The Palestinian Vision
-By president YASIR ARAFAT-
The New York Times
February 3, 2002
RAMALLAH — For the past 16 months, Israelis and Palestinians
have been locked in a catastrophic cycle of violence, a cycle which only promises
more bloodshed and fear.
The cycle has led many to conclude that peace is impossible, a myth borne
out of ignorance of the Palestinian position. Now is the time for the Palestinians
to state clearly, and for the world to hear clearly, the Palestinian vision.
But first, let me be very clear. I condemn the attacks carried
terrorist groups against Israeli civilians. These groups do not represent
the Palestinian people or their legitimate aspirations for freedom. They are
terrorist organizations, and I am determined to put an end to their activities.
The Palestinian vision of peace is an independent and viable
Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, living as
an equal neighbor alongside Israel with peace and security for both the Israeli
and Palestinian peoples. In 1988, the Palestine National Council adopted a
historic resolution calling for the
implementation of applicable United Nations resolutions, particularly, Resolutions
242 and 338. The Palestinians recognized Israel's right to exist on 78 percent
of historical Palestine with the understanding that we would be allowed to
live in freedom on the remaining 22 percent, which has been under Israeli
since 1967. Our commitment to that two-state solution remains
unchanged, but unfortunately, also remains unreciprocated.
We seek true independence and full sovereignty: the right
to control our own airspace, water resources and borders; to develop our own
economy, to have normal commercial relations with our neighbors, and to travel
freely. In short, we seek only what the free world now enjoys and only what
Israel insists on for itself: the right to control our own destiny and to
take our place among free
In addition, we seek a fair and just solution to the plight
of Palestinian refugees who for 54 years have not been permitted to return
to their homes. We understand Israel's demographic concerns and understand
that the right of return of Palestinian
refugees, a right guaranteed under international law and United Nations Resolution
194, must be implemented in a way that takes into account such concerns. However,
just as we Palestinians must be realistic with respect to Israel's demographic
desires, Israelis too must be realistic in understanding that there can be
no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if the legitimate rights of
these innocent civilians continue to be ignored. Left unresolved, the refugee
issue has the potential to undermine any permanent peace agreement between
Palestinians and Israelis. How is a Palestinian refugee to understand that
his or her right of return will not be honored but those of Kosovar Albanians,
Afghans and East
Timorese have been?
There are those who claim that I am not a partner in peace.
In response, I say Israel's peace partner is, and always has been, the Palestinian
people. Peace is not a signed agreement between individuals — it is reconciliation
between peoples. Two peoples cannot reconcile when one demands control over
the other, when one refuses to treat the other as a partner in peace, when
one uses the logic of power rather than the power of logic. Israel has yet
to understand that it cannot have peace while denying justice. As long as
the occupation of Palestinian lands continues, as long as Palestinians are
denied freedom, then the path to the "peace of the brave" that I
embarked upon with my late partner Yitzhak Rabin, will
be littered with obstacles.
The Palestinian people have been denied their freedom for
far too long and are the only people in the world still living under foreign
occupation. How is it possible that the entire world can tolerate this oppression,
discrimination and humiliation? The 1993 Oslo Accord, signed on the White
House lawn, promised the Palestinians freedom by May 1999. Instead, since
1993, the Palestinian people have endured a doubling of Israeli settlers,
expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and increased
restrictions on freedom of movement. How do I convince
my people that Israel is serious about peace while over the past decade Israel
intensified the colonization of Palestinian land from which it was ostensibly
negotiating a withdrawal?
But no degree of oppression and no level of desperation can
justify the killing of innocent civilians. I condemn terrorism. I condemn
the killing of innocent civilians, whether they are Israeli, American or Palestinian;
whether they are killed by Palestinian extremists, Israeli settlers, or by
the Israeli government. But condemnations do not stop terrorism. To stop terrorism,
we must understand that terrorism is simply the symptom, not the disease.
The personal attacks on me currently in vogue may be highly effective in giving
Israelis an excuse to ignore their own role in creating the current situation.
But these attacks do little to move the peace process forward and, in fact,
are not designed to. Many believe that Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister,
given his opposition to every peace treaty Israel has ever signed, is fanning
the flames of unrest in an effort to delay indefinitely a return to negotiations.
Regrettably, he has done little to prove them wrong.
Israeli government practices of settlement construction,
home demolitions, political assassinations, closures and shameful silence
in the face of Israeli settler violence and other daily humiliations are clearly
not aimed at calming the situation.
The Palestinians have a vision of peace: it is a peace based
on the complete end of the occupation and a return to Israel's 1967 borders,
the sharing of all Jerusalem as one open city and as the capital of two states,
Palestine and Israel. It is a warm peace between two equals enjoying mutually
beneficial economic and social cooperation. Despite the brutal repression
of Palestinians over the last four decades, I believe when Israel sees Palestinians
as equals, and not as a subjugated people upon whom it can impose its will,
such a vision can come true. Indeed it must.
Palestinians are ready to end the conflict. We are ready
to sit down now with any Israeli leader, regardless of his history, to negotiate
freedom for the Palestinians, a complete end of the occupation, security for
Israel and creative solutions to the plight of the refugees while respecting
Israel's demographic concerns. But we will only sit down as equals, not as
supplicants; as partners, not as subjects; as seekers of a just and peaceful
solution, not as a defeated nation grateful for whatever scraps are thrown
our way. For despite Israel's overwhelming military advantage, we possess
something even greater: the power of justice.
Yasir Arafat was elected president of the Palestinian Authority
in 1996 and is also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization.