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Truths about Palestine
  By Sarvjeet Singh  
  RUSSIAN Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's assertion of support for creation of a separate state of Palestine has indeed served to put the spotlight back on the long-festering dispute between Palestine and Israel.

The flurry of diplomatic activity that has followed it would suggest that Mr Medvedev seems to have succeeded in lending a sense of urgency and priority to the resolution of the dispute, at a time when it was threatening to recede from the collective world conscience.

With several South American Governments also recognizing the Palestine state within the 1967 borders, the hope that the long and arduous journey of distrust, violence and counter-violence that the people of Israel and Palestine have undergone together has a distinct possibility of ending now appears realistic.

However, the new journey of peaceful co-existence that the people of Israel and Palestine must embark upon is no less arduous. Both sides have radical elements who thrive on their doctrine of hatred and distrust and constantly feed the fears of people on both sides making a solution elusive.

The manner in which French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie was mobbed in Gaza over her remarks expressing sympathy for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held in captivity by the extremist elements in Gaza gives an ample demonstration of how future peace process is akin to a tightrope walk for the world community which has to balance the concerns, aspirations and fears of both the people of Israel and Palestine.

According to Palestine Prime Minister Mahmood Abbas, President George Bush told him in Sharmel-Sheikh, "I have a moral and religious obligation, I must give you a Palestine State and I will". Such powerful words employed by the world's most powerful Head of State should have led to some forward movement towards peace and just solution but it never did. It is not a reflection of lack of sincerity on the part of President Bush but the strong pressures that come into play every time a solution is attempted.
The resignation of Ehud Barak, Defence Minister of Israel, to protest against what he termed as "too fast a movement towards dovish end of political spectrum" indicates the stiff odds any peace initiative is bound to face. The Palestine Authority Government headed by Mahmood Abbas is also battling to gain credibility both outside and within.

The recent disclosure on Al-Jazeera that way back in 2008 the Palestinian negotiators were ready to concede most of Jerusalem and also offer other huge concessions without any substantial reciprocal offer or concession from Israel would have definitely eroded Mr Abbas's stock among his own people. This disclosure is sure to let the cat among the pigeons or doves in this case within the Palestinian mindset.

Now Mr Abbas would find it very difficult to make any concessions. In the backdrop of this deep-rooted mutual distrust, the interim peace plan being put forward by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman which talks about provisional state of Palestine with limited powers is sure to be met with cynicism. According to the plan, Israel on its part would turn over 45 to 50 per cent of West Bank to the provisional state.

The opposition this plan is facing from the people of Palestine seems justified as the present Palestine Authority Government of Mahmood Abbas set up in 1994 is also a result of such an interim measure and replacing it with another interim measure cannot be termed as a step forward in the peace process of the region. Mr Benjamin Nethanyahu, who had earlier pledged his support for a final accord to end the crisis, now seems to be veering towards the interim peace plan in what is likely to be seen as succumbing to the pressures from the hardliners.
The fractured and divided leadership of Palestine is no different. To make matters worse, the Palestine Authority is in the hands of Hamas, widely viewed as a radical organization involved in terrorist crimes. Any major concession made to an organization with such a track record is bound to be perceived as surrender to terrorist ideology that kills innocent unarmed civilians.

The onus would be on Hamas to build its credibility before it can stand on a moral high ground and further the just cause of Palestinians The longstanding dispute has seen worse examples of violence. While the State of Israel and its people have been targeted in bombings, the State of Israel on its part has resorted to some heavy handed measures resulting in civilian casualties. The State of Israel has often resorted to use of disproportionate force when dealing with protest as was evident from the assault on Flotilla and the use of banned tear gas to quell protests.

Three major roadblocks stare at anyone approaching the road of peaceful co-existence in the present context:

Jewish settlement -- The Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with 500,000 inhabitants have always been perceived as Israel's attempt to change demographic realities on ground. The Jewish historians counter it by claiming that there has always been Jewish presence in the area even in the 1920s. If a climate of mutual give and take has to be created, Israel being the powerful player has to concede some ground for the sake of peace.

Separation wall -- the separation wall built by Israel, ostensibly to protect its civilian population from terrorist attacks, cuts the Palestinian population into three zones of East Jerusalem, Gaza and West Bank with each zone inhabitant requiring a permit to vist others. Effectively this converts the landscape into three cages. The wall has also severed farmers from their farmland and children from their schools .Will it be possible for Israel to dismantle it as the first step towards confidence-building?

Terror threat -- The manner in which Hezbollah has taken over Lebanon shows that some of the fears of Israel on the issue of the independent state of Palestine becoming a hub of anti-Israeli terror forces are well founded. The right of the Palestine state to exist cannot be at the expense of the right of Israel to exist. It is here that International community, specially the United States of America, can play a major role in providing a buffer zone and ensuring protection of the Jewish state.

Another challenge is the general unrest the Arab world is beset with. If both sides have to secure their future generations from violence and distrust, a bold initiative that puts the past firmly behind them is required. This bold initiative seems to have emerged from an unlikely quarter. Mark Sofer, Israel's ambassador to India journeyed to Ajmer and offered prayers at the famous Sufi shrine. He said that Jews and Muslims as part of three major Abrahamic religions were brothers and the Israel-Palestine dispute needs to be looked at outside the religious frame as it is not a religious dispute. His remarks expectedly evoked criticism from a section of the Muslim leadership in India which accused Israel of pursuing a blatantly anti-Muslim agenda in Palestine while undertaking a public relation exercise outside to confuse the world.

The significance of this remark thus and the conciliatory tone of this brave pronouncement by a high ranking Israeli official was lost in the din. One does hope that this kind of moderate voice reverberates and influences all future peace initiatives in the troubled region. The people of Israel and Palestine deserve their share of sunshine and happiness. Let not this be clouded by mutual hatred and distrust.
Sarvjeet Singh is Assistant General Secretary of New Delhi YMCA.
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