Yes, for many readers this is the last thing they want to hear right now. Here are the reasons why this needs to be done.
Mahmoud Abbas is over eighty years old. He is what is known as a lame duck president. He stubbornly held the banner of non-violence, law and order and negotiation as a means to a two-state solution. He has spoken directly to the Israeli public and reached out far beyond the comfort zone of any Palestinian leader to date, stating brazenly that he understands he will not return to his home in Safed. His dialogue with Olmert reached a critical point when he understood clearly, that any further discussion would be futile – Olmert had become a liability for him: Olmert, about to be indicted for corruption, had become a lame duck prime minister.
Abbas is not just a lame duck. He is dead in the water. Continued settlement by the Netanyahu governments; continued abuse by being labeled “no partner for peace”; extremist settler violence unchecked – all this has occurred with nothing to show in terms of gains towards statehood while his administration has coordinated security with Israel for ten years and in doing so has provided – until these last weeks – a fair amount of safety for the Israeli public. What we are witnessing today is the outbreak of individual and sporadic acts of terror concomitant to an ideological lynching of the P.A. by youth in the West Bank, urged on by Hamas in Gaza. Abbas is now in the pathetic place of trying, belatedly, to follow the mob by condoning baseless accusations with respect to Israel’s purported desires regarding the Temple Mount, by incitement against Jews and trumped up charges of violence against the very perpetrators themselves. His credit ran out months ago amongst Palestinians and in one week, amongst Israelis. Old and beleaguered, his time has come, if not today, then soon. We now need to address the very important issue of who comes next.
Ear to the ground rather than head in the sand
According to the last survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), the consistent support by Palestinians for a decade or more, for some kind of two-state solution has now waned and stands below 50%. Two thirds of Palestinians now demand the resignation of Abbas. In an election between all the leading candidates, Marwan Barghouti is polled to win by almost twice as much as any other candidate including Ismael Haniyeh. There is a clear majority in the street for an armed intifada, at this time. And while this may sound ironic, a majority of Palestinians live in fear of settler violence and of being attacked.
Thus the Netanyahu-Yaalon doctrine of “managing the situation” (ie: retaining the current status quo and deadlock while flooding occupied territory with more building schemes and settlement), is explosive. The Palestinian crisis of leadership and the fragmentation of government are empowering the mob together with radical extremists such as Hamas and now ISIL who cheer murder as a religious act. Trying to fight fire with fire by suggesting draconian punishment for stone-throwing children as a deterrent, while thirteen-year-olds are now in the process of moving onto stabbing, is clearly not working.
“But Barghouti is a terrorist…”
Yes, that is correct. He was found guilty of involvement in terror attacks leading to the death of 5 civilians. He was also involved in seeding the second intifada using the event of Arik Sharon’s pilgrimage to the Temple Mount to incite a revolt. Barghouti has also said, after the outbreak of the intifada, ”I still seek peaceful coexistence between the equal and independent countries of Israel and Palestine based on full withdrawal from Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.” These are the words that must be heeded. Now let us consider this: At least two of Israel’s prime ministers were previously involved directly in terrorism. In the case of Menachem Begin, 91 people were killed in the King David Hotel bombing. And I can assure you that the pain of victims’ families was not assuaged by the fact that someone telephoned reception to warn of it. In the case of Shamir, his alleged involvement in the premeditated murder of Lord Moyne and Count Folke Bernadotte, has been reported widely – indeed the Lehi was declared a terrorist organization by the then provisional government of Israel. So if Begin qualified as Israel’s leader to negotiate peace with Egypt, why not Barghouti to negotiate with Israel on behalf of Palestinians?
The South African model
The Israel – apartheid analogy is not appropriate for anyone who understands the causes and practice of apartheid. However, the negotiated process towards a solution that South Africa underwent is relevant regarding how peace can be achieved and dialogue managed. Barghouti must go free. It must occur in measured stages with a clear vision of short term and long term goals. He will not forgo his national struggle as a condition for release – just as Mandela refused, but he can control the street in Palestine by keeping peace and order. In fact, this process should be easier than the South African model. We have an Arab Peace Initiative. We have the Geneva Initiative. We have a U.N. Security Council resolution that endorses a negotiated peace based on 1967 borders.
Rather than let the current crisis fuel extremism and rejuvenate Hamas, just recently pummeled physically and weakened publicly by operation Protective Edge, for once let us see some initiative and leadership by the Government of Israel. One that will engage Palestinians as equals represented by a proud empowered Palestinian leadership that is roundly supported by its public.