The "J" word is missing from Canadian editorials about Abbas

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KITCHENER (17 January 2005) Before and after the January 9 election of Mahmoud Abbas as new leader of the Palestinian people to succeed the late Yasser Arafat, Canadian newspaper editorials were pinning their hopes for achieving peace on Abbas, personally. But not a single editorial used the essential "J" word -- Justice, that is.

Not one of those editorial writers could see the violent conflict between Israel and Palestine in its proper historical and political context: i.e., that Israel has been occupying Palestinian lands for the past 36 years and this occupation must end.

It would seem that none of these writers cares about peace with justice.

In its January 8 editorial, "What Abbas should say," the Globe and Mail even offered the soon-to-be leader a suggested acceptance speech. Its main point was that if Palestinians "halt the armed struggle, and halt it completely, they [the Israelis] will have no such excuse [not to talk].

"They will have to sit down with us and talk sense."

After his election, the Toronto Star editorial of January 11, "Glimmer of hope for Mideast peace," suggested that after Abbas halts Palestinian violence, the Israelis must "improve Palestinian life by withdrawing troops from areas reoccupied since 2000, by lifting curfews and easing the movement of people and goods, by dismantling scores of unlawful settler outposts, and by freezing all settlement activity."

But the Star editorial also said nothing about ending the 36-year-old occupation, nor about Israelis treating Palestinians as fellow human beings, with the same national aspirations as any people on planet Earth -- to be free and to have fundamental human rights of security, liberty with dignity, prosperity, and peace with justice. Not a word about Palestinians having what Israelis have already fought for, and won.

George Jonas of the National Post outdid both the Globe and the Star in his column of January 10, 2005 "A Palestinian leader can't be moderate." As a mouthpiece for some of the most extreme views among Israelis, he asks "When will a Palestinian leader be able to start negotiating peace, not as a tactic, not as a stepping stone to Israel's destruction, but genuinely?"

Israel's destruction, George?

By whom? By the stateless and impoverished Palestinians? By a people with no army, no nuclear weapons, no state-of-the-art killing machines? By a people with no full American support, no strong voice in the Western media, no pricey public relations firms, no backing like Israel's strong Jewish lobby in almost every country, including the US, Canada, and the UK??

Can Palestinians in fact destroy Israel? No, definitely not; it is impossible, and George Jonas knows it.

But do Palestinians want to destroy Israel? The answer again is no, definitely not.

Here is what Mahmoud Abbas said on the day after his election as their new leader: "We extend our hands to our neighbours [the Israelis]. We are ready for peace -- peace based on justice. We hope that their response will be positive."

Notice his use of the quintessential "J" word.

Abbas voiced a sincere wish as the leader of a desperate people, a people who have longed for genuine peace for more than three decades -- a peace with justice, not just a temporary cessation of violence by both sides.

Palestinians who voted for Abbas did so in the belief that he can end the Israeli occupation, beginning with the removal of military checkpoints (more than 700 of them at last count); the freeing of political prisoners; removing the threat of wholesale killing of Palestinians by Israel; ending the construction of illegal Jewish settlements; and pulling down the infamous West Bank "Security Wall."

Is this long list of expectations realistic? My answer is Yes, if and only if there is enough political will in Israel to want peace to happen. In fact, achieving peace with justice has become the sole responsibility of Israel, not Abbas, who has already opened the door.

His election congratulations came thick and fast from the White House on down, creating the illusion that Abbas is a real president, free of the constraints and threats of any occupying power -- a dangerous illusion.

And to count on Abbas alone, rather than Israel, for reaching peace with justice is so dangerous that the inevitable failure will bring us to a worse state of conflict than we have already.

In fact, ominous signs are emerging.

Israel is blaming Abbas already for not doing enough to end the armed Intifida. Instead of sitting down to talk, Sharon only days ago broke contact with the new Palestinian leader. Bowing to increasing Israeli pressure, Abbas is now holding meetings in Gaza to test his political power with the leaders of the armed resistance.

It is natural that every change of political actors in a turbulent theatre like the Middle East triggers new hopes for peace. But the play itself -- right down to its basic plot and premise -- must change, not the actors.

Can we find an inspiring writer, producer and cast for a new play called Peace with Justice?

* Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, a professor of computer engineering at the University of Waterloo, is national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

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