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Two Peoples, One Land

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Sunday, May 12, 2002
The peace process
Negotiations and the war of words
Peace between Israel and Arabs has been elusive. Each side has lists of historic wrongs to be righted, claims to be defended and icons to be protected — and on key issues, both sides are intransigent. Talks have held promise of solutions, but true peace has always fallen victim to mutual mistrust and finger-pointing.

Three barriers to Israeli-Palestinian peace
Both sides have said they won’t accept a peace deal unless it includes Jerusalem, now held by Israel.

Ancient city of many layers
1 Old City walls date from Turks' and Crusaders' 12th-century battles
2 Church of the Holy Sepulchre has a rocky slab said to be Jesus' grave site
3 Citadel fortified since 200 B.C.E.
4 St. James Cathedral, built over tomb of apostle James
5 Mount Zion, site of David's Tomb, Upper Room of Jesus' Last Supper, final resting place of Virgin Mary and the home of high priest Caiaphas, who condemned Jesus
6 Western (Wailing) Wall, central Jewish prayer site; built by King Herod as retaining wall
space Inset 7 Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's most important sites; built by Caliph Omar, Islamic world's second leader
8 Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, ancient Mount Moriah
9 Dome of the Rock, Islam's third most sacred site; stone from which Mohammed is said to have ascended on night journey to heaven and back, and where Bible says Abraham offered son Isaac in sacrifice
10 Church of St. Anne, built by Crusaders over home of Virgin Mary's parents
Jerusalem is considered holy by three religions that make up more than half of the world's population: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In the most dramatic example of how religious claims to the city literally overlap, Islam's Al-Aqsa mosque and the nearby Dome of the Rock sit atop the site that held the Jews' Second Temple before Romans destroyed it.

A remaining wall of the second temple, revered by Jews as the Western (Wailing) Wall, is a stone's throw from the place where Muslim worshippers congregate for prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The 1947 U.N. proposal to divide the area into Jewish and Arab nations called for Jerusalem to be under international control.

This vision was never realized. The Arabs rejected the U.N. proposal and declared war, while the Jews accepted it and declared statehood. In the fighting that ensued, Jerusalem was divided east and west between Jordan and Israeli.

Israel took control of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and has held the city since. Israel claims it as its "eternal" capital, though most nations' embassies are in Tel Aviv.

Israel has opposed any re-division of Jerusalem. Palestinians have said they cannot accept a final settlement with Israel that does not include Jerusalem as their capital.

In peace talks in 2000-01, the idea of a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem, along with some sort of Muslim sovereignty over the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, was discussed but not finalized.

With some 3.9 million Palestinian refugees registered with the United Nations, the question of their return to the land they or their ancestors left in the 1948 and 1967 wars remains a major stumbling block to peace.

Israelis maintain that letting in all refugees who wish to return would overwhelm the Jewish nature of the country and also present an unbearable security problem.

Palestinians maintain that U.N. General Assembly resolutions affirm their right to return to their homeland, particularly Resolution 194, passed in 1948 to deal with the refugee problem and other issues.

In part, Resolution 194 said:

"... Refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible."

Israelis say a key phrase in the resolution is "live in peace." The Arab countries at the time refused to recognize the state of Israel, and Israel maintained that any group that refused to recognize Israel's right to exist would not live in peace.

Today, only Jordan and Egypt have recognized Israel, and it was not until the mid-1990s that the Palestine Liberation Organization removed anti-Israeli wording from its charter.

Israel, in peace talks with Palestinians in 2000 and 2001, reportedly was willing to accept only a token number of refugees — perhaps 10,000. They envisioned reparations for the others, to be paid by other nations.

Supporters of Israel argue that about as many Jewish refugees resulted from the 1948 war as Palestinian — about 700,000 for each side. The Jewish refugees fled Palestinian lands and other Arab states during the fighting. Israel eagerly accepted the Jewish refugees while the Arab states, except Jordan, refused the Palestinian refugees, many of whom have remained in refugee camps for generation after generation.

The Palestinian argument is simple: Resolution 194 says they have the right to return to their homes, and if they don't wish to return, they are due compensation.

And they argue that under the U.N.'s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a basic right of a people to live in their homeland.

About 150 Jewish settlements dot the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights, creating an enormous amount of friction between the Israelis and Palestinians.

To Palestinians, these settlements, begun after the 1967 war, represent a direct affront to their sovereignty and suggest that the Israeli government is trying to subvert a basic premise of the Oslo Agreement: that the Palestinians will be granted control over the areas in which they are the dominant population.
The settlements, and the roads that connect them, carve up Palestinian-dominated territory into a series of noncontiguous zones.

Since the 1993 Oslo agreement, settlement population in the West Bank has doubled and is now at about 200,000. In all, there are an estimated 400,000 Israelis in settlements in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and in Arab east Jerusalem.

The Mitchell Report, commissioned by President Clinton to look into the causes of the upsurge in Mideast violence that began in September 2000, cited the settlements as a primary cause of violence and an obstacle to peace.

Israel, the April 2001 report said, "should give careful consideration to whether settlements ... are valuable bargaining chips for future negotiations or provocations likely to preclude the onset of productive talks."

The report also noted that many leading nations consider the settlements to be illegal under the Oslo Agreement and the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an occupying power from creating settlements on occupied territory before a conflict has ended. The United States has long promoted a freeze on settlement expansion, though it has stopped short of calling settlements illegal.

The settlements are seen by extremely religious Jews as confirmation of their inviolable, God-given right to live in areas thought to have been controlled by Jews in biblical times.

Also, the settlements, particularly those in the Jordan Valley, are protected by Israeli soldiers and settler defense networks. They are seen by Israel as an important first line of defense.

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company

Left arrow The endless wars What now? Right arrow

Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, left; President Carter, center; and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin clasp hands after signing their 1979 treaty.

In September 1978, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin began 12 days of unprecedented talks at Camp David, Md., under the guidance of President Carter.

From the talks came the Camp David Accords, which led to an Israel-Egypt peace treaty the next year. Israel gave back the Sinai in exchange for Egypt's recognition of Israel.

The U.S. then increased its military aid to the two countries, making Egypt its second-largest recipient of military aid.

Secret talks between the Israelis and Palestinians in Oslo led to the Sept. 13, 1993, Oslo Declaration of Principles.

In it, Yasser Arafat agreed to renounce armed conflict and nullify anti-Israel language in the Palestine Liberation Organization charter. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians and to allow Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and Jericho.

Arafat returned from his exile in Tunisia to Gaza, where a Palestinian government — the Palestinian Authority — was established with Arafat at its head.

The Oslo accords and the later "Oslo II" agreement — which gave Palestinians control of a number of other West Bank cities and villages — left several key issues to be decided in "final-status" talks. Those issues include Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements, Jerusalem, and the borders of Israel and a future Palestine.

The accords led to improved relations between Jordan and Israel, and in 1994, the two countries signed a peace treaty.

President Clinton presides over ceremonies marking the 1993 peace accord by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, left, and PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

President Clinton met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Arafat at the Wye River Plantation in Maryland in October 1998 for talks that furthered land transfer to the Palestinian Authority begun in the Oslo agreement.

The Wye agreement was never fully implemented, as each side claimed the other had failed to complete the terms.

In an effort to move toward a final agreement, President Clinton presided over a 13-day negotiating session between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat at Camp David in July 2000.

There was no agreement.

In December, Clinton offered his own framework for peace, which both sides accepted. This led to Barak and Arafat meeting again in January 2001 at the Red Sea resort of Taba, where Barak, by now facing almost certain defeat by Ariel Sharon in the next month's election, offered extensive concessions to Arafat. Though the negotiators reportedly reached tentative agreement on most of the hard issues, talks broke off. The second intifada was raging, and there was doubt in both quarters that Israel could deliver on the agreement, which Sharon had vowed to ignore.

The second intifada had begun in September 2000, when Sharon, who is widely hated among Palestinians, visited the Temple Mount.

Palestinians considered his visit an affront and say it touched off the uprising, which has raged ever since and prompted the recent Israeli attacks on Palestinian territories. Israelis say Arafat was just waiting for any excuse to "push the button" on more violence.

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