One of the key points our guests, who are on the Right part of the political spectrum, have been making, is that the Palestinians are exhausted. They are exhausted from this war and completely drained. Furthermore, they are so weak, our guests claim, that if Israel would simply stand firm, the Palestinian resistance would wither and die.
A couple of weeks ago the NY Times Sunday Magazine published a lengthy article, reprinted here, about Mahmud Abbas and the current state of affairs. Ironically, this publication, which our guests from the Right have poo-pooed as some conspiracy minded journal, echoes their own comments. It’s very long but a worthwhile read because the author, James Bennett, former chief of the New York Times bureau in Jerusalem, talks to politicians, terrorists and militants, mothers, fathers, and a host of others. One cannot avoid the impression that the Palestinians are indeed exhausted; happy to receive the current reprieve from fighting; rejuvenated from the “lull”; unable to see the end of the conflict; and view this break, even if it lasts a decade, as one to reconstitute their strength so they can fight again.
Here are some sample sections:
”We just need a break,” she said. ”I know the war between the Israelis and the Palestinians will be there until God stops the whole system. But we just need a break of five years.” She explained, ”We got used to this system, of taking this break for some time, probably 10 years, and then, when things reach a point where no one can deal with them anymore, then war will be for some time.”
El Farra agreed with Abbas that it was wrong to carry out armed attacks — at least for now. ”I don’t think it’s the right time for suicide bombings,” she said. But she argued that violence was ultimately necessary because she thought Israel responded to nothing else. ”When they say no to peace, we have to be able to answer back,” she said. She thought the two sides would never settle their differences — because Israeli Jews would never yield the man-made plateau in Jerusalem that they call the Temple Mount and because Muslims would never relinquish their claim to the same plot, which they call the Noble Sanctuary. No matter how tired the Palestinians became, she said, they would not abandon this goal, because future ”generations will probably curse us.”
”It’s very contradictory, the feelings that we have and our reality,” she said at last. ”The reality is pushing very hard.” She slapped one hand into the other. ”Our feelings and beliefs are pushing hard, too. You know what I mean? It’s very contradictory. And I see this with all the people, and I see it with myself too. See, you want to have peace; you want to live; you want to have children; you want to be able to live a normal life. But at the same time you cannot just give up on everything in return for this.” She paused, then added more quietly, ”For me, I think we all need psychotherapy here, at least in Gaza.”
A visitor appeared — none other than Abu Amani, the Fox [ed. described earlier as a militant being hunted by Israel]. He seemed transformed. He had exchanged his heavy coat and boots for a black jacket and street shoes, and he looked about 10 years younger. He was smiling. It turned out he had remained in Gaza City, rather than return to Khan Yunis, to enjoy his new freedom. ”When you saw me last time, you could tell I was exhausted,” he said, grinning. ”Now, we can move more freely, sleep more.” Maybe resistance was not a hobby. But at least some militants, given a real choice and national leadership, were eager to give calm a chance.
Hawashin argued that most Palestinians wanted internal reforms long before Israel or the Bush administration demanded them. Many Palestinians believe Arafat encouraged the intifada to give an outlet to discontent with his own rule. Hawashin gestured with a broad hand at the portrait of Arafat above his head. ”Unfortunately, our symbol — and we consider him a model — his real mistake was not to establish institutions in Fatah or the Palestinian Authority.” In Jenin, he said, Palestinians did not yet feel any change, but they were anxious for it. ”Everyone knows the reality,” he said. ”Israel brought us to a point where we started looking just for bread.” He said that he would settle for ”the minimum of my dreams,” but he thought that minimum was well above Israel’s maximum concession.
What is known rather grimly as a ”final status” deal does appear a long way off. There is a possible intermediate step, and Abbas fears it. He worries that the Israelis and Americans will seize on a Gaza withdrawal to push for a possibility mentioned in the road map, the creation of ”an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders.” No one knows exactly what this would be. But it would give the appearance of a great step forward, an achievement for Bush on the order of Oslo. Abbas says he would reject it as a trap, a version of what Sharon calls a ”long-term interim agreement” that would defer resolution of the toughest issues. Abbas thinks it could create a state that hopscotched from Gaza through enclaves on the West Bank, while downgrading the conflict to just another border dispute and releasing international pressure on Israel for further concessions. From a historical perspective, it is an astounding possibility: that Ariel Sharon could wind up insisting on a Palestinian state over the objections of a Palestinian leader. If Bush backs it, it may be an offer Abbas cannot refuse.
Sharon’s aides say that he believes a long-term interim arrangement will allow the adversaries to cool off and learn to live together. As time goes by, they say, the precise borders will matter less. Yet the historical pattern is the opposite. It is when Palestinians are feeling rested and prosperous that their political demands come once more to the fore. Nation-building makes people impatient for national liberation. Like other Palestinians, Hawashin is already anticipating the fire next time. ”There will be another intifada, of course,” he told me. The Palestinians will once again be ruled by their hearts, not their heads, he said, and in their hearts they will never surrender.
”I don’t consider myself a defeated person,” Hawashin said. ”I consider myself a weak person.”
It’s lengthy but very well written and worth a read. It could be that our hawks are right and removing the pressure now is a mistake.