Israel needs to halt its use of force that has claimed more than 60 Palestinian lives in the past few days. And unless an international investigation is launched into Israel’s brutal attacks on Palestinian demonstrators, more blood will be shed.
So far, the United States has blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning the killing of Palestinians. That is not a moral position to take. Nor does it advance the peace process.
If right-wing leader Ariel Sharon intended to derail the peace process, his timing was perfect. His visit to the area of the Al Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount was guaranteed to provoke Palestinians. The mosque is sacred to Arabs, and Sharon scheduled his visit on the anniversary of the 1982 massacre of 2,000 Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps — a massacre he allowed to occur.
Sharon says it was his right to visit the Temple Mount. But all rights come with inherent responsibilities. Just as one may be entitled to light a cigarette in public, that right is not extended to someone sitting atop a barrel of gasoline.
Sharon and Israeli officials have expressed doubts that the uprising was spontaneous, blaming Arafat for promoting civil unrest. But so far the rioting has occurred primarily among those with whom Arafat holds the least influence — youths, students and Islamists who are most skeptical of the peace process.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak could have prevented the bloodshed by following the lead of previous Israeli leaders who stopped Knesset members from visiting East Jerusalem at politically volatile moments. But Barak refused to postpone Sharon’s visit, hoping to safeguard his already crumbling coalition government from a potential religious backlash.
The violence ripping apart the Palestinian territories and Israel reflects the deep sense of frustration that has been mounting in the region.
It’s not shocking that armed Palestinian police have entered the fray. It’s unrealistic to expect them to stand idly by as Israeli soldiers with automatic weapons mow down stone-throwing Palestinian teenagers.
To avoid a widening conflict, fundamental flaws in the peace process must be corrected. The pressing issues are the drawing of borders, the sovereignty over Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. But other huge problems loom. The unified state of Palestine would consist of two parcels of land — Gaza and the West Bank — that are 25 miles apart. Multi-lane freeways that connect Israeli settlements to each other and to Israel proper span at least 50 meters across and are enclosed on both sides by high chain-link fences. The roads currently criss-cross the entirety of the West Bank and will remain under Israeli control after a Palestinian state is declared. Closed to Palestinian traffic, the roads are legally crossed only through tightly guarded Israeli checkpoints.
The issue of free access between Gaza and the West Bank is still unresolved, as is the question of who controls electricity, gas and water in those regions.
Before any of these issues can be resolved, Palestinians must be reassured that the Israeli military will be held accountable for the murders of the last few days and that they will stop.
Until these things happen, the Palestinian people will have no reason to believe that they will someday live in peace.