would like to extend my thanks to the conference organizers for
inviting me to speak before you.
I recognize the importance of this conference – it is the
very platform where major Israeli policies have been laid out
including, most recently, unilateralism in the form of the Israeli
“disengagement” from the Gaza Strip.
As a Palestinian, who has felt the effects of these policies,
it is my hope that today I will be able to shed some light on this
issue, and on how together we can chart a new, brighter, more
promising future for the Middle East – not just for our two
would have been very easy for me to focus my talk today on economics
and finance. But owing to the very important role that politics play
in the success or failure of any economy and indeed the future of
any state, I decided instead to focus my comments on matters of
politics, leaving matters of economics and finance aside for the
the past 6 years of this conflict, I would characterize the
Israeli-Palestinian relations over this period as having been too
intimate – too intimate for the Palestinians and too intimate for
the Israelis. You may
be stunned by this characterization, for many have characterized it
as the opposite. But the nature of relations today between Israelis
and Palestinians has reached levels of micromanagement, where
is involved in the minute details of the lives of Palestinians.
It is important to remember that the entirety of the
and Gaza Strip is ruled by military orders – not by politics,
logic, or reason – but by military orders with “security”
dictating the rules of the game.
Whether through the erection of hundreds of checkpoints and
roadblocks throughout the West Bank – most of which have no real
security rationale, the requirement that Palestinians obtain permits
to travel even within the
or some of the absurd rules which are largely unknown to Israelis,
the occupation has seeped into almost every aspect of Palestinian
life. Take, for
example, the recently announced prohibition on Palestinians riding
in Israeli yellow-plated cars.
While to many there is a clear security rationale, what is
ignored are the ramifications of such policies.
I know many Jerusalemites for whom this new policy means that
they cannot transport their own relatives who happen, by the fate of
war, to be characterized as “West Bankers.” I also know many
Palestinians – whether in
or elsewhere – whose land has been taken away and whose families
have been divided for the construction of the wall.
These are the details to which few Israelis are exposed but
the very reality that Palestinians continue to live and suffer from
while I understand that in the design of these and other measures
there may be a “security” rationale involved, the effect is not
to create more security for
, but rather to create more conditions for future instability.
Why? Because at
its core, this conflict is NOT a security conflict with political
ramifications but instead a POLITICAL conflict with security
for the past six years, and arguably longer, the focus has been
solely on security, ignoring the inherent link between
’s lack of security and the Palestinians’ lack of freedom.
This is not a humanitarian conflict needing a humanitarian
response, nor is this a security conflict requiring a security
response. What we are
both suffering from is a political conflict requiring a political
was once, arguably, a focus on the larger picture – beyond
checkpoints, dirt mounds and permits – to major political issues:
, borders, refugees, the settlements, etc.
Unfortunately, the process took center stage and not
the actual need for peace. While
meetings between the two sides and with the international community
abounded, what was ignored was whether progress was actually being
made to end the conflict – the occupation – and give both
peoples what they want: peace.
Today, meetings have been reduced to discussions on small,
practical (and sometimes not so practical) issues that are
peripheral to the conflict. By
focusing on the peripheral, we are no closer to solving our problems
and hence no closer to peace. We
need to broaden our view and look to politics – not only to the
small issues that are not germane to the fundamental nature of this
is easy for
to shrug away and do nothing.
– as the stronger party to this conflict – has the luxury to do
nothing. But in doing
is doing something: it
is not contributing to solving this conflict; it is making it
fester. Many believe
that we are stuck between doing nothing and between unilateral
approaches. Yet from our experience we should now know that neither
approach works: both
doing nothing and acting unilaterally only serve to make matters
then should be done? We
need bifocals. Yes,
bifocals. By that, I
mean we need clear vision to address the short term and the long
term. While it is
important to address the immediate concerns that preoccupy
Palestinians and Israelis on a daily basis, we need to do so within
a framework that provides a clear and agreed definition of where we
are going and how we are going to get there. Ever so skeptical of
transitional solutions, the need for a concrete definition of the
"final status" was, for a long time, perceived to be a
predominantly Palestinian need. But, I would argue that the adverse
developments of the past few years, including the misgivings of
unilateralism, have made working toward transitional arrangements in
the absence of an agreed final status equally unattractive from the
point of view of Israelis as well.
peaceful solution is inevitable.
It is. It is
impossible to maintain the status quo because the status quo is not
static; it is fluid and, unfortunately only gets worse, not better.
There is no question that there will be stability when the
Palestinians are given their freedom.
The vision that has been laid out by President Bush and
embraced by President Abbas is that of peaceful coexistence.
For Israelis, this means feeling safe and secure; for
Palestinians this means being free of Israeli interference and also
living in safety and security.
But these are just statements.
What I really want to lay out for you is a vision for
positive relations; not just coexistence.
have a vision of peace. We
want our state to be a qualitative addition to the region and model
of democratic values and good governance.
When I speak of good governance I mean it concretely – not
as a lofty and unattainable goal but one in which the rule of law
and not the rule of the gun will prevail.
Palestinians have the highest rate of PhD holders per capita
in the Arab world (I am one of those statistics), and our focus will
be on creating a generation of smart, educated Palestinians who will
demand no less than a credible system of laws and respect for
rights. Many might ask
why this has not happened already?
The answer lies mainly in the occupation and the lack of
freedom for the Palestinians. When
you live in a context where there is no respect for laws under a
suffocating and oppressive occupation, it is very difficult to
demand and enforce civility.
said, I will never use occupation as an excuse to allow ourselves to
be sloppy or lax in the building of our state.
As a Palestinian nationalist and someone who is committed to
working to end the occupation, I will demand certain things from our
independent Palestinian state on behalf of all Palestinians.
I want to see a state that is free, where respect for rights
is guaranteed (not simply sloganized), where education is at the
fore, and where democracy is guiding principle.
are matters that are of concern to
. But more importantly,
I want to spell out a vision of peace with
. I seek a warm peace
. I don’t want it so
warm that you are in our backyard as you are now, but I seek a warm
peace. I seek strong
political ties with
; I seek strong economic ties between the independent states of
.I seek warm relations with Israelis.
Yes, we seek warm relations with you.
We do not want to simply get to a point where we just accept
each other – we want to have warm relations where we both
recognize the mutual economic, political, intellectual and spiritual
benefits of living and working together.
We do not want to erect walls; we want to see bridges.
We do not want to close you out of our lives – we want to
live with you – as your neighbors and as your equals.
heart, I am an optimist. Why?
How? After so
much effort from all parties and after such spectacular failure,
many question how I can persist in my optimism.
The answer lies in the fact that I know that there is a great
deal of depth of goodwill on both sides, and on the part of the
does not mean that the solution will be easy.
It won’t. If
it were, obviously we would have been there.
Political and other sacrifices are required and we will need
to be bold and explain to our respective publics what we want and
how to achieve it.
is running out for us. Time
is not on our side. I
am part of the last generation of Palestinians who see Israelis in
normal settings, who meets with Israelis and who can call Israelis
“friends.” The cold
separation coupled with the micromanagement of affairs must
disappear soon, for if it does not, we will never be able to live
together as equals with mutual respect.
In Arabic, there is a saying which is, ironically, the
opposite of its English language counterpart – “absence makes
the heart grow colder”. As
a father and husband, I fear that our hearts are growing colder the
more that we are separated. I
want a future for my children and I am certain that you do too.
The future that I seek is a warm, bright one for them.
And I know that you share this vision too.
Too much time has been wasted.
It is time for us to get back on track and work to end this
conflict so that our children’s future can be marked by
Palestinian-Israeli friendships; not Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The Institute for Policy and Strategy and the Herzliya Conference