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November 26, 2001
Torpedoes against an Aircraft Carrier

By Uri Avnery


Israel resembles a speedboat. It moves quickly and turns easily. Israelis are proud of their talent for improvisation, which goes together with an inability to plan anything. These are to two sides of the same coin.

The United States resembles a giant aircraft carrier. It moves heavily and can turn only in a very wide circle. It cannot improvise and has to plan everything meticulously.

On the morrow of the terrorist attack against the Twin Towers, it was clear that the Bush policy in the Middle East must change course. The slogan "let them bleed" (meaning us and the Palestinians) disappeared. The US must solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which produces immense quantities of hatred and fury against America. We said this immediately after the outrage, but the weeks passed and nothing happened. Or so it seemed.

But the aircraft carrier is turning, very slowly, with an almost imperceptible movement. On the 67th days after the terrorist atrocity, Colin Powell was ready to deliver his speech, outlining the new American policy.

Clearly, the Secretary of State had to give in to some of the immense pressures put on him. His remarks were phrased cautiously, with maximum effort to satisfy the two sides, both substantially and emotionally. There are one-sided passages, some pro-Palestinian, many more pro-Israeli. Even at the last moment Powell had to insert some new sentences, which were not in the text distributed in advance, to satisfy the pro-Israeli lobby.

But if we remove the frills and bare the skeleton of the plan, we find that it is logical and reasonable. Here are the highlights:

  • The two-state solution: peace will be based on the existence of two states, "Israel and Palestine". The terms were chosen carefully: for the first time, the name Palestine has been spelled out, instead of the less explicit "Palestinian state". We in Gush Shalom have already been doing this for a long time.
  • Both states will have "secure and recognized borders". No longer Israel without fixed borders, no Palestine without borders.
  • The (pre-1967) Green Line is not specifically mentioned, but Powell says that the borders will be based on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which are rooted in the concept of land for peace". Resolution 242 does, of course, specifically mention the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war".
  • The occupation must end. The passage, in which Powell describes the suffering of the Palestinians under occupation, is one of the most forceful in the speech. "The Palestinians have "grown up with checkpoints and raids and indignities…Too often they have seen their schools shuttered and their parents humiliated …Too many innocent Palestinians, including children, have been killed and wounded…" These words balance the passage about Palestinian violence: "The lynching of Israeli soldiers…the assassination of the cabinet minister…terror directed against Israel…"
  • "Settlement activity must stop". This pronouncement forbids not only the setting up of new settlements, but all settlement activity whatsoever, including building houses on existing settlements.
  • The future Palestinian State must be "viable". Meaning: not a group of enclaves, as designed by Barak and Sharon, but a continuous state, with a sound economic basis. The US promises to strengthen its economy.
  • In return, the Palestinians must "accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state". This is right. We Israelis can debate among ourselves what our state should be like, whether based on ethnicity or citizenship, a Jewish, Hebrew or Israeli state - but this is an internal debate. It concerns neither America nor Palestine. The Palestinians must recognize the principle of "two states for two peoples" - meaning, an Israeli state representing the personality of the Israeli people. (The national status of the Arab citizens of Israel, too, is a matter for domestic struggle.)
  • It is not specifically stated that Jerusalem will be the capital of the two states, but is is said that the solution has to take "into account the religious and political concerns" of both sides. This seems to mean a shared city.
  • No detailed plan for the solution of the refugee problem is being put forward, but it is said that "the two parties must strive for a just solution that is both fair and realistic", a formula that almost repeats what Gush Shalom said in its "80 Theses for peace": "The practical solution of the problem will come about by agreement based on just, fair and practical considerations."

    Indeed, Powell's words bear a remarkable resemblance to Gush Shalom principles (but without the details and without a time-table.) It follows, therefore, that every part of the plan completely contradicts Ariel Sharon's designs. Hence he will undoubtedly try to torpedo it, and he has several torpedoes in stock: the Jewish and fundamentalist-Christian lobbies, the two houses of Congress and the friends in the American media.

    Can a speedboat sink an aircraft carrier? Well, we shall see.