October 20, 2005
When I meet in Washington today with President Bush, I will reiterate his own inspiring words: “I believe that God has planted in every heart the desire to live in freedom.” And I will put to him that the Palestinians, after nearly 40 years of occupation, still do not live as free people in their own land. Finally, I will reiterate that I remain fully committed to his vision for a viable and free Palestinian state, living in peace and security with Israel, and to the Road Map for achieving lasting Middle East peace through negotiations.
There is a sound logic to President Bush’s vision: The Road Map will lead to an independent and democratic Palestinian state; a Palestinian state will allow its citizens finally to taste freedom; and our freedom will be the foundation for lasting peace in the Middle East.
Since my democratic election as president of the Palestinian Authority in January, my government has done all in its power to advance the Road Map and live up to our commitments: My government has initiated serious reforms of our governing institutions; we have consolidated the official security agencies; we have declared a policy of non-violence and negotiations and we have worked hard to secure and maintain a cease-fire to which all factions signed on.
Unfortunately, Palestinians cannot pursue the Road Map alone. Implicit in the idea of the Road Map is that Israel and the Palestinians are partners in the journey to peace. Yet the Israeli government has not fully cooperated with my government, created obstacles in the face of a full and unconditional return to the negotiating table, and acted as if Israel can resolve the Middle East conflict unilaterally. In addition, the Israeli government has taken steps that undermine the Road Map.
For example, during Israel’s Gaza disengagement, my government was asked to ensure that Israel’s evacuation took place peacefully and without disruption. I am proud to say that we succeeded: not a single Israeli settler or soldier was attacked or fired on. We were told that our behavior would be a “test,” and that if we did our part, Israel would reciprocate by allowing Gazans to breathe the air of freedom and begin rebuilding their shattered lives.
Yet, this has not happened: Gaza’s airport and crossing point to Egypt remain closed; its waters are off-limits to our fishermen; its borders are completely sealed and movement into or out of Gaza is virtually impossible; and no safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank exists. Because investors rightly fear that without access to the outside world, Gazans will not be able to rebuild a functioning economy, they have been slow at investing.
This is not the vision that President Bush and I had for the Gaza Strip back in May: We wanted to see a free Gaza Strip, open to the rest of the world, where Palestinians can be free and where our economy can prosper. But as long as Israel maintains its stronghold over the borders, water and airspace of the Gaza Strip this will never come to pass.
Similarly, this is not the vision that we have for the West Bank. Palestinians have been assured that “Gaza first” would not be “Gaza last.” We were told that we would soon enjoy an expansion of our freedom in the West Bank. We were told that Israel’s evacuation of the Gaza Strip would not come at the expense of deepening the settlement activity in the West Bank. Instead, Israel has accelerated its settlement expansion in the Palestinian heartland. In fact, the 26 months since Israel announced its plans to disengage from Gaza have witnessed the highest rate of West Bank settlement construction in all the occupation years. Israel has also continued construction of the Wall — deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice — depriving more and more Palestinians their freedom and livelihood, and closed off access to East Jerusalem, Palestine’s religious, cultural and political capital.
Israel’s lack of regard for the Road Map is having a powerfully negative effect on Palestinian society at an extremely critical time in our democratic development. There is a struggle underway for the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people between the moderates and the fundamentalists. I firmly believe that this struggle should be resolved to the advantage of the moderates via the democratic process, not through civil war. As John F. Kennedy once said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
* * *
I am not afraid of the Palestinian people. On the contrary, I have abiding faith that my people will pursue the path of tolerance and peace — indeed, poll after poll shows that a majority of the Palestinian people wants a negotiated two-state solution to our conflict with Israel. I have managed, in the nine months since my election, to create a climate of peace and not a climate of violence amongst Palestinians. Yet this climate of peace needs the help of the U.S. and the international community: For without sustained pressure on the Israeli government to sit down and negotiate, Israel will only bolster those within Palestinian society who do not share the majority’s desire for peace. Every time Israel launches a violent attack on our cities, commits a political assassination, or confiscates more Palestinian land, the voices for peace grow weaker. By refusing to negotiate with my government and by insisting on pursuing unilateral actions, the Israeli government is nourishing that minority within Palestinian society that sees violent struggle as the only answer.
Israelis and Palestinians face a choice: We can either pursue President Bush’s Road Map, or soon arrive at a dead end. I have made my choice, and I know that a majority of the Palestinian people is behind me. I am ready today to sit down with Prime Minister Sharon to resume bilateral negotiations on a permanent solution to our conflict. The Road Map offers hope for a peaceful, democratic and prosperous future — for the Palestinian people as well as for the Israeli people. When I meet with President Bush today, I will make only one fundamental request: Grant the Palestinians the freedom they so desperately deserve.
Mr. Abbas is the president of the Palestinian National Authority.
URL for this article:
By MAHMOUD ABBAS