A divisive force in life and in death

October 29, 2001|By Sam Bahour and Michael Dahan

JERUSALEM - With the assassination of right-wing Israeli Minister Rehavam Zeevi, the cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians is once again on the front burner.

As the violence escalates, neither side of this bitter conflict is at a loss for rhetoric to explain their positions.

If you are Palestinian, Mr. Zeevi represented one of the most racist elements in the Israeli political spectrum. His politics openly called for the expulsion of Palestinians from their indigenous homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the rest of the Arab world. His death came after Israel successfully carried out 60 political assassinations of Palestinians over the last 12 months.

If you are Israeli, Mr. Zeevi's assassination provides yet another reminder of the futility of believing that security can be sustained while illegally occupying another people's land. Mr. Zeevi lived a political life that most Israelis, like all Palestinians, despised. He was for illegal settlements and against the Oslo peace process, and worked all his life to put the issue of forceful transfer of Palestinians on the Israeli mainstream agenda.

With his appointment to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israelis witnessed one of the worst of their people leading their country during the worst of times.

This was highlighted two days prior to Mr. Zeevi's death, when he submitted his resignation, stating he would only reconsider if Israel reoccupied the Palestinian city of Hebron or if peace-oriented Foreign Minister Shimon Peres resigned from the Cabinet.

In the days before his assassination, the West, led by the United States, was clear on where it stood on the Middle East peace process. The parties must commit to a cease-fire, come back to the negotiating table and aim to establish a viable, independent Palestinian state through peaceful means.

If U.S. calls for a renewed peace process are sincere, then the daily cycle of violence must not detract from a U.S.-led peace initiative.

The real test of the new era after the Sept. 11 terror attack is now. The United States has an inherent moral, political and security interest to rise above the daily headlines and create the framework for a just peace in the Middle East.

The United States should demand an immediate end to the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, and Israel's recognition of a viable, independent Palestinian state.

Anything less is an abrogation of America's responsibility.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American living in Al-Bireh in the West Bank and can be reached at sbahour@palnet.com. Michael Dahan is an Israeli-American political scientist living in Jerusalem and can be reached at mdahan@attglobal.net.

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