Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The enemy within

THIS week the world marks the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall. Thirty-five years ago an event with global ramifications likewise occurred. On November 13, 1974, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat famously addressed the UN General Assembly. Carrying a gun and an olive branch, Arafat appealed not to let the olive branch fall from his hand.

Arafat's speech signified that the Palestinians had moved in international eyes from being a group of stateless refugees to a legitimate national movement.

Whether Arafat intended it or not, his statement also signposted two dichotomous directions for the Palestinians.

One was the road to peace and reconciliation with Israel via mutual compromise and a two-state solution. This path would be encapsulated in the 1993 Oslo accord that led to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, and almost resulted, via the American-auspiced 2000-01 negotiations, in the creation of a Palestinian State.

The other was the unbending war of terror and violence reflected in suicide bombings and rocket attacks to achieve the destruction of Israel.

Notably they did not endorse a compromise two-state solution that recognised the legitimate claims of Israelis and Palestinians. Rather, they simplistically constructed the Israeli-Arab conflict as an extension of the struggle between Western colonialism and the Third World, and recommended the elimination of the Israeli side of the conflict.

Anti-Zionist fundamentalists captured the pro-Palestinian agenda. In 1974 and again in 1975, the extremist-influenced Australian Union of Students, passed motions calling for the elimination of the state of Israel and its replacement by a democratic secular state of Palestine. The latter term was a disingenuous euphemism for an ethno-religious Islamic Arab state, given that most Palestinian Muslims are highly religious. The motions were rejected by Australian students, but this did not deter the fundamentalists.

The fundamentalist agenda cooled following the PLO's implicit recognition of Israel in 1988. However the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000 produced a renewal of the inflammatory rhetoric from the far Left.

The higher the tide of violence perpetrated by the Palestinians, the greater the fury and blame directed at the Israeli victims.

The March 2002 attacks provoked the Israeli invasion of the leading West Bank cities in an attempt to destroy the terror networks, and stop the carnage. Yet the first Australian petition for an academic boycott of Israel initiated by a small clique of Australian academics after this invasion in May 2002 was directed at the victims of terror.

Another group condemned Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard's visit to Israel last June.

The petition signatories seemed oblivious to the fact that more than one million Arabs are citizens of Israel; that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip overwhelmingly demand an Arab state rather than a Jewish-Arab entity, and that most Arab states ethnically cleansed their Jewish populations over 50 years ago.

No exposure of the infantile slogans of the fundamentalists obviates the need for Israel to promote rather than undermine the olive branch solution.

More and more Israelis and diaspora Jews understand that Israel will not only have to freeze West Bank settlements, but eventually dismantle at the very least all settlements east of the security barrier.

Equally the Palestinians will have to make concessions that facilitate peaceful relations. This means finally accepting that the 1948 refugees will only return to the Palestinian state and not to Israel.

The fundamentalists of course will never accept this win-win plan. Such is the nature of black-and-white revolutionary socialism. But their all-or-nothing demands for a similarly coercive utopia will bring only tragedy to the Palestinians.

Philip Mendes is the co-editor of Jews and Australian Politics (Sussex Academic Press, 2004). Nick Dyrenfurth is the co-editor of Confusion: the Making of the Australian Two-Party Political System (forthcoming with Melbourne University Publishing).

Source: The Australian

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