Last chance! Golden opportunity! The slogans scream from the news like going-out-of-business posters. Hold your breath, world. Could the natives of Palestine miss out on the perfect chance to kiss their ancestral lands goodbye?
Meanwhile, Israel is not missing chances to shorten its death-list. Although the media treated the slayings of Palestinian pacifist Dr. Thabet and genocide advocate Benjamin Kahane with the usual "even-handedness," there is really no comparison. Dr. Thabet was an idealist who cooperated closely with Israel's Peace Now group - so he was targeted for murder by the Israeli military in front of his house.
The two deaths show in cameo the whole dimension of injustice in Palestine. Kahane was the heir of hardcore Zionism, an emissary of hate and bloodshed who strove to expel all Arabs out of Palestine, and then choked on his own medicine. Thabet was a believer in mankind untiringly seeking a way for two peoples to live together as neighbors.
Palestinians like Dr. Thabet, Arab leaders, even Yassir Arafat himself would bend over backwards to meet Israel's legitimate security concerns. But no one can square the circle, certainly not the US President. Two just don't go into one.
The US-Israeli theatrics of a "last-minute offer to give up the right of return" underline the bankruptcy of the "honest broker" again. What makes it laughable is that Israel has obviously panicked from the belated realization that history is on the Palestinian side now. Guerrillas fighting for a just cause are nearly impossible to defeat, as seen in Vietnam, Afghanistan and a score of other places. Apartheid could not be maintained in South Africa even though the whites had been there 350 years, not a mere 50.
Israel, not Palestine, is under time pressure. The Internet has hugely accelerated awareness of the crimes of Zionism, and world opinion has gravitated to the Arab side. Even before the intifada, 3 out of 4 Americans in a Zogby Poll supported the Palestinian right of return. Demographic trends and now Clinton's signature on the War Crimes Tribunal treaty are further time bombs for Tel Aviv.
Anyway, as Haaretz recently editorialized, Arafat can't sign away rights that aren't his. Each individual dispossessed family would have to ratify a surrender of their right of return for it to be valid, whether in common or international law. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority is a mere puppet Bantustan with Arafat as head whipping boy for Israel. It has not been democratically elected nor could it ever be. It is almost as much a target of rage as are the Zionist invaders.
The world's accepted standard of political morality keeps advancing. In the Balkan conflicts it was affirmed that to inflict genocide on its own citizens is NOT a right of a sovereign state, but it IS our duty to prevent it. Now the world has realized that Israel can NOT have a right to exist based on crimes against humanity. No matter what happened in the Holocaust, two wrongs are just that, twice wrong.
Yet the right to create a state by ethnic cleansing - establishing an ethnic majority by expelling an existing group - is exactly what the Oslo process would accomplish! This, and not individual personalities or "concessions", is the inescapable contradiction which all the negotiations have foundered on.
The right of return is part of the UN's human rights charter, and the UN has repeatedly confirmed this right with respect to the Palestinians ever since it fostered Israel's existence. Most recently Mr. Kenneth Roth, Chairman of Human Rights Watch, reiterated this right in letters to Clinton, Barak and Arafat (http://www.hrw.org/press/2000/12/isrpac1222.htm).
There remains a great deal of sympathy for the longing of the Jews for a state in which they would have a safe majority. But if two don't go into one, one can into two. The real solution is a single federal state, a pluralistic democracy, for all the people of Palestine, that is Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. It would need a constitution with strong guarantees for minority rights, and a bicameral legislature. Each group would also have sufficient autonomy to ensure their own physical security in the cantons or counties where they are in the majority.
The partition idea was hatched in 1947, the same year when Pakistan split off from India, but with a huge slant in favor of an immigrant minority. It has not worked, and the injustice has not been forgotten, while the two-state dream has been kept alive by a conspiracy of selfish interests on both sides. If Israelis want peace and safety now, and not to covet more land and water, they should join with Palestine in a democratic-pluralist state. If they want more ethnic cleansing, it is time for sanctions against Israel. We have to support our own values for all the peoples of Palestine and the Middle East.
Mr. John-Paul Leonard is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network. You can visit their website at http://www.mediamonitors.net.