By David Beden
Only a small minority in Israel accepted the Yariv-Shemtov “territories for peace” formula when it was proposed in 1974, following the Yom Kippur War, when less than a dozen members of Israel’s Knesset supported the idea. Yet the Yariv-Shemtov formula of “territories for peace” eventually evolved into an overwhelming consensus idea by the 1996 election, when 118 members of the 120-member Knesset were elected.
A Palestine Authority that eventually would become an independent Palestinian state was conceived by human rights activists throughout the world as a two-state solution, whereby both Arabs and Jews who dwell within the small geographic entity, known as Eretz Yisrael or Palestine, would coexist side by side.
Indeed, those in Israel, Europe and the United States who spearheaded the campaign for a Palestinian state did so under the framework of a “Palestinian human rights” campaign, recognizing the idea of Palestinian statehood as a fundamental human right, in line with a basic human concept of dignity and self-determination that might be afforded to any and all peoples.
The reality of the Palestine Authority, since its inception in 1994, belies the two-state conception of a nation-state that could dwell in a state of peace and reconciliation with the Jewish state. However, the Palestine Authority nation-state could head in diametrically opposed directions. In the first scenario, there would be a Palestinian state hostile to its Jewish neighbor and bent on its destruction; the second would be a democratic, cooperative option, if the spirit of the liberal movements that campaigned for the establishment of a Palestine Authority nation-state were allowed to prevail.
The infrastructure for peace and reconciliation is already in place — in Israel, at least. More than 500 non-profit organizations dedicated to promoting understanding between Jews and Arabs are registered with Israel’s Ministry of the Interior.
I covered a meeting in November, 1996, between Yasser Arafat and various Israeli groups concerned with peace and reconciliation: all of them wanted Arafat’s approval to operate within the Palestine Authority. Present were members of Arafat’s inner circle, along with businessmen of the Palestine Chamber of Commerce. The atmosphere at the meeting, set by Arafat himself, was a peaceful one. The follow-up, as we will see, was disappointing.
Israeli businessmen at the meeting asked Arafat about the possibilities of joint business ventures, perhaps in the area of tourism. Arafat nodded his approval, yet the Palestine Authority rule stayed as it was — discouraging joint ventures between Israeli and Palestinian businessmen.
Amit Leshem, an energetic woman who had pioneered multilevel dialogues between Israeli and Palestinian teachers, principals and students, spoke to Arafat as well. At the meeting, Leshem mentioned that she was close to Dr. Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the peace process. She asked for Arafat’s personal intervention to allow schoolchildren of both peoples to interact, because she was having trouble gaining cooperation from the Palestine Authority to conduct such dialogue within the schools or any premises within the Palestine Authority.
Arafat was demonstrably interested in her idea, and asked innumerable questions, saying that “only when our schoolchildren begin to talk will there be peace.” Despite Arafat’s reassurances to Leshem, the Palestine Authority rule forbidding official contact between Israeli and Palestinian schoolchildren or school teachers was not altered.
Sitting near Amit Leshem at the Arafat meeting was Yehudah Wachsman, who had recently opened the Nachshon Center for Tolerance and Understanding, named for his son, Nachshon, who was kidnapped and later killer by Hamas assailants in October, 1994. Mr. Wachsman asked Arafat for the Palestine Authority to endorse and to participate in the center’s dialogue activities. Wachsman indicated that he had been in touch with Palestinians who had indeed expressed interest in his new institute.
Arafat responded with great emotion, relating his condolences to the Wachsman family, and promising to do for the Wachsmans what he had done for the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the elderly American Jew who was murdered by PLO member Muhamad Abbas aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship: In response to a suit from the Klinghoffer family, Arafat had issued a press release that he would fund an institute for peace education in memory of Leon Klinghoffer. (Except that Arafat never provided the funds.)
And when Yehudah Wachsman followed up the meeting with Arafat by sending a letter to invite representatives of the Palestine Authority to participate in the activities of the Nachshon Center for Tolerance, he received no answer: not from Arafat and not from the Palestine Authority.
As a journalist who covers the official Palestinian media, I had the opportunity to ask Arafat about the “message of peace” in Arabic on the PBC, the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation television and radio network that operates out of the Palestine Authority. Radwan Abu Ayash, the head of the PBC, acknowledged in a news interview that the Palestine Authority does not allow messages of peace to be carried on the official airwaves of the PBC. Arafat promised that this would change. Yet even in the wake of the Wye peace conference of October, 1998, the PBC continued its policy of daily telecasts and broadcasts that advocate war against Zionism and the Jewish state.
In August, 1998, when I covered the fifth anniversary of the Oslo process that was held at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway, I asked Arafat about any program of peace and reconciliation that he and the Palestine Authority would be ready to endorse. Arafat responded enthusiastically that the Palestine Authority had received funding from the Norwegian and American governments for the “People To People” project, which encouraged direct contact between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Since Arafat was sitting between Norwegian government officials, and only a few feet away from U.S. State Department negotiator Dennis Ross’s staff, this was his opportunity to shower both governments with praise for this most personal peace initiative.
For once, I thought that I had a genuine story to write about an official Palestine Authority/Israeli dialogue. From Ben Gurion Airport, I called the Israeli and the Palestinian participants who had been selected by the “People To People” project.
The Palestinian professor, the Arab partner in the project, was curt with me, saying that “the project hasn’t begun yet. Please do not publish my name.” The Israeli professor, Bar Ilan’s Dr. Ben Mollov, who was chosen to run the project, was more explicit. “We have the students from Bar Ilan University and Bethlehem University, ready and enthusiastic. The Palestine Authority has simply pulled the plug and forbids Palestinians from participating in the project.” That was after the Palestine Authority received generous allocations from the American and Norwegian governments for the “People To People” program.
What did happen in the official circles of the Palestine Authority Ministry of Education? Tragically, the PA schools have adopted into the official curriculum the PLO covenant that calls for recovery of all land of Palestine. The first academic study of the 150 Palestine Authority school books, appearing at www.edume.org, reveals that Palestine Authority schoolbooks simply make no reference to peace or to reconciliation whatsoever. Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee camps, housing more than 1,000,000 Arab refugees in the West Bank and Gaza transit camps for more than 50 years, have adopted a new Palestine Authority curriculum that teaches a new generation of Palestinian Arab schoolchildren that they are returning to the homes that the Palestinians left in 1948…in Tel Aviv, Haifa and more than 200 communities and collective farms that now house Israeli residents.
If Yasser Arafat has his way, the Palestinian State will communicate to the world that it wants cooperation with Jews and with Israel, while forbidding any such reconciliation.
Yet there is another Palestinian spirit. Amit Leshem, Yehudah Wachsman, Ben Mollov and hundreds of other Israeli Jews have met Palestinian Arabs from all walks of life who would favor the second possible scenario: coexistence with Israelis in peace.
This past December, during the Moslem fast of Ramadan, this reporter was cordially invited to be the guest of the Palestine Authority tourism department in Bethlehem. The businessmen of the PA went to great lengths to show me their desire for good, businesslike working relationships with Israeli Jews, even those of us who wear kippot and live in the Israeli settlements.
The Palestine Authority’s tourism professionals were proud to show me a tourism facility that is in the throes of development towards “Bethlehem 2000” — a singular tourist hotel development at “Jasser’s Palace,” a ten-minute walk from Rachel’s Tomb. Described by the Bethlehem local tourist bulletin as Bethlehem’s “architectural jewel,” Jasser’s Palace is an impressive building constructed in 1910 by an Arab notable, Suleiman Jasser, under the supervision of a French architect. The building has gone through many hands, as a German and then a British prison, as a girls’ school, as an Israel border guard post during the Intifada and then again as a girls’ school.
The Palestinian Development and Investment Company (PADICO) bought the building and its surrounding land with $46 million of Jordanian and Palestinian investment funds in order to transform it into the “Jasser Palace Hotel-Bethlehem Intercontinental.” Ziad el Nimer, 49, an engineer and resident of Amman, Jordan, and a native of Nablus, introduced himself as the overseer of the refurbishing of Jasser’s Palace.
Nimer, bubbling with enthusiasm, says, “There is a clear idea about what the palace was like before. We have allocated a budget of $1 million for its renovation. We will take advantage of the vast area inside approximately 3,000 square meters, to build various restaurants in addition to a reception hall, a guest hall, a coffee shop and a bar.” Nimer’s vision is businesslike, and he welcomes me as a journalist and as a resident of Efrat, in the hope that both Arab and Jewish tour operators in the Bethlehem region can benefit from the $46 million investment. After all — both of our people’s economic well-being are tied together.
A humorous moment occurred when our Christian host from the Bethlehem tourist office offered each of us a cup of tea. We both were fasting — for Nimer, a Moslem, it was Ramadan, and for me it was the Tenth of Tevet.
Nimer represents a practical generation of Palestinian Arabs who very much want to work with Jews. Their hope is that, one day, they will be the ones to control the Palestine Authority, after Arafat’s death.
Which side of the diametrically opposed directions of the Palestine Authority, a nation-state in the making, will become the dominant force in the future Palestinian state? As religious Jews, we look at the future history of our People through the same lens as we view the past: that of hashgachah pratit, Divine Providence, which directs leaders and nations toward their destinies. How these heavenly designs play out in this earthly world is puzzling, to say the least. We know, of course, that sudden events can turn all predictions upside-down. Yet at the moment it seems that, politically speaking, much depends on two nations — the United States and Israel. If they decide to do it, each nation can reinforce the democratic elements in the developing Palestinian nation-state. The United States spearheads the drive for nations around the world to invest in the Palestinian Authority. And as of October, 1998, the state of Israel participated in 63% of the operating budget of the Palestine Authority.
The former head of Israeli military intelligence, the late General Aharon Yariv, co-author of the Yariv- Shemtov formula, once told me that people misinterpreted his seminal peace formula. “We advocated ‘territories for peace,’” said Yariv, “not ‘territories before peace’.…”
David Beden is a media research analyst and Bureau Chief of the Israel Resource News Agency based in Jerusalem, Israel.
Why the Palestinian Covenant Still Stands
By Michael Goldberg
In mid-December, President Clinton joined the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Gaza for what is being heralded as a change in the Palestinian Covenant. While the vote that took place has been accepted worldwide as official, according to the PA’s own by-laws, the Covenant calling for the violent destruction of Israel continues to stand as a legally binding document.
Article 33 of the PLO Covenant states it can only be amended under very specific conditions, none of which were met in Gaza. A special meeting of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) must be called with the specific purpose of amending the Covenant, resulting in a two-thirds majority vote. Rather than calling on the PNC, however, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat called on members of many various committees to participate in December’s vote. In addition to this, rather than being called specifically to amend the Covenant, the meeting was instead convened to reaffirm a January, 1998 letter from Arafat to President Clinton concerning changes to the Covenant. This is what Palestinians raised their hands to. Legally, reaffirming Arafat’s letter changes nothing, but this is all that is called for by the Wye Agreement. Abu Mazen of the PA and chief negotiator of Oslo stated on Palestinian Government radio that “we never canceled the PLO Covenant. All we did was to have a show of hands for the president of the United States” (Dec. 27, 1998). Clinton, however, said that he would request that Congress give “several hundred million dollars” to the PA as a result of the vote.
David Bar-Illan, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s official director of Policy-planning and Communications, had this to say about the situation: “What’s important is the point of view of the impression. The impact that it has is much more important than whether those clauses are legally changed or rejected. The whole world assumes that this is the final change of the Covenant, so it would be very difficult to claim there is no change. The whole world was watching when President Clinton was there in Gaza. All of the Palestinians saw it. If it remains on the Internet sites of the Fatah and the PLO Ambassador of Britain, which it does, and in the PLO school textbooks, then obviously this was a fake show, a charade. So, instead of worrying about the legal implications, I would worry about whether or not they remove it from the Internet, schoolbooks, and Palestinian media. The question is not whether this is a legal cancellation or not…” He added, “Of course we’re concerned about such a document. It’s a genocidal charter.”
Just as the Constitution is the foundation of laws and principles in the United States, the PLO Covenant serves as such for the Palestinian Authority. Itamar Marcus, originally from New York, is founder and director of Jerusalem’s Palestinian Media Watch and member of the Trilateral Committee for compliance to the Wye Agreement. According to his team’s monitoring of the official PA media, the Covenant continues to set the purposes and goals of the PA. Its anti-Israel doctrine is spewed daily on PA Government TV, radio and in the official newspaper. It continues to dominate the teaching in some 840,000 Palestinian children’s classrooms. The map of “Palestine” erasing Israel, Marcus reports, continues to be shown before and after every Government newscast, and in many other contexts as well. After the signing of the Wye Agreement in October, the PLO only one month later passed a law making it a capital crime for Jews to purchase land anywhere in “Palestine” (Israel), based on a prohibition in the PLO Covenant. PA Government web sites continue to claim that Israel is located (“temporarily”) in Palestine, and the Fatah web site, Arafat’s own political party, states in bold letters, “The fourth of May draws near… Revolution until victory!” The PLO Covenant, which is the inspiration for this all, also makes it legal under Palestinian law.
Since 1993, Arafat has signed multiple agreements with Israel (including a deadline of May 7, 1996) committing to annul the clauses in the Covenant calling for Israel’s destruction. While Prime Minister Netanyahu claims that amending the Covenant is the only responsibility undertaken by the PA at Wye that has been fulfilled, it is easy to see by admission of his own spokesman that this has not truly been accomplished. Prior to President Clinton’s visit to Gaza, Netanyahu had insisted that anything less than a two-thirds majority vote by the PNC would be unacceptable to Israel and would stop the peace process, but he has since changed his position, praising the PA for the unofficial vote. By Arafat’s own words, he never intended to amend the Covenant. The PA newspaper published an interview with Arafat just before Clinton’s visit, in which he freely admitted that the vote would result only in an affirmation of his January letter to Clinton and not in any change to the Covenant.
Michael Goldberg is an independent writer who does investigative research and interviews for “Media,” a Jerusalem firm.