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Hope from Bethlehem

Sol Salbe writes:

Watching SBS news the other day I was astounded to hear Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak saying: “the rhetoric coming from Fatah and the positions being expressed are grave and unacceptable to us.” [Text from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency] His comments bore so little relationship to the reports of the congress that I could not imagine SBS, or anyone else taking it seriously. As the JTA reported on the ext day, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told a group of visiting Democratic US Congress members that the Fatah platform, along with unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, “has buried any chance of coming to an agreement with the Palestinians in the next few years.”

Perhaps the only way to respond to such drivel is to send it up. The secretary-General of Israel’s moderate Peace Now movement began his response by doing just that. While I think Oppenheimer view of Fatah is somewhat too rosy, this is nevertheless a useful analysis.

Hope from Bethlehem
Fatah Congress unprecedented sign of Palestinian commitment to peace
Yariv Oppenheimer
Published: 08.11.09, 00:49 / Israel Opinion

What great disappointment and what a blow to peace-lovers: The Fatah Congress that convened in Bethlehem did not recognize Israel as a Jewish state, did not adopt Hebrew as an official language, and did not end with the singing of Israel’s national anthem. The Palestinians have remained the same; a beaten and persecuted people seeking independence alongside Israel, but without recognizing or endorsing the Zionist idea and the principals of the Jewish State.

Those who thought that the Palestinians are on the verge of joining the World Zionist Congress and pledging allegiance to the State of Israel can find reasons for disappointment; yet those who wish to look at reality in a frank and honest manner can see the Fatah Congress as an unprecedented positive sign of the Palestinian people’s willingness and ability to secure peace with the State of Israel, while renouncing the realization of the right of return to Israel.

It isn’t easy being a Fatah member within Palestinian society. After years of occupation, the doubled number of settlers, and the construction of the wall deep in the heart of Palestinian territory, the Palestinian people’s political and civilian movement continues to preach to a non-violent struggle against Israel and the occupation, while contending with the trends of violent religious radicalization from the direction of Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran.

At times, being a Fatah member is worse in Palestinian eyes than being a leftist is perceived in the eyes of some Israelis. Fatah is perceived as a rational and secular organization that still believes in the need and ability to secure achievements via peace talks. Israel, on its part, does not rush to cooperate with the Fatah’s leadership and in many areas such as settlements, the fence’s route, and prisoner release the negotiations with Israel do not bear fruit and weaken the position of the moderates on the Palestinian side.

Understandable opening position

Meanwhile, Netanyahu and his ministers continue to talk about Jerusalem as a non-negotiable issue, and promise the Palestinians, at best, demilitarized autonomy in certain cantons across the West Bank, to be referred to by the code-name “demilitarized Palestinian state.”

In the face of Israeli declarations and policies, Fatah members are perceived as soft bleeding hearts who lead their people to a continuation of life under occupation.

On the question of the State of Israel’s’ Jewish identity, the Palestinians seek to recognize the State of Israel alongside a Palestinian state, but are unwilling to deal with Israel’s domestic definition as a Jewish State and thereby turn their backs to their brothers residing within the Green Line. Those who wish to thwart any talks to begin with will continue to demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State.

On the Jerusalem issue, the Palestinians adopted Netanyahu’s, Barak’s, and most government ministers’ speeches; the Palestinians, too, declare that Jerusalem will remain united, but as Palestine’s capital, an understandable opening position in light of the Israeli government’s uncompromising stance.

The Fatah Congress is not a convention of collaborators or devoted Israel supporters. The Bethlehem conference brought together the leaders of the national Palestinian struggle who believe peace with Israel is possible and desirable, and that the secular and moderate Palestinian liberation movement should be leading the Palestinians to independence.

It would be better for us to see reality for what it is and exhaust any possibility of reaching an agreement now, with a pragmatic and moderate leadership, before it is replaced by zealous religious leadership that views violent Jihad as the main means in the struggle against Israel.

Yariv Oppenheimer is the secretary-general of Peace Now

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