Warning: include(/var/www/vhosts/iqna.org/httpdocs/wp-includes/wp-admin/js/ajax.php): failed to open stream: No such file or directory in /var/www/vhosts/iqna.org/httpdocs/wp-config.php on line 43 Warning: include(): Failed opening '/var/www/vhosts/iqna.org/httpdocs/wp-includes/wp-admin/js/ajax.php' for inclusion (include_path='.:') in /var/www/vhosts/iqna.org/httpdocs/wp-config.php on line 43 “What we have learned: don’t get drawn into it; find a solution” | IQNA

“What we have learned: don’t get drawn into it; find a solution”

The peace negotiations between Palestine and Israel appear to have entered a serious phase, at least as far as the Palestinians are concerned. Along with other indications, this is apparent from the proposal by President Mahmoud Abbas to have the borders of the future Palestinian state guarded by NATO troops under American command. The Palestinian ambassador in The Hague, dr. Nabil Abuznaid, explains.

“The problem is that the Israelis think that we are not capable of guarding our own border and that terrorists would be free to come and go. They don’t trust us. And so they still want to keep their troops stationed in our territory even after a peace agreement. But that means we would not really be independent. With Israeli troops in our country we will not feel free.”

“For this reason we are making a fair proposal. A force that the Israelis can rely on will guard the Borders and ensure security: NATO. And that force will stay there for many, many years. We in turn accept a demilitarized status. We will do away with armed forces. We only want an effective police force. Our state will never represent a threat to its neighbours.”

On NATO’s reaction to Mahmoud’s proposal, he says: “NATO is willing, provided both parties agree to it. The Israeli government has so far rejected the idea.”

However some Israeli ex-generals are enthusiastic about NATO troops guarding the Palestinian borders, provided that their instructions are “robust” and that they are allowed to shoot, under their terms of engagement. Brigadier-general Giora Ingbar points to the effectiveness of NATO as a peacemaker in Bosnia, after the UN command there was effectively withdrawn. What does the Palestinian government think about this sort of “robust” instructions?

“We will accept whatever NATO asks”, ensures Abuznaid. “NATO will have complete freedom in preserving peace and security in the area. They have to be able to guard the borders effectively .”

“But I don’t think that Prime Minister Netanyahu believes that the Europeans in NATO will offer Israel proper protection. He reasons that the Europeans didn’t do that during  the Holocaust. Only the Israelis themselves can offer sufficient security.” Abuznaid does not want to think in those terms. “You mustn’t just look at the past. It’s about the future of both peoples, the Palestinians and the Israelis. Let us learn from the past, so that something like that can never happen again. Both sides had nothing to do with the Holocaust, except that in the case of the Jews, they were its victims. But you can’t allow Palestine to suffer because the Holocaust took place.”

In so many words, Israel has resisted the arrival of NATO. “We will still remain in the Jordan Valley for the next 40 years”, says Netanyahu. Is that a Pavlov reaction because the proposal came from the Palestinian side – in other words: we reject everything on principle if proposed by Palestinians? “The Israeli government will use any excuse in order to continue the occupation,” Abuznaid admits.

But it is not only Israel that is resisting the arrival of NATO. Hamas, which has effective power in Gaza, is also doing so. Isn’t that an obstacle in practice?

“In 1993 Israel recognized the Palestinian government, and the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, recognized Israel,” he says. “Just like there are groups in Israel that accept practically none of the government’s ideas, the same occurs in Palestine. Hamas is not the official representative of the Palestinian people. You have to view it in the same way that in the Netherlands there are groups that say that I and all the other Palestinians should seek refuge in Jordan. That is also not the Dutch position. Similarly Hamas does not represent the Palestinian position. What matters is what the two leaders of Israel and Palestine agree together.”

Hamas doesn’t only have followers in Gaza, but also on the West Bank. However the ambassador is not so pessimistic about what NATO would encounter there. “NATO principally would be positioned on the borders. The Palestinian police would provide security for the military bases of the Western soldiers. In a Palestinian state, Palestinians are responsible for everybody’s safety.”

What would a Palestinian state gain by doing away with armed forces?

“We have suffered for so many years, we hate guns and all weapons,” is the answer. “We want schools and hospitals and roads, water and irrigation. We have no intention of fighting anybody whatsoever. What we have learned in all these years of conflict is don’t get drawn into it, find a solution. That is why we are striving for prosperity for the people, not their destruction.”

From the Israeli point of view the occupation has not been entirely unprofitable, he says. “In the occupied territories, Palestinians are now consuming Israeli goods. At the same time they are used as cheap labor in Israel. Looked at this way, the occupation doesn’t only cost money, but also provides a return, also for individual Jewish colonists. There are many who say: I am willing to leave here, but then I want to receive compensation. Because a great many colonists are better off now than they were in Israel.” However the colonists can stay, as far as the Palestinian government is concerned, if they apply for a residence permit and obey Palestinian law, as is the case in all other countries.

At the same time less and less Israeli military are required in order to maintain control of the Palestinians. “We live in isolated areas which are surrounded by barricades”, he explains. “Only about 20 people are needed for the checkpoints. If you wanted you could completely cut off our areas with just a small military force. In fact they are modern ghettos. And it has become safer for the Israelis. There are not many weapons left amongst the Palestinians. The Palestinian police have taken them in.”

How would the Palestinian people get on with NATO soldiers? In the 1980s one Dutch officer, Lt Gen Gerrit Berkhof, complained to the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir about the way in which Dutch UN soldiers on the Lebanese border were harassed by Israeli snipers. “We had chemical toilets standing there, painted white, with UN in large letters on them. If a Dutch soldier when to use them, they shot at them through the roof. This may well have helped people’s bowel movements, but not the atmosphere.” said Berkhof. “We sent 800 pro-Israeli people from the Netherlands to Lebanon each year, and 800 people came back who were anti-Israel.” In the future, how can you avoid NATO soldiers returning who are full of aversion for Palestinians and Israelis?

Abuznaid: “That is possible if both sides sincerely want peace. It must not come to the point where NATO soldiers get involved in exchanging shots. In fact I hope that they will never be forced to shoot.”

Palestinian refugees, currently spread throughout the Middle East, are often ignored. Their presence makes the negotiations, which are complicated enough, even more complex. There are six million of them now, says Abuznaid. “The refugees are originally from Palestine. They left their country, or they had to flee, when the state of Israel was established, or during subsequent wars. The children and grandchildren are also refugees. United Nations did recognize all these people as refugees. They have a UN Identity Card.

Dr. Nabil Abuznaid, Palestine’s ambassador in The Hague

Dr. Nabil Abuznaid, Palestine’s ambassador in The Hague

The Palestinian negotiators have brought the problem to the table.

The refugees are demanding the right to return. But their numbers naturally represent an obstacle. It is not possible to take in these sorts of numbers just like that. What would the right to return look like in practice? “An absolute right to either return or to receive compensation is the perfect solution”, says he. “However we are looking for a solution for the historical Israeli – Palestinian conflict. That requires acceptance by both sides. On the one hand we can’t leave the refugees on their own in their camps. On the other hand we are also aware of the demographic situation in Israel. We can’t swamp Israel with millions of people – whilst many refugees have no desire at all to live under Israeli law. It is a question of negotiation and ultimately of compromise.”

Is it also possible for the refugees to live in the new Palestine? “That means entering into an agreement with Israel. But in principle a Palestinian state must be open to receive the refugees.” He is convinced that Palestine can also accommodate hundreds of thousands of extra people.  “I don’t think that any more than a maximum of three million wish to return. Certainly not if they are compensated somewhere else and are given equal rights there. Look, my family is from Haifa. I live in Hebron. My son lives in the United States. He is an advocate. I don’t want to return to Haifa and my son is happy in America, even though he loves Palestine dearly. That is the way of the world nowadays.”

People probably won’t decide to return en masse just like that. Unless refugees suddenly find themselves in a crisis, such as has happened in Syria. What then? “We will welcome them”, says the ambassador. “But it is also not at all certain that they will all head this way in a situation like that. Palestinian refugees have left Iraq and gone to Chile. If you ask those people now whether they wish to go to Palestine, most of them say: in truth, no. But the principle must be upheld that every Palestinian who wishes to live in Palestine has that right.”

The negotiations
Of course this whole conversation remains theoretical in nature, for as long as there is no breakthrough in the negotiations. From the Israeli side it seems like everything is aimed at dragging things out for as long as possible. Israel has never been as safe as it is at present. Egypt, in spite of all its upheavals, is adhering to the peace treaty, and Jordan is stable and in favour of peace. Syria, the neighbour that was felt to be most dangerous, has been disabled by civil war and is in the process of giving up its weapons of mass destruction. This also seriously weakens the position of Iran, which is viewed by Israel as its most dangerous enemy. And this in turn means that Hezbollah, the ‘Iranian guard on the Israeli northern border’ is considerably weakened.

Abuznaid met president Abbas bij de opening van de Palestijnse ambassade in Den Haag

Ambassador Abuznaid with president Mahmoud Abbas in the garden of the embassy

In contrast the Palestinians really wish to negotiate. “We want Israel to give up its occupation”, says Abuznaid. “If that is the ultimate objective, negotiation makes sense. But if they only wish to play for time, then negotiation is a waste of time.”

How can the current crisis over the Ukraine, and the new Cold War that seems to be developing between Russia and the West, be prevented from making the Palestinian – Israeli discussions disappear into the background? The ambassador remains stoical about this. “Crises don’t stop happening. This does not change the fact that everyone is aware that the Palestinian – Israeli conflict is an old problem and that it must be resolved. Otherwise it will carry on affecting the entire world. People throughout the world want it to end. It is all about justice. Look at the people in the West, in the Netherlands. The Dutch support Israel, they want the country to exist and to be able to feel safe. But they are not in favour of the occupation. The Dutch see Israel as their friend. At the same time they realize that the occupation is not good; not for the Palestinians, but equally not for Israel itself. And that is why they do not always find Israel’s behavior at all acceptable. You don’t let your friend drive when he is drunk.”

He tells the story of an elderly Dutch lady who told him that she had given money each year for planting trees in Israel. “But now that I have seen how Jewish colonists destroy trees belonging to Palestinians on the West Bank I feel ashamed”, she said. “Now I give money to the Palestinians to be able to plant trees again.”

Frans Peeters

Frans Peeters

Frans Peeters is senior editor at IQNA. Previously he was editor at the Dutch weekly Vrij Nederland and foreign editor and military reporter at the Dutch daily Het Parool. He published Gezworen Vrienden, het geheime bondgenootschap tussen Nederland en Israël (Sworn Friends, the Secret Alliance between the Netherlands and Israel).


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