Saturday, February 1, 2014

Natan Sharansky: Palestinian Society Is Not Ready to Live with Jews in Its Midst. By David Horovitz.

Sharansky’s guide to the region’s human rights dilemmas. By David Horovitz. The Times of Israel, January 30, 2014.

Sharansky: If Obama had backed Iran’s dissidents, Arab Spring might have looked different. By David Horovitz. The Times of Israel, January 30, 2014.


2. On the rights of settlers
In discussing the migrants, Sharansky had mentioned “transfer” — which in Hebrew used to refer to the concept of forcing or encouraging Arabs in Israel to leave, but is used more generally and vaguely of late. I drew him back to the issue, and more specifically to this week’s ministerial dispute over the fate of settlers — sparked by The Times of Israel’s scoop on Sunday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to demand that those settlers who find themselves in “Palestine” under a two-state solution be given the choice to stay put or relocate to sovereign Israel. I asked him about settlers’ rights, and about the rights of Israeli Arab citizens, where there has been much recent discussion about Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s idea of redrawing the borders, so that perhaps 300,000 residents of the Galilee triangle might find themselves rendered residents of “Palestine.”
Sharansky said he had been arguing since the mid-to-late 1990s, when he was a government minister, that the best way to judge the seriousness of the peace process, the best criterion by which to gauge whether the two societies were truly ready for peace, was by their handling of the issue of Jews in a Palestinian state and Arabs in Israel. There’ll be room for optimism, he said, when “we don’t have to discuss how we are removing Jews and how they are removing Arabs” from each other’s territory.
Thus the current reality is deeply discouraging, because it apparently “goes without saying that every territory that is left by the Israeli army has to be Jew-free, that Abu Mazen feels very comfortable saying what he says [about insisting there be no Israelis in his putative state], that he doesn’t feel on this issue he will have any problem with the world — it’s clear that there will be no Jews.” And meanwhile, “others say that we’ll be crazy if we stay there” – we, being the settlers. All this, said Sharansky, shows how “not symmetrical the situation is, and that’s why I don’t believe in the reality of this peace process, which is brought from the top and not from the bottom.”
He was not entirely bleak. He praised the “real growth of civil society in the West Bank” as advancing peace. “The former British prime minister [and Middle East Quartet envoy] Tony Blair deserves much more credit for this than today’s leaders,” he said. But as for the prospects for talks brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry yielding viable peace, by imposing a take it or leave it deal, well, forget it, he said.
Abbas, he stressed, is correct to think that Palestinian society is not ready to live with Jews in its midst. “He’s right. He’s saying, Our society is not ready to accept this. He’s not saying, I’m anti-Semitic. But this, for me, is the barometer of readiness or not readiness to accept a peace treaty.”
He said the Americans have never internalized the imperative to build peace bottom up, by first creating a viable civil society, but then neither have other world leaders, or even all Israeli leaders. “What was the Oslo agreement?” he asked, and answered his rhetorical question witheringly. “The Oslo agreement was a decision to bring [Yasser] Arafat here: We will force the Palestinians to accept fully Arafat as their strong leader. Not only we in Israel, but we the world, will give as much money to Arafat, the strongman, as he needs to fight against Hamas and that’s how peace will be brought.” Sharansky recalled that he and I were working together at The Jerusalem Report when he wrote an article in 1993 criticizing the Oslo process, citing the assertion by Yitzhak Rabin that it would work because it would play out “without the High Court of Justice, without B’Tselem, without the bleeding hearts.”
Over and over, for the past 20 years, said Sharansky, Israeli leaders and international peacemakers have set impossible short-term deadlines to try to impose a peace agreement. “Now they say we have nine months to make a deal. Each time, [a deadline] is decided, and each time nothing happens, and each time when I start raising my ‘crazy ideas’ about civil society, they say it’s a good idea but it will take too long, 10 years. No, I say, five years. Still too long, they say. This has been going on for 20 years, and we’ll be carrying on like this.
“And the only good thing that’s happening is happening in spite of all this: Civil society for Palestinians was much better before 1993 than when Yasser Arafat came and started destroying it” and it’s improving again now, in the post-Arafat era. Sharansky said that when he was negotiating with the Palestinian leadership as minister of trade and industry in the mid-to-late 1990s, the Palestinian economy “became so controlled, such a racket.” If a business initiative benefited this or that leader and his family, it went ahead. If not, not. Now, by contrast, the Palestinians have a relatively free economy, in part because “political fear of Abu Mazen is not the same as political fear was of Arafat.”
What’s still needed, he stressed, is true “political freedom and education.If there was organized collective effort by the free world on these issues,” rather than the constant encouragement being given to the Palestinian leadership that they can circumvent these issues and get a state, then we’d truly get closer to peace.
Coming back to the settlers, Sharansky stressed that if they wanted to leave rather than live under Palestinian rule, that would of course be their choice. “But if they have to leave because otherwise they will be killed, and the world accepts that of course they will be killed,” that shows the problem. I put it to him that the world doesn’t much care about settlers being killed; it cares, rather, about radical Israelis in the heart of the Palestinian state. “If they’re radical [and commit crimes], they’ll be put in Palestinian prisons,” he responded. “We also have radical Arabs in Umm el-Fahm. We now even have some connected to al-Queda. The security forces have to deal with that. [The problem is that] Abu Mazen says, We will not permit Jews to be among us. That’s what he can say easily in every refugee camp and they will applaud him. If he were to say, We can accept the fact that Jews will live here, he would be killed.”
3. On the rights of Israeli Arabs
What about that mirror proposal of Liberman, I asked him again: redrawing the border and redefining Israeli Arabs as Palestinians?
His response to his fellow Soviet émigré and one-time political rival was a firm no. Such remarcations and redefinitions did happen around the world, he began, “when states were losing their sovereignty and they were shaping anew the map.” But that was no precedent for Israel’s reality. “Here we’re talking about the state [of Israel] — which has laws, which has agreements between citizens. You cannot decide that, from now, some of the citizens won’t be citizens. As a minimum, you have to give them the opportunity to decide. If they will agree, that’s something else. But we cannot [impose it].
In partitioning British mandatory Palestine, he noted, the UN did precisely that: “It said, okay, the territory where there’s a majority of Jews will be a Jewish state. The territory where there’s a majority of Arabs will be an Arab state. [But that was] because the Jewish state and the Arab state didn’t exist, so the world was deciding for them. The moment the [Jewish] state was created — though the other [Arab] one didn’t want to be created — since it is a democratic state, there is a treaty with the citizens. If there will be a massive desire among the Arabs of Umm el-Fahm to withdraw their (Israeli) citizenship, I don’t think we have to fight it. But we got the state together with citizens who are not Jewish. We can’t now decide that those who are not Jewish [are not Israeli citizens].”