Bassem Eid is a Palestinian and the founder and former director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG). He is
By Bassam Eid for the Times of Israel (Feb 20) — I am a proud Palestinian who grew up in a refugee camp and raised a large family. I want peace and prosperity for my people. I want an end to the misery and the destruction.
After 66 years of mistakes and missed opportunities, it is time for us Palestinians to create the conditions for peace and to work for a better future. It is time that we stopped pretending that we can destroy Israel or drive the Jews into the sea. It is time that we stopped listening to Muslim radicals or Arab regimes that use us to continue a pointless, destructive, and immoral war with Israel.
Our sad state of affairs
Let’s be realistic. We Palestinians are not doing well.
In Gaza, our schools are controlled by Muslim fanatics who indoctrinate our children, and Hamas uses our civilians as human shields in a losing battle against Israel. Hamas maintains power through violence, and it ensures that money is spent on its arsenal rather than on making the Palestinians’ lives better. While President Abbas is quick to denounce Israel whenever it attacks Hamas, he has absolutely no ability to stop Hamas from provoking Israel.
In the West Bank, while Abbas has been incapable of stopping the construction of Israeli settlements, the only good jobs are with Israeli companies, and the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment) movement is doing its best to take those jobs away from us. Abbas runs a corrupt dictatorship that uses international funds to consolidate its own administration rather than to develop the Palestinian economy.
In East Jerusalem, the PA is so mistrusted that most Palestinians would prefer to live under Israeli rule than under PA rule, and yet some of us seem unable to live in peace with the Jews.
In Palestinian camps in Arab countries, our human rights are constantly being violated, and we are simply used by our Arab hosts to further their own goals.
The facts about Israel
Despite what we tell ourselves, Israel is here to stay. What’s more, it has a right to exist. It is the nation of the Jews but also a nation for Israeli Arabs who have better lives than Arabs anywhere in Arab countries. We must accept these facts and move on. The antisemitism promoted by Hamas, Fatah, and the BDS movement is not the answer for us Palestinians.
The answer is to live in peace and democracy, side by side with Israel. We missed many opportunities to do that. We missed it in 1947 when Arab regimes encouraged us to refuse the UN partition plan. We missed it between 1948 and 1967 when we refused to create a state next to Israel. We missed it again every time after that when we refused a two-state solution presented to us.
Yet we know that Israelis want to live in peace, and that the vast majority of Israelis are friendly and neighborly. We know that Palestinian violence results in Israelis being discouraged about peace and electing ever more right-wing governments. We know that Egypt was able to secure a very favorable peace deal with Israel because Egypt agreed to accept Israel and to give up on violence. We know that the soft approach works with Israel, and yet we continue to use violence and extremist rhetoric.
Israel will never accept a large influx of Palestinians that would change the Jewish character of Israel. This means that insisting on the return of millions of refugees into Israel is pure delusion. In addition to this, the villages that we tell Palestinian refugees that they will one day return to no longer exist. We are simply lying to ourselves.
A new approach
To make peace with Israel, we need to change our approach. We need to accept that the right of return will be resolved through financial compensation that will allow Palestinian refugees to settle either in Arab countries or in Palestine. We need to accept that Israel’s security is a key to any solution. We need to accept that East Jerusalem may have to remain part of Israel.
Our most important change in approach, however, and one with which we need the help of the international community, is that we need a democratically elected and secular government that responds to the needs of our people. As I wrote in August 2008 with Nathan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident and the author of the book “The Case for Democracy”, there won’t be peace without democracy. As long as the so-called Palestinian leader is able to use international funds towards consolidating his own network of corrupt cronies, Palestinians will not trust him and will look to the alternative, which sadly happens to be Hamas.
As Sharansky and I wrote in 2008, the Israeli and international rationale that strengthening a non-democratic corrupt leader will ensure that he is “able to fight Hamas and forge a final peace with Israel” does not work. Almost seven years later, it is even clearer that this approach leads nowhere. President Abbas has no credibility among Palestinians, and even if he wanted a peace deal (which seems doubtful), he has no ability to sell it to the Palestinian public.
What we Palestinians need is a strong civil society and strong democratic institutions, and we need an end to human rights violations, including those perpetrated by Palestinians and other Arabs. Well-meaning international donors must ensure that their money is spent towards this goal, and not towards propping up either Hamas or Fatah. There is no doubt that much work is needed, but at the very least we need to reverse the current trend that is causing Palestinian society to drift even further towards corrupt and brutal rule, both in Gaza and in the West Bank. Ironically, it is only in East Jerusalem, under Israeli rule, that most Palestinians feel adequately represented by their politicians.
Hope for the future
Despite our current predicament, I believe that our future will be bright if we do what is needed to achieve peace. We can have a secular democracy that pursues our own best interests. We can live in peace with Israel and the Jews, and we can benefit from Israel’s economic success and democratic values. We have it within our power to transform a long-time enemy into a friend. We have a choice, and we can exercise that choice towards a better future for our people.