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Obama, Israel, Palestine and peace
Saudi Gazette Sunday, March 24, 2013
By Ray Hanania
ARABS and Jews are emotional people. We live on an emotional roller coaster that one day swings high on anger and on another day swings high on hope. Like many Palestinians, I’m not optimistic about peace and I have been very wary of all the empty words that have dominated the events in the past 20 years following the handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin.
It has been an ugly roller coaster at times. But on Thursday, as I listened to President Barack Obama’s words in his press conference with Arafat’s successor, President Mahmoud Abbas, once again I found myself being pushed toward hope.
Obama made a strong case that has been implied in the past but has never before been argued so convincingly. It is not necessary to resolve all of the difficult issues before Palestinians and Israelis can return to the peace table and negotiate a peace accord. Obama has made that easier to accept by his rhetoric, words that have gone further than any past president in seeking to reassure Palestinians that peace talks are not merely an Israeli shell game of delay and land expansion.
The fact is that with no negotiations taking place in the past several years, Israel has continued to expand its racist and illegal settlements. And, at the same time, we have continued to see the symbolic firing of homemade rockets from the Hamas imprisoned Gaza Strip.
The truth is that when we talk about not having to resolve the major issues, we are not just talking about the major issues Israel refuses to suspend, such as the continued expansion of Jewish-only settlements that are built on Christian and Muslim owned lands in the militarily occupied West Bank. It also means not resolving the fact that there will continue to be some levels of violence even during peace talks.
Israel is the party that continues to impose preconditions on peace, demanding that all violence be ended before talks take place. In fact, every time there have been peace talks, when violence has occurred, Israel has suspended the talks. So it’s not just the Palestinians who have been making demands as preconditions to peace. Israel has too.
The fact is that settler expansion is a form of violence, violence at the same level as a few extremists in the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip firing rockets into Israel that rarely hit any civilian homes or take any Israeli lives.
Contrast that to the vicious military assaults that Israel constantly launches against Palestinian guerrilla and civilian targets, murdering scores of innocent people, men, women, children and the elderly.
It’s the Israelis who have no sense of morality when it comes to achieving peace. Israeli leaders seem to be happy with the violence continuing and with them controlling all of the land of historic Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. It’s the Israelis who have been the obstacles to peace.
But the true obstacles to peace are the fanatics who exploit the emotions of the people on the roller coaster of failed achievement. These extremists exist on both sides, although more so on the side of the Arabs and that is expected since the Israelis have managed to achieve a quasi-form of “normal life” while Palestinians, moderate and fanatic, are forced to live together in the squalor of an Israeli-imposed life of terror.
It’s immoral for Israelis to force Palestinian civilians to walk through concentration camp checkpoints that everyone knows have less to do with preventing violence and more to do with stealing Palestinian lands. The transparency of Israeli lies fuels the growth of fanaticism among Palestinians. But Obama brings a slightly revised vision of how peace negotiations can be resumed and two states can be achieved, because two states is the only solution to the endless violence that ebbs and flows depending on where the roller coaster is at any given time.
What we need to do is return to negotiations with Israel, while continuing to make our objections to Israeli policies like the continued expansion of settlements that are illegal in the eyes of international law and most American laws. That means Israel needs to drop its demands and return to the table too, and stop using Hamas as an excuse for not negotiating or for dragging its heels.
Israel does not have to stop the slow growth of the settlements, and Palestinians do not have to stop their rhetoric exposing Israeli violence and immoral conduct. And as far as the violence is concerned, moving forward we just have to accept that it will be present and probably will not disappear until two sovereign states are achieved.
Media pundits will be concluding that the tougher burden will be on the Palestinians to accept resumption of peace as the illegal settlements continue to grow, but the real burden will be on Israel.
As the roller coaster careens into a period of hope fueled by Obama’s clear empathy for the Palestinian cause – and he does understand our suffering – Palestinians should extend their hands to resume peace talks and show the world they can be the bigger people.
All that can happen is that the peace gesture fails and we’re back to where we have always been, facing uncertainty, violence and the promise of more bloodshed to come. When peace rises, we should never turn our backs.
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Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.
Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.
Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com