The Autocrat is Dead! Long Live the People!

Jerusalem has to become the capital city of both peoples, and thus a city of world peace, where Christians, Jews, and Muslims live alongside one another.

Middle East unavoidably leads to the rapid establishment of two independent states and the dismantling of the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. At the moment, we have a state ruled by apartheid. As a medium-term solution, there must be an independent Palestinian state in federation with Israel. Two independent states, but also two states that depend upon one another and understand that their destinies are inseparably linked. Jerusalem has to become the capital city of both peoples, and thus a city of world peace, where Christians, Jews, and Muslims live alongside one another.

When the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, sent two rabbis from Vienna to Palestine to see whether the dream of the Jewish people to found their own state might be feasible there, they wrote back to him, “The bride is very beautiful, but unfortunately she’s already married.” Until the withdrawal of the British occupiers and the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, all who lived here were Palestinians: Jews, Muslims, and Christians. They lived alongside one another: admittedly, not always in peace. And we cannot expect now that a possible peace solution after Arafat’s death will lead to an immediate cessation of violence. That would be illusory. At the same time, violence does have to become the exception.

Arafat missed the opportunity to fight the mutual mistrust between Jews and Palestinians. He failed to create a consciousness for the suffering of the other people. There can be no peace if the Palestinians deny the Holocaust. But there also can be no peace if Israelis do not accept at least partial responsibility for the conflict with the Palestinians. Arafat’s death is like a musical transition: one phrase ends, and with the last note a new phrase begins, with no break whatsoever. With the same pitch. Now the issue is how the next phrase will sound. We have no time to lose. Political time is like musical time: you can’t hear it, you can only hear the content. And now things should focus on a content that requires a fast tempo. The time after Arafat has to belong to the Palestinian people. And this time requires great courage: from the Palestinians, the Israelis, and especially from Europe. So have no fear!

Israel and the US can no longer block free elections in the Palestinian areas because they are afraid of a possible Hamas majority. They must help the Palestinians to formulate their own will. They must trust the Palestinian people: I am convinced that Hamas will not win a free election. After the death of the autocrat, democracy is the only solution, in the interest of the Palestinians. A free Palestine needs a free democracy. Not as an import of the American ideal, but as a necessity so that the legitimate representatives of the people can weaken the radical voices of the street.

US presidents can make all the commitments and declarations they want until they are blue in the face, in the Muslim world they will always be perceived as partisan. The key to peace thus lies in Europe, for reasons of strategic and moral responsibility. Over half of all Israeli exports go to Europe. Spain and Germany, in addition, bear a special responsibility: the Jews were at home in Spain until the Inquisition, in Germany until the Holocaust. The common Jewish name Ashkenazy is Hebrew, and means German. The equally popular name Sephardi means Spanish. Jewish intellectuals contributed a great deal to insure that Europe became a continent of humanism, and it is with these humanist ideals that Europe must now intervene in the Middle East conflict.

It has no other choice. If Europe does not bring peace to the Middle East now, the Middle East will soon bring violence to Europe. We can already see this happening in France and with recent events in Holland. After Arafat’s death, Europe cannot just sit there and get lost in analyzing how it all could get better or worse. Europe has to become active if it wants to avoid the worst. Now is not the time to ask whether we can afford a change in the Middle East: we have to ask whether we can afford a situation where things don’t change: Europe must insure legitimate elections in Palestine.

I know that it is difficult for a German chancellor conscious of his country’s role in history to give Israel advice. But he doesn’t have to. He now has a chance to offer assistance: the greatest gesture to make amends for the past would be if Germany and Spain would actively make a contribution to peace in the Middle East. They must support the democratic forces and nonviolent camps among both peoples.

I don’t know exactly when Yasser Arafat began to distance himself from his people. Maybe it was during the peace talks in Madrid, still before Oslo. These negotiations were being led by Palestinians who lived in the occupied territories, and awakened great hopes. Parallel to this, Israel and Arafat decided to begin talks on a different level, entering an ideological and strategic dialogue. Clinton became involved, and just when peace seemed in reach, these leaders received the Nobel Peace Prize. Much too early, as we now know.

Then, in 2001, Arafat made the biggest mistake of his life, not, as is so often thought, by refusing Barak’s proposals, but, worse still, by militarizing the second Intifada, or at least tolerating the militarization. If he had organized peaceful resistance, the Palestinian cause would have morally been on the side of the victors. In this historic moment, Arafat lost sight of the essence of the Palestinian people. He lost the support of the non-militant opponents of the Oslo peace talks, the democratic Palestinians. In this moment, Arafat became a tragic figure: the majority of his people no longer believed in him, and the Israelis certainly didn’t. Since then, he has continued to travel throughout the world as a representative of the Palestinian people, but his mythic stature has become hollow.

It is now not the question whether the future will see one or two states in the Middle East. It is also unimportant why the peace talks up to now have all failed, and who is at fault in this. Anyone who believes in a peaceful solution in the Middle East has always come up with the same results as far as the borders are concerned: Clinton in 2000 at Camp David, Taba in 2001 in Egypt, later the Arab League and the Saudis. The theme of the peace conditions has always been the same: like Beethoven’s “Eroica.” Just an arpeggio, but then, a miracle happens: the same notes are played, but in a different key. And this is exactly what we have to achieve: we have to intone the peace motive on a different, new level.

The death of Yasser Arafat has opened up a new door. Now the first step has to be taken, the step towards democracy. This step is full of risks, and requires trust on all sides. We don’t know where it will lead. But if we just stand still, we will have no chance of escaping the violence.

Mr. Barenboim’s thoughts on this subject were recorded by Axel Brüggemann for WELT am Sonntag. Translated by Brian Currid.