Con­fes­sions of a mega­lo­ma­niac

The Two-State So­lu­tion for Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans has been on the ta­ble for a long time. It is still the only way to go, writes

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

THE ARAB taxi driver who brought me to Ra­mal­lah had no trou­ble with the Is­raeli border posts. He just evaded them. Saves a lot of trou­ble.

I was in­vited by Mah­moud Ab­bas, the pres­i­dent of the Pales­tinian Na­tional Au­thor­ity (as well as of the PLO and the Fatah move­ment) to take part in joint Pales­tinian-Is­raeli con­sul­ta­tions in ad­vance of the in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence in Paris.

Since Binyamin Ne­tanyahu has re­fused to take part in the Paris event side by side with Mah­moud Ab­bas, the Ra­mal­lah meet­ing was to demon­strate that a large part of Is­raeli so­ci­ety does sup­port the French ini­tia­tive.

Sim­ple as it sounds, the Ra­mal­lah meet­ing was not sim­ple at all.

Be­fore the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, such meet­ings were almost rou­tine. Since our ground­break­ing first meet­ing in Beirut in 1982, dur­ing the Is­raeli block­ade, Arafat met many Is­raelis.

Arafat had almost ab­so­lute moral au­thor­ity, and even his home-grown ri­vals ac­cepted his judge­ment. Since, af­ter our first meet­ing, he de­cided that Is­raeli-Pales­tinian meet­ings served the cause of Pales­tinian-Is­raeli peace, he en­cour­aged many such events.

Af­ter his mur­der, the op­po­site trend gained the up­per hand. Pales­tinian ex­trem­ists held that any meet­ings with Is­raelis, who­ever they might be, served “nor­mal­i­sa­tion” – a ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble bo­gey­man.

Ab­bas has now put an end to this non­sense. Like me, he be­lieves that Pales­tinian state­hood and in­de­pen­dence can come about only through a joint strug­gle of the peace forces on both sides, with the help of in­ter­na­tional forces.

In this spirit, he in­vited us to Ra­mal­lah, since Pales­tini­ans are not nor­mally al­lowed into Is­raeli ter­ri­tory.

He seated me next to him on the stage, and so the meet­ing started.

Mah­moud Ab­bas – or “Abu Mazen”, as he is gen­er­ally known – was gra­cious enough to men­tion that he and I have been friends for 34 years since we first met in Tu­nis, soon af­ter the PLO had left Beirut and moved there.

Through a num­ber of years, when my friends and I came to Tu­nis, the same pro­ce­dure was fol­lowed: first we met with Abu Mazen, who was in charge of Is­raeli af­fairs, and drew up plans for joint ac­tion. Then we all moved to Arafat’s of­fice. Arafat, who had an almost canny ca­pac­ity for mak­ing quick de­ci­sions, would de­cide within min­utes “yes” or “no”.

There could hardly be two more dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters than Abu ‘Am­mar (Arafat) and Abu Mazen. Arafat was a “warm” type. He em­braced and kissed his vis­i­tors in the old Arab style – a kiss on each cheek for or­di­nary vis­i­tors, three kisses for pre­ferred ones. Af­ter five min­utes, you felt as if you had known him all your life.

Mah­moud Ab­bas is a much more re­served per­son. He em­braces and kisses too, but it does not come quite as nat­u­rally as with Arafat. He is more with­drawn. He looks more like a high-school prin­ci­pal.

I have a lot of re­spect for Mah­moud Ab­bas. He needs tremen­dous courage to do his job – the leader of a peo­ple un­der bru­tal mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion, com­pelled to co-op­er­ate with the oc­cu­pa­tion in some mat­ters, en­deav­our­ing to re­sist in oth­ers. The aim of his peo­ple is to en­dure and sur­vive. He is good at that.

When I com­pli­mented him on his courage, he laughed and said that it was more coura­geous of me to en­ter Beirut dur­ing the siege of 1982. Thanks.

The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment suc­ceeded, even be­fore Ne­tanyahu, in split­ting the Pales­tini­ans in the coun­try into two. By the sim­ple de­vice of re­fus­ing to hon­our their solemn pledge un­der Oslo to cre­ate four “safe pas­sages” be­tween The West Bank and Gaza, they made a split almost in­evitable.

Now, while of­fi­cially treat­ing the mod­er­ate Ab­bas as a friend and the ex­trem­ist Ha­mas in Gaza as an en­emy, our gov­ern­ment be­haves ex­actly the other way. Ha­mas is tol­er­ated, Ab­bas is con­sid­ered an en­emy. That seems per­verse, but is re­ally quite log­i­cal: Ab­bas can sway pub­lic opin­ion through­out the world in favour of a Pales­tinian state, Ha­mas can­not.

Af­ter the Ra­mal­lah meet­ing, in a pri­vate ses­sion, I sub­mit­ted to Ab­bas a plan for con­sid­er­a­tion. It is based on the ap­pre­ci­a­tion that Ne­tanyahu will never agree to real peace ne­go­ti­a­tions, since these will lead in­evitably to the Two-State So­lu­tion, tut-tut-tut.

I pro­pose to con­vene a “Pop­u­lar Peace Con­fer­ence”, which will meet, say, once a month in­side the coun­try. In each ses­sion, the con­fer­ence will deal with one of the para­graphs of the fu­ture peace agree­ment, such as the fi­nal lo­ca­tion of the bor­ders, the char­ac­ter of the bor­ders (open?), Jerusalem, Gaza, water re­sources, se­cu­rity ar­range­ments, refugees, and so on.

An equal num­ber of ex­perts and ac­tivists from each side will de­lib­er­ate, put every­thing on the ta­ble and thrash it all out. If agree­ment can be reached, won­der­ful. If not, the pro­pos­als of both sides will be clearly de­fined and the item left for later.

In the end, af­ter, say, half a year, the fi­nal “pop­u­lar peace agree­ment” will be pub­lished, even with de­fined dis­agree­ments, for the guid­ance of the peace move­ments on both sides. De­lib­er­a­tions on the dis­agree­ments will con­tinue un­til agree­ment is found.

Ab­bas lis­tened at­ten­tively, as is his wont, and in the end I promised to send him a writ­ten mem­o­ran­dum. I just did so, af­ter con­sult­ing with some of my col­leagues, like Adam Keller, the Gush Shalom spokesman.

Mah­moud Ab­bas is now pre­par­ing to at­tend the Paris con­fer­ence, the of­fi­cial aim of which is to mo­bilise the world for the Two-State So­lu­tion.

Some­times I won­der how I do not get in­fected with mega­lo­ma­nia. (Some of my friends be­lieve that this can­not hap­pen to me, since I al­ready am a mega­lo­ma­niac.)

A few weeks af­ter the end of the 1948 war, a tiny group of young peo­ple in the new State of Is­rael met in Haifa to de­bate a path to peace based on what is now called the Two-State So­lu­tion. One was a Jew (me), one a Mus­lim and one a Druze. I, just re­leased from hos­pi­tal, was still wear­ing my army uni­form.

The group was com­pletely ig­nored by every­body. No tak­ers.

Some 10 years later, when I was al­ready a mem­ber of the Knes­set (as, by the way, were the other two), I went abroad to see who could be con­vinced. I wan­dered around Wash­ing­ton, DC, met with im­por­tant peo­ple in the White House, the State De­part­ment and the UN del­e­ga­tions in New York. On the way home I was re­ceived in the For­eign Of­fices in Lon­don, Paris and Bonn.

No tak­ers, any­where. A Pales­tinian state? Non­sense. Is­rael must deal with Egypt, Jor­dan, et al.

I made many dozens of speeches about this pro­posal in the Knes­set. Some pow­ers started to take it up. The first was the Soviet Union, though rather late, un­der Leonid Brezh­nev (1969). Oth­ers fol­lowed.

To­day there is no one around who be­lieves in any­thing but the Two-State So­lu­tion. Even Ne­tanyahu pre­tends to be­lieve in it, if only the Pales­tini­ans would be­come Jews or em­i­grate to Green­land.

Yes, I know that I didn’t do it. His­tory did it. But I might be ex­cused for feel­ing just a tiny lit­tle bit of pride. Or a mini-mega­lo­ma­nia.

The Two-State So­lu­tion is nei­ther good nor bad. It is the only so­lu­tion there is.

I know that there are a num­ber of good, even ad­mirable peo­ple who be­lieve in the so-called One-State So­lu­tion. I would ask them to con­sider the de­tails: what it would look like, how it would ac­tu­ally func­tion, the army, the po­lice, the econ­omy, the par­lia­ment. Apartheid? Per­pet­ual civil war?

No. Since 1948 every­thing has changed, but noth­ing has changed.

Sorry, the Two-State So­lu­tion is still the only game in town.

Even Ne­tanyahu pre­tends to be­lieve in it

MAN OF PEACE: Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas de­liv­ers a speech dur­ing a rally mark­ing the 12th an­niver­sary of Pales­tinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death, in the West Bank city of Ra­mal­lah last year. Ab­bas be­lieves that Pales­tinian state­hood and in­de­pen­dence can come about only through a joint strug­gle of the peace forces on both sides.

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