An elder statesman of Great Britain in the late eighteenth century, Sir Edmund Burke, reported that he was often asked why he would not support the French revolution.
After all, Burke’s colleagues noted, he had supported the American revolution, demonstrating courage as a British Paliamentarian.
Burke would respond with a brief answer which summed up the problem of the French Revolution, which was that “the end is the means in process”. Burke explained that an entity that began as a tyrannical dictatorship would evolve into one.
“The end is the means in process” would explain the challenge to the supporters of the new Palestine Authority, which no one doubt is a Palestinian state in the making.
Only a small minority in Israel accepted the Yariv-Shemtov “territories for peace” formula when it was proposed in 1974, following the Yom Kippur War, when less than a dozen members of Israel’s Knesset supported the idea.
Yet the Yariv-Shemtov formula of “territories for peace” eventually evolved into an overwhelming consensus idea by the 1996 election, when 118 members of the 120-member Knesset were elected.
A Palestine Authority that eventually would become an independent Palestinian state was conceived by human rights activists throughout the world along the lines of a two-state solution, whereby both Arabs and Jews who dwell within the small geographic entity known as Eretz Yisrael or Palestine would coexist, side by side.
Indeed, those who spearheaded the campaign for a Palestinian state in Israel, Europe and the US did so under the “framework of a Palestinian human rights campaign”, recognizing the idea of Palestinian statehood as a fundamental human right, in line with a basic human concept of dignity and self-determination that might be afforded to any and all peoples.
The reality of the Palestine Authority, since its inception in 1994, belies the two-state conception of a nation-state that could dwell in a state of peace and reconciliation with the Jewish state.
The Palestine Authority nation-state could head in diametrically opposed directions. The first would be a democratic option, if the spirit of the liberal movements that campaigned for the establishment of a Palestine Authority nation state were allowed to prevail.
The infrastructure for peace and reconciliation is already in place – in Israel, at least, where more than 500 non-profit organizations are registered with Israel’s Ministry of Interior’s registrar of non-profit organizations that dedicate themselves to promote understanding between Jews and Arabs.
In November, 1996, I covered a meeting between Arafat and various Israeli groups that were concerned with peace and with reconciliation, all of whom wanted to gain Arafat’s approval to operate within the Palestine Authority.
Present were members of Arafat’s inner circle, along with businessmen of the Palestine Chamber of Commerce. Israeli businessmen present asked Arafat about the possibilities of joint business ventures, perhaps in the area of tourism. Arafat nodded his head of approval.
Yet a rule of the Palestine Authority stayed as it was – discouraging joint ventures between Israeli and Palestinian businessmen.
Another person who made a representation to Arafat was Amit Leshem, an energetic redheaded woman who has pioneered a network of educators who have pioneered multilevel dialogues between Israeli and Palestinian teachers, principals and students.
Leshem told Arafat that she was having trouble gaining cooperation from the Palestine Authority to conduct such dialogue within the schools or any premises within the Palestine Authority.
Leshem mentioned that she was close to Dr Yose Beillin, one of the architects of the peace process, and asked for Arafat’s personal intervention to allow for schoolchildren of both peoples to interact.
Arafat was demonstrably interested in Ms. Leshem’s idea, and asked innumerable questions, saying that he “only when our schoolchildren begin to talk will there be peace”.
Despite Arafat’s reassurances to Amit Leshem, the rule of the Palestine Authority forbidding official contact between Israeli and Palestinian school children or school teachers was not altered.
Sitting near Ms. Leshem at the Arafat meeting was Yehudah Wachsman, who had recently pioneered the Nachshon Center for Tolerance and Understanding, named for Yehudah’s son, Nachshon, who was kidnapped and later killer by Hamas assailants in October, 1994.
Mr Wachsman asked Arafat for the Palestine Authority to endorse and to participate in the center’s dialogue activities.
Wachsman indicated that he had been in touch with Palestinians who had indeed expressed interest in his new institute.
Arafat responded with great emotion, relating his condolences to the Wachsman family, and promising to do with the Wachsmans what he had done for the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the elderly American Jew, who was murdered by PLO member Muhamad Abbas aboard the Achille Lauro cruise ship, despite the fact that Abbas was confined to a wheelchair at the time.
In response to a suit from the Klinghoffer family, Arafat had issued a press release that he would fund an institute for peace education in memory of Leon Klinghoffer.
Except that Arafat never provided the funds.
And when Yehudah Wachsman followed up the meeting with Arafat by sending a letter to invite representatives of the Palestine Authority to participate in the activities of the Nachshon center for tolerance, he received no answer. Not from Arafat and not from the Palestine Authority.
Despite the disappointing follow-up to the Arafat meeting, the atmosphere at the meeting, set by Arafat himself, was a peaceful one.
As a journalist who covers the official Palestinian media, I had the opportunity to ask Arafat about the lack of peace message of peace in Arabic on the PBC, the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation television and radio network that operates out of the Palestine Authority. Radwan Abu Ayash, the head of the PBC, acknowledged in a news interview that the Palestine Authority does not allow messages of peace to be carried on the official airwaves of the PBC.
Arafat promised that this would change.
Yet even in the wake of the Wye peace conference of October, 1998, the PBC continued its policy of daily telecasts and broadcasts that advocate war against Zionism and the Jewish state.
In August, 1998, when I covered the fifth anniversary of the Oslo process that was held at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway, I asked Arafat about any program of peace and reconciliation that he and the Palestine Authority would be ready to endorse.
Arafat responded enthusiastically that the Palestine Authority had indeed received funding for the “People to People” project from the Norwegian government and the American government, which encouraged direct contact between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
Since Arafat was sitting between Norwegian government officials, and only a few feet away from US State Department negotiator Dennis Ross’s staff, this was Arafat’s opportunity to shower both governments with praise for this most personal peace initiative.
For once, I thought that I had a genuine story to write about an official Palestine Authority/Israeli dialogue when I would return to Israel.
From Ben Gurion Airport, I called the Israeli and the Palestinian participants who had been selected by the People to People project.
The Palestinian professor who was the Arab partner in the project was curt with me, saying that “the project hasn’t begun yet. Please do not publish my name”. The Israeli professor, Bar Ilan’s Dr Ben Mollov, who was chosen to run the project was more explicit: “We have the students from Bar Ilan University and Bethlehem University, ready and enthusiastic. The Palestine Authority has simply pulled the plug and forbid Palestinians from participating in the project”. That was after the Palestine Authority received generous allocations from the American and Norwegian governments for the people to people program.
What did happen in the official circles of the Palestine Authority ministry of education? Tragically, the PA schools have adopted the PLO covenant that calls for recovery of all land of Palestine into the official curriculum. The first academic study of he one hundred and fifty Palestine Authority school books, appearing at www.edume.org, reveals that Palestine Authority schoolbooks simply make no reference to peace or to reconciliation, whatsover.
Meanwhile, The United Nations refugee camps, housing more than 1,000,000 Arab refugees in the west bank and Gaza transit camps that for more than fifty years, have adopted a new Palestine Authority curriculum that calls for teaches a new generation of Palestinian Arab school children that they are returning to the homes that they left in 1948… in Tel Aviv, Haifa and more than two hundred communities and collective farms that now house Israeli residents.
If Arafat has his way, the Palestinian State will communicate to the world that it wants cooperation with Jews and with Israel, while forbidding any such reconciliation.
Yet there is another Palestinian spirit.
Amit Leshem, Yehudah Wachsman, Ben Mollov and hundreds of other Israeli Jews have met Palestinian Arabs from all walks of life who would who would like to coexist with Israelis in peace.
Which side of the diametrically opposed directions of the Palestine Authority, a nation-state in the making, will become the dominant force in the future Palestinian state?
Much depends on the two nations – the US and Israel.
The US spearheads the drive for nations around the world to invest in Palestinian Authority.
And as of October, 1998, the state of Israel participated in 63% of the operating budget of the Palestine Authority
If the US and Israel decide to do it, each nation can reinforce the democratic elements in the developing Palestinian nation-state.
The former head of Israeli military intelligence, the late General Aharon Yariv, the man who co-authored the Yariv-Shemtov formula, told me that people misinterpreted his seminal peace formula_ “We advocated ‘territories for peace’, not ‘territories before peace’…”, said Yariv, who was worried about the consequences of a Palestinian Arab entity that was not committed to peace and reconciliation with Israel.