JERUSALEM — After nearly a decade of exile, dispersal and occupation, the past few years had given Palestinians a glimmer of hope for a better future despite personal and communal suffering in the social, economic and humanitarian areas.
During the Palestinian intifada, young and old, men and women were beaten, imprisoned and killed. And although the peace process brought with it Israeli army-imposed closures separating communities and even cities from one another, Palestinians endured and hoped that in the end, things would look up.
In the past month, this glimmer of hope has started to slip from our hands, and the price of peace that Palestinians were willing to pay has consequently become too expensive. The visit of the newly elected Israeli prime minister to the United States brought out the worst fears of Palestinians--namely that the peace process will be stuck at the present transitional phase. Opponents of the peace process always criticized Yasser Arafat as starting a phased process that would never reach the final status stage.
Benjamin Netanyahu's demagogy, which seemed to charm the U.S. Congress, didn't impress Palestinians, who have learned from experience not to fall for any leader simply because he repeats the word "peace" so many times. As Netanyahu was talking in Washingtonabout respecting agreements, Israeli violations of the Oslo accords continued unabated. They include the failure to redeploy from Hebron and other areas in the West Bank, and the failure to open safe passage roads between Gaza and the West Bank. According to the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator with Israel, Nabil Shaath, the Palestinians have officially listed 500 separate Israeli violations, while Israel has officially complained of only 20 Palestinian violations.
Netanyahu's speech calling for democracy and human rights in the Middle East struck a chord with many Palestinians and Arabs. Many of us have been fighting for freedom of press and expression within our own societies. But it is highly unlikely that the right-wing Israeli leader actually means what he is saying. He is simply using democracy as a clever tactic to avoid any movement in the peace process.
Netanyahu wants to increase Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza; he has stated that Jews have a right to live anywhere. Nowhere does he mention that Palestinians are denied entry, let alone residency, in Israel. Arab Jerusalemites who were away studying in the United States or who live in the West Bank lose their residency in their birth place and can't enter the Holy City except with a permit from the Israeli government.
Netanyahu's top aides have stated that Palestinians should be satisfied with the present autonomy as the final status. With Israel in sovereign control of the Palestinian territories and with the Israeli Knesset the supreme legislative body affecting Israelis and Palestinians, the Israeli proposal amounts to nothing less than apartheid.
Israeli Jews have national and political rights while Palestinians are denied the right to even travel between their own cities or move goods from and within Palestinian "homelands."
Since March, Palestinian students and health workers from Gaza have been unable to travel to Jerusalem or the West Bank. Families have been unable to see their loved ones for months. Israelis living in the West Bank have no such restrictions. Israelis living in the West Bank and Gaza voted in the recent Israeli elections; no such right was granted to Palestinians.
Along with his call for democracy in the Middle East, Netanyahu persisted with his rejection of a Palestinian state. Since occupation and apartheid are diametrically opposed to democracy, the only options left for Palestinians are independence in a free and sovereign state or integration with full political rights.
In cafes and meeting places, Palestinians are saying that Israel must decide either to divorce us or to marry us. As the chances of an amicable divorce look bleaker, more and more Palestinians are seriously looking into the option of amalgamation so that Palestinians can fight for equal rights within a binational state.