This Nakba Day, peace is more urgent then ever

By Mkhaimar Abusada

Today, the Palestinian people in Palestine and in the Palestinian Diaspora are commemorating Nakba Day. Sixty four years ago, Israel was established and more than 800,000 (two-thirds of the Palestinians at the time) were expelled and uprooted from their homeland. Now, Israelis celebrate their independence day while the Palestinians are still struggling for freedom and independence. Fo us, it is a day of remembrance, agony, and identity-searching.

The Israeli narrative is that the armies of Arab countries invaded the newly established state and ordered the Palestinian people to evacuate the land so that they could liberate it. But this Israeli narrative has been revised by many brave Jewish historians who have admitted that Zionist terrorist organizations (such as the Hagana and the Stern Gang) were responsible for expelling Palestinian refugees. In spite of that, Israel has yet to acknowledge its political and moral responsibility for the Palestinian Nakba.

The purpose of this article is not to continue digging deeper into the Palestinian tragedy and to repeat the same Palestinian narrative over and over, but where we go from here. The continuation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will ill serve the interests of all parties, including Israel. It is about time the Israeli leadership reconsider the Palestinian and Arab initiatives to make peace and put an end to the endless killing and bloodshed.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) recognized Israel in the letters exchanged between the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1993, and accepted a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. President Mahmoud Abbas has gone further, during the Annapolis peace talks with then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He accepted a land swap which would allow Israel to annex the large settlement blocs, and a just solution to the refugee problem which would be agreed upon between both parties.

The Arab countries have unanimously accepted and endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative (API), in their summit meeting in Beirut 2002, and have since reaffirmed their commitment to it. That plan includes a Palestinian sovereign state in the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution to the refugee problem that will be agreed upon between the Palestinians and Israelis. In return, Israel will be recognized by all 22 Arab states and even all 54 Islamic states, there will be normalization with Israel, and historical reconciliation.

But Israel has chosen to ignore the API and instead has embarked on intensive settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Settler numbers have risen from 200,000 in 1993 to 600,000 in 2012. The expansion of Jewish settlement leaves no place for a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The two-state solution adopted by the Quartet roadmap and the international community is drifting away day after day, as a result of Israel’s settlement expansion.

The failure of the two-state solution will leave the Palestinians with no other option but to ask for a bi-national state where Arabs and Jews have equal political rights. I don’t know how much longer Israel can avoid international pressure to put an end to the occupation of the 1967 territories, but I’m convinced that the international community is fed up with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the right-wing coalition in Israel.

In their recent meeting in Brussels, European foreign ministers condemned Israeli legalization of settlement outposts in the West Bank and reaffirmed Europe’s fundamental policy that the 1967 territories are occupied territories and they will not recognize any changes that are not be agreed upon between Palestinians and Israelis.

It is the responsibility of the Israeli peace camp to get out of its winter hibernation and start knocking on every door in Israel: the current Israeli policy is not serving the Zionist enterprise, and is leaving nothing but more frustration and despair among the Palestinians. Yes, the West Bank and Gaza seem to be quiet at present. But the previous Palestinian intifada erupted as a result of frustration and despair.

I’m a Palestinian refugee. My father was born in the village of Semsem, just northeast of the Gaza Strip, and my mother was born in the village of Beit Darass located between what is now Ashkelon and Ashdod. My generation is willing to make the historical compromise to live in peace and security with Israel, but I do not know how much longer we can wait. We live the Palestinian Nakba every day (refugee camps, poverty, unemployment, siege and blockade). We look forward to a better future for our children and grandchildren.

There is still hope, but we have to start soon, before it becomes too late.

Mkhaimar Abusada is a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University – Gaza.