An answer to Afif Safieh a PA official
Afif Safieh is the Palestinian General Delegate to the United Kingdom
and to the Holy Sea.
Through friends in Britain, and maybe through his personal courtesy, I
got hold of the transcripts of a speech he made in October 13, 2001 at a
Peace Rally in Trafalgar Square.
I also got a copy of an article he wrote for the RUSI JOURNAL (Journal of
the Royal United Services Institute for defense studies).
I am grateful to whomever sent me the material. It makes it obvious Afif's
dedication to the Palestinian cause as well as his very great talent in
presenting his opinions.
Afif's honesty, talent, dedication, and the fact that he certainly is a
true Palestinian son of his people, are not in question. However, the
importance of the document resides in the fact that it clearly reveals
the dogmatic and ideological prison from which many Palestinian leaders
have not succeeded in freeing themselves.
I will not dwell on those parts of Afif's writings with which I am in total
agreement. I will only deal with the points I contest. I would like to make
it clear that I am writing in the spirit of a friend, sharing the belief
in the rightfulness of his cause, and eager to see the rights of the
Palestinians recognised and fulfilled.
After a masterful expose of what had been the negotiations towards a
peaceful solution, Afif states the lessons to be drawn. They can be
sumarised in three points:
1) "The major flaw in the Peace Process is the fact that the local
belligerent parties and negotiating partners were left to fend for
themselves. ... An acceptable peace with durability, without external
support, is not achievable" ... The US remains a decisive player and
I for one believe that the battle for Washington is winnable.
2) "What is democratically acceptable to the Israeli people is simply
unacceptable for the Palestinian people. And vice-versa. IN MATTERS OF
WAR AND PEACE, THE INTERNATIONAL WILL SHOULD HAVE PRIMACY AND SHOULD
PREVAIL OVER THE NATIONAL WHIM.
3) "Israeli public opinion will always maintain that Israel needs to
withdraw as little as possible.
Those three points are logically related. As a whole they explain the
failure of the Palestinian leadership to lead the Palestinian people
towards independence, towards the recognition of its rights. They
demonstrate a tragic lack of creative imagination. It also demonstrates
the total disarray of the leadership when it contemplates the overwhelming
strength of the Israeli military, and the support it gets from the US.
Looking at the situation, the Palestinian leaders, and Afif is a good
"sample", do not see any issue, except for the wishful thinking that the
US may stop its blind support for Israel.
What is more is that Afif, plainly and explicitly states that Israel
is a democratic country. He therefore does not see it fit to distinguish
the Israeli leadership from the Israeli people, since that, in a
democracy, the leadership is acting according to the will of the people.
Decades have past in the hope that, through international intervention,
Israel will be forced to recognise the Palestinian rights. However,
quite apart from the fragility of such an hope, fragility that has been
demonstrated time after time, Afif's recipe is a recipe for disaster.
Let me start with the concept of the Israeli democracy.
Afif writes: "I adhere to the school of thought which argues that Israel
is a democracy for its Jewish component." He reaches the conclusion that
the Israeli leadership's policy is that of the Israeli people.
One could then say that the American policy over the last decades
represented the will of the American people. We know for certain that
this is not the case at all. The US leadership has been in position to
"manufacture" a public opinion of its choice. The Pentagon papers, the
Frank Church senatorial enquiries, to cite only that, are a tangible
proof that when the US leadership has an agenda, it can create a public
opinion requesting the execution of such an agenda. This is done through
the thorough control exerted on the media by the US establishment. It is
also done through the creation of "facts on the ground".
Only a people misinformed would support the kind of US agenda adopted by
the US establishment. Only a misinformed Israeli people would support
the kind of agenda wished for by an Israeli leadership bent on more and
When Sharon needs to mobilise the Israeli people behind his agenda, all he
has to do is to commit some execrable deeds in the territories, sure as he
is that it would provoke a retaliatory terrorist act from HAMAS. With
HAMAS' help, Sharon can manipulate the Israeli public opinion at will.
To understand the nature of Israeli's "democracy", and for that the nature
of most western democracies, opens a window of opportunity for a creative
and imaginative Palestinian leadership. More on this later.
The lack of understanding of the nature of "democracy" leads Afif to
advocate a peace imposed by the international will over the national whims.
This is a very dangerous proposition. If the Palestinian will is considered
a "national whim" which is to submit to the international will, how can
Palestinians ever complain if the international will happens to be
unsatisfactory for the Palestinians? Is not the Palestinian whim to be
ignored? Is it not a real possibility deriving from Afif's attitude?
Moreover, Afif's attitude implies that peace has to be achieved against
the will of the Israeli people, and possibly against the will of the
Palestinian people too. What kind of durability can be expected from such
Afif's position is that of despair. Not seeing a way for a just peace
accepted by both sides, he is requesting an imposed peace hoping, against
evidence, that the imposed peace will favour the Palestinian cause.
Once the overwhelming power of the Israeli army is recognised as a most
decisive factor, once it is recognised that the Palestinians have no
powerful ally capable of neutralising such a force, once it is recognised
that the Israeli democracy ensures the execution of the will of the
Israeli people, therefore equating Sharon's will to that of the Israeli
people, there is not much that can be done except, as Afif suggest to
believe into the possibility of winning Washington to the Palestinian side.
Afif reveals the poverty of the thinking prevailing in the Palestinian
Let us consider the Washington connection. Is it an element under
Palestinian control? Obviously not. Therefore to put so much importance
over a factor on which we have little control, condemns us to inaction.
Were Palestinians in a position to offer something valuable to Washington,
more valuable than its unwritten alliance with Israel, then the
Palestinians could be active in this respect. They would have a valuable
card to be used in negotiations. But we must face the fact that
Palestinians do not have such a card. Therefore relying on gaining
Washington to our side is at best a dangerous gamble. It is dangerous
because it leaves the Palestinian with no active role, at the mercy of
I do not suggest to ignore the Washington connection. I just state that WE
CANNOT RELY ON IT AND SHOULD NOT MAKE OF IT THE BASIS OF OUR POLICY.
Afif is stating that the Israeli public opinion will always favour the
least amount of territory to be given back to the Palestinians. Afif is
passing a judgment not only on the present mood of the Israeli people but
on its future mood till infinity of times ("always").
This is also an expression of impotence. Would it be helpful if the Israeli
public opinion would be against Sharon and would support a just peace?
Is not a just and durable peace the only recipe for long-term security
for the Israeli people? Is there not here common grounds between the two
peoples? Does it not indicate the possibility of Palestinians finally
taking their fate into their own hands and, instead of waiting for
the Washington's good will, start to act in a way that introduces a wedge
between the Israeli people and the Israeli leadership?
Here is a road in which the Palestinians are not relying on anyone else
except themselves. I state, and will prove, that Palestinians can by
themselves introduce such a wedge, and put the Israeli leadership in an
impossible situation with respect to the Israeli people.
It is a way which DOES NOT EXIST according to Afif. The belief in the
Israeli democracy equating leadership and people is incompatible with
the notion of introducing a wedge between them. The belief in the
permanency of the Israeli's people actual mood, condemns the Palestinians
to inertia with respect to possibilities of action.
But there is also something more, and more dangerous. Equating the Israeli
people and the Israeli leadership leads to justify hating the Israeli
people through hating its leaders. This hate becomes an enormous obstacle
when it comes to convince the Palestinian public opinion of the need to
influence RIGHT NOW the Israeli people in favour of a just peace
settlement. The Palestinian people cannot understand the need to be friendly
to the Israeli peole within Afif's perspective.
What is needed is for the Palestinian leadership to trust the Palestinian
people as capable of supporting a most unlikely policy, if it is honestly
explained, if it is shown as conforming to Palestinian self-respect and
Palestinians' interests. The Palestinian leadership has therefore to make
a declaration to his people explaining that instead of letting the
Palestinian boat move uncontrollably according to the winds blown by the
whim of others, it is prepared to take the helm of the Palestinian boat in
its hands and direct it to victory according to a definite strategy, and
not waiting for the mercy of the international will.
What is also needed is a declaration to the Israeli people acknowledging
its fears, however unjustified they might be, stressing the common
interest in a durable peace, and promising a series of actions which have
to result in the demystification of the Israeli people and its loss of
support for any aggressive leadership.
The two next messages will give a sample of such two declarations.
I want also to underline that when I speak of "us" when mentioning the
Palestinian, I am aware that I am a Jew and not a Palestinian. However,
"us" is justified by my complete belief in the identity of the long term
interests of the two people, and in a future of friendship between them,
friendship between equals.
Finally, to avoid any misunderstanding, I want to stress again what I
said in previous contribution:
a) the Palestinian people has the right to resist the occupation and
attack the occupyuing forces. However, indiscriminate acts of violence
against the Israeli population are acts of terrorism which are not only
morally wrong, but also counterproductive
b) I do not believe in a state being Jewish or Muslim. A state has to be
the state of all its inhabitants, respecting in the most tolerant and
democratic way the rights of minorities.
c) I do recommend a strategy which, after a trust building period during
which a Palestinian and an Israeli state will live side by side, the two
states will voluntarily unite into a democratic single state.
d) I support the right of return of the Palestinian refugees.