Sunday, August 22, 2004

My Jewish Friend

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

Professor Herbert C. Kelman is co-chairman of Harvard Middle East Seminar and director of the program on International Conflict Analysis and Resolution in the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. In addition, he is a Mideast expert who has been studying and analyzing both the Israeli and Palestinians for over thirty years. The day after the Democratic National Convention in Boston along with some Arab journalists, I met him.
According to his research, both Israelis and Palestinians want peace. The question we asked was why, if they want peace, have the Israelis chosen the wrong leader? His answer was, “When you are at war you choose a general.” The Israelis mistakenly believed the former Israeli Prime Minister Barak had given the Palestinians an offer they couldn’t refuse at Camp David. They turned it down and a new intifada began in 2000.
In fact, the offer to the Palestinians wasn’t acceptable; Israel would have kept its settlements, cutting through Palestinian land, Kelman says.
Besides, there were unresolved questions about Jerusalem and the return of Palestinian refugees. The intifada, in any case, was provoked by Sharon’s entering the Haram Al-Shareef with Israeli soldiers, despite warnings by the Israeli government. As planned, violence erupted and Sharon made a strong response that seems to work.
Eventually, Israelis think, the Palestinians will see the light and choose peace. The same tactic, creating fear and playing savior, is used by President Bush to win public support. And Americans, like Israelis, fell for it. We all do in an environment of fear. The tough sheriff always wins. It is not much different for the Palestinians. They want peace as much as anyone but they think the Israelis don’t. They need to understand that Arafat is a great freedom fighter but not a statesman. He should be president without authority, as in Israel, and let reformers run the government.
This was the idea behind the creation of the post of Palestinian prime minister. It was an excellent Palestinian idea, undone by Bush and Sharon who insisted on diminishing both the man and his post. Sharon never wanted a peace partner. He needs war in order to justify his existence and unilateral plans.
“What if the Labor party in Israel, the reformers in Palestine and the Democrats in America win? Will peace then automatically win?” Professor Kelman explains: “America has too great an interest in Israel to be a neutral peace broker. At least, however, Kerry is a pragmatic man rather than an ideological one. A peace-oriented leadership in Israel and Palestine would definitely help a Democratic White House with a good historical record of brokering peace in the Middle East.”
Before our meeting ended, I presented Professor Kelman with a portrait I had drawn of him during the meeting as a token of my admiration for my new Jewish friend and partner in peace.

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