted parameters for the Two States Solution. It rests on the Clinton Proposal and the Taba Talks. Its concern is mainly with technical matters. Once again, it evades or addresses insufficiently some of the most crucial key issues that are still in dispute. Moreover, in certain key clauses it contradicts crucial assumptions that are understood by many honest people as constituting the absolute fundamentals of a much needed breakthrough in the severely disrupted relations between the two peoples.

Let me point out two of them:

1. There can be no peace and no reconciliation between the two peoples without Israel’s recognition of the evil and the absolute and categorical injustice and wrongs that it has inflicted upon the Palestinians in 1948 and ever since. This is so notwithstanding the Palestinian need to recognize the failure of the Palestinian leadership at the time to deal with the challenges and dangers posed by the Zionist movement to the Palestinian National existence in Palestine. We, Israeli Jews, cannot get out of the present dangerous impasse and build bridges for peace without dealing honestly with the Nakbah of 1948. Similarly, without condoning Palestinian terror activities, Israel must take responsibility for the continuous Nakbah that has been going on through the retribution acts (peulot hatagmul) of the 1950's, the 1967 transfer, and the 36 years old oppressive and dehumanizing military occupation that culminates in the present continuing repression and acts of outright State-terrorism against the Palestinian people.

2. Peace must be reached by a fair compromise. We cannot reach it without assuming responsibility for our acts in the past and in the present and act upon this recognition, while acknowledging the fact that the conflict is older than the 1967 occupation. Putting an end to this occupation and the ongoing oppression that lead to a de facto ethnic cleansing bit by bit, by terrorizing civilians, massive killings, uprooting agricultural land, starvation and humiliation, etc., is of course a necessary precondition for peace. But it is not enough.

Let me point out just a few crucial items in the Statement of Principles that contradict what I have just said and thus jeopardize other sincere efforts to promote a settlement that should rest on a more sound foundation.

  1. "Two states for two peoples" . The "Two peoples" that this statement refers to in its discussion of the " Two States Solution " framework, are the 'Jewish' and the 'Palestinian'. I could have accepted it with less unease had it referred instead to the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. I could have convinced myself that when we are talking about " Israelis " we mean all Israeli nationals, all Israeli citizens, Jews, and Palestinians and other non-Jews alike. Of course, in the whole of Palestine there are two national collectives ? Jewish and Palestinian ? and I have no problem with this. On the contrary, I would be very happy with a bi-national framework, which to my mind is the ultimate and best solution for truly democratic life in the Israeli-Palestinian framework, whatever it will finally turn out to be. However, within the " Two States framework " , which in the present seems to be the favorite political solution supported by the majority in both societies, to speak of Israel as the State of the Jewish People is problematic and rather dangerous. It is problematic for all the Israelis ?Jews and Palestinians alike ? who wish to live in a truly democratic state. This point needs some clarification:

Ayalon and Nusseibeh state that " Israel is the only state of the Jewish People”. This way they refer to a state that belongs to a people that is not a political entity, not only because ever so many of the Jewish people are not Israeli citizens. The Jewish People is not a political entity. Many of its members are citizens and nationals of other countries. Moreover, this way Ayalon and Nusseibeh leave all the non-Jewish citizens of Israel, including the big Palestinian national group, with no civil rights and hence deprive them of their legitimate citizenship. A modern democratic nation-state by definition must belong to all of its citizens. We must not accept a definition that does not state clearly that Israel is first of all the state of all of its citizens.

  1. The Right of Return a.: The document refers to the suffering of the Palestinians without mentioning Israel’s part in creating this suffering, as well as the part of the old Palestinian leaders (who are no longer with us). On the contrary, it deliberately evades dealing with this issue.

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Quote: “Recognizing the suffering and the plight of the Palestinian refugees, the international community, Israel, and the Palestinian State will initiate and contribute to an international fund to compensate them. " End of quote. Who exactly is supposed to recognize what? " The international community, Israel and the Palestinian State”. What about the necessity to recognize that we, Israel have committed War Crimes, that Israel has committed ethnic cleansing, thus inflicting a terrible catastrophe on an entire people? How can we not admit these facts and assume our share of direct responsibility?

  1. " The right of Return b.: Quote: " Palestinian refugees will return only [sic.] to the State of Palestine; Jews will return [sic.] only to the State of Israel. " End of quote. This way Ayalon and Nusseibeh not only 'equalize' between the symbloc and actual return of Jews and Palestinians repectively, but what is much more serious, they write off the individual rights of many Palestinians. Nobody has the right to do so.

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Dealing with the Rights of the Refugees is a matter for the peace negotiators to decide in mutual consent of legitimate representatives of both people, as is the matter of the settlement of the border and other pending issues between the two states. Given a chance, many progressive, humane and peace-loving Israelis can understand that a fair and just solution of the refugees' plight must rest on Israel’s recognition of the Palestinian rights and a genuine willingness and effort to make right what is still possible. This is a basic and fundamental issue in re-instituting the Palestinians as equal partners, as lawful, indigenous children of this Land who are here by right, not by favor. This is what the Palestinians demand after 55 years of continuous Nakbah. This simple truth has to be said and reiterated repeatedly, and I believe that everyone can understand the logic of such claims, their humanity and their morality. In the framework of a compromise, be it the " Two States solution " or any other, Israel can negotiate an agreed upon and realistic implementation of the Right of return. Indeed, in the framework of the two Sates Solution, it is neither logical nor possible to bring in millions of Palestinians. Nor do they demand it ? at least most of the Palestinians do not ? and as far as I know, nor does their present recognized leadership. However, the fate of the 200,000 - 250,000 Palestinian Refugees, who are suffering especially in the refugee camps in Lebanon cannot be overlooked, for both political and humanitarian reasons, and they should be repatriated if they so wish. This will be facilitated by the termination of the indiscriminating import of Russians and others, as is done today in a desperate effort to solve some problems concerning the so called " demographic " concerns (sic) and the distribution of the Israeli population - concerns that are the result of the refusal to recognize the Palestinians and other non-Jews as equal citizens. To put it sharply, for mere political reasons (of security and social stability) moral principles are not less important than border settlements. Such principles must be recognized first. Hence, Israel has to recognize the Palestinian historical rights in this country and her responsibility for the wrongs done to them. Afterwards, and only afterwards, will it be possible to agree about a compromise regarding the limited actual implementation of the right of return, based on moral and pragmatic considerations of all sorts, including matters pertaining to the scarcity of land and of water, the status and future of the Jewish existance in this Land and without needless uprooting of Israelis, thus causing new wrongs and new misery.

4. Compensation: Quote: “The international community will offer to compensate toward bettering the lot of those refugees willing to remain on their present countries... " End of quote. This cluase evades once again the need that Israel should assume responsibility and partake in carrying the burden of compensation, not thrust the duty upon the shoulders of the international community. Israel should not evade admitting that the Nakbah and its results ? the suffering of the refugees ? is her doing, but must recognize her part in the fault and share the responsibility for righting its wrongs. Instead of repeatedly evading her duties, Israel must recognize clearly her duty to pay compensations, even if this means that she will be able to do so only with outside help. This is a moral obligation on behalf of a people like ours, as we have received generous compensations from those who wronged us in the past. How can we evade the same duty vis-?-vis our victims?

5. Demilitarization: Quote: " The Palestinian State will be demilitarized and the international community will guarantee its security and independence. " End of quote. This is another symbolic issue and a symptom of self-righteousness. Why should only the Palestinian State be demilitarized? After all, Israel is a mighty regional military power, the one that has inflicted such great losses on the other side. I think of it the following way: this clause is another epitome of the total inequality between the parties and of Israel's capacity to impose unreserved hegemony. I realize that the demand that both parties should be demilitarized and protected by International powers is unrealistic and incompatible with the present balance of power. However, the demand from the other to demilitarize unilaterally is equally immoral and serves as another epitome of the " eternal righteous victim " syndrome.

Despite of very reasonable clauses in the practical realm (borders, settlements, 1-to-1 land exchange, Jerusalem and the Holy Places), this project is just another trap, just another tempting but deceptive document. The chief two reasons for this judgment are the following:

  1. It ignores the real parameters for a just, feasible and lasting peace that should rest on the required moral foundations, and that thus permit the generation of good will, of a sense of decency, of equality and of reconciliation.

2. It cannot generate a backing or a substantial support from Palestinian grassroots and/or the Palestinian leadership. To my mind, Palestinian grassroots activists, intellectuals, political activists, or other individuals, cannot and will not subscribe to the principles formulated in the Ayalon- Nusseibeh document. I daresay so in spite of the recently publicized Ram Allah event and Arnon Regular's paper , published in Haaretz, that alleged that many Fatah activists subscribed to it. I did not find any publication in any Palestinian daily reporting on it.

  1. The status and natural rights of the Palestinian collective minority in Israel is completely overlooked by the deffinition of Israel as the State of the Jewish People. There can be no solution to the conflict based on the exlusion of an important section of the stakeholders from the context of an agreed upon settlement.

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The Ayalon-Nusseibeh Statement of Principles violates the very core of the above assumptions, one by one. Unfortunately, it seems to be another product of the same mentality ? the same mentality that bred the Oslo Accord and lead to its catastrophic demise. The continuous and obstinate Israeli denial of what really lies at the bottom of this conflict prevents the so much needed change. If the Ayalon-Nusseibeh Statement of Principles is adopted, it will once again breed another abortive process, more illusions and impossible expectations, and despair. Moreover, it blocks the way to efforts of some honest people on both sides to remove the taboo over discussion of the Nakbah and of the persistent denial and evasion of Israeli responsibility. Such a discussion is essential for the opening of the road to the much needed reconciliation that is the unavoidable prelude to a lasting peace in the region.