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Peace comes closer?


The Israeli government has at last done something very right. Ehud Olmert's new peace initiative offers a way out of the long and grueling Israeli-Palestinian impasse and a hand of support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The address was not just words, since it was accompanied by an agreement on a ceasefire in Gaza. Israel has abided by the truce in Gaza. Palestinian compliance has been "less than exemplary," as Qassam rockets continued to land in Sderot and the Western Negev, though in lesser numbers.

The cease-fire was reached in bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which is the correct route for progress toward peace. However, the cease-fire and the peace initiative were very likely coordinated with the United States. It could hardly be a coincidence that US Secretary of State Rice has flown to the Middle East to "jumpstart" the peace process that was already jump started.

Olmert's offer, made in a memorial speech for David Ben-Gurion, includes both a "carrot" and a stick:

You must stop the terror, violence and efforts to harm Israeli
citizens in the south, center and north, recognize our right to live in peace and security next to you, and relinquish your demand for the realization of the right of return. It is a right goal, a natural goal, an attainable goal.

If you demonstrate the necessary determination and discipline, you will find in us a ready partner. The State of Israel is a powerful State. Do not be fooled by our internal differences, our political rivalries or the gloomy atmosphere which we sometimes project.

In a violent battle, we will prevail, even if it is lengthy and even if it claims many victims; even if it involves compromises on comfort or quality of living, the State of Israel has proven its strength in the past and is prepared for it today.

Do not put us to another test, which will involve many casualties and destruction, and which will lead to total hardship and despair.

To be sure, the offer was not made by Ehud Olmert only out of the goodness of his heart. Limited, but nonetheless brutal, IDF operations in the Gaza strip had done nothing either to halt the smuggling of arms or to stop the senseless daily rain of Qassam rockets on Sderot, which claimed two more lives and numerous casualties in a brief period. An IDF bombardment of Beit Hanoun killed 19 civilians by accident, providing another occassion for U.N. condemnations of Israel. Meanwhile, the suffering caused in Gaza by the Israeli operations was uniting the Palestinians, consolidating support for the Hamas led government, and turning world opinion against Israel. The fact that Israel had withdrawn unilaterally from Gaza was being quickly forgotten, and European capitals were floating peace plans that essentially gave the Hamas government everything it asked for.

As the moderate stance of PM President Mahmoud Abbas weakened, Abbas and the Hamas were reported to be close to agreeing on a unity government that would not concede the right of Israel to exist or agree to accept the validity of previous agreements with Israel. The Quartet and the US might well be tempted to recognize this government, and end the boycott of the Palestinian Authority. This was all the more likely because the US will be seeking Arab support for its new policy in Iraq, whatever that might be.

The Israeli government finally recognized that there is no military solution in Gaza short of reconquering the entire Gaza strip and removing the Hamas government by force. At present, this option, advocated by extremists, is totally unrealistic. Israel lacks the international support that would make such an operation possible, it lacks confidence in its army after the lackluster performance in Lebanon, and it lacks internal support for an operation that would undoubtedly claim many Israeli and Palestinian lives. The vaunted military solution would probably turn into another fiasco like this summers war in Lebanon.

Even that military operation would not be a "solution." It would have to be accompanied by a sound diplomatic plan of reconstruction that would reinstate Palestinian self-rule on a basis that would make progress toward a peaceful democratic state possible. Absent such a plan, it would at best force a UNIFIL policed solution. Behind the umbrella of international peace keeping troops, Hamas would continue to build political support and military prowess, just as Hezbollah is doing in Lebanon.

Signficantly, Olmert's speech included acknowledgement of the Arab peace plan, which has been hitherto largely ignored by Israeli governments:

: The voices emanating from those States regarding the need for recognition and normalization of relations with the State of Israel – including, for example, some parts in the Saudi peace initiative – are positive, and I intend to invest efforts in order to advance the connection with those States and strengthen their support of direct bilateral negotiations between us and the Palestinians.

Reactions to Olmert's offer were fairly predictable. Israeli hawks noted with dismay that the cease fire does not extend to stopping of arms smuggling. Some lamented that Olmert had "sold out" the country.
Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the initiative. It remains to be seen if he can deliver a real cease fire in Gaza and a move toward ending all terror activity, as well as political concessions like giving up the right of return that would make peace possible. From his exile in Damascus, Khaled Meshaal, the real leader of the Hamas, stuck to his guns, literally and figuaratively, offering a long term "Hudna" without recognizing Israel, and promissing a renewal of violence if Palestinians do not achieve a state "really soon." The Hamas formula of "Land for Nothing" is not going to go anywhere as it is.

The reactions of different politicians, "peace" groups and political commentators to the initiative is probably a good litmus test of their sincerity in espousing peace.

Beyond that, prospects for progress are not bright. We can realize the difficulties, by contemplating the improbability of what would be the most minimal long term non-solution. It is not good, but it is better than nothing, and better than what there is now. Whether or not it is feasible depends on political logic. Given that this is the Middle East, and political logic is what it is here, we can't give it very great chances of success. This solution would contain approximately the following elements, borrowed from all the different plans and policies:

1- Israel would withdraw from a large part of the West Bank, but not from Jerusalem or the large settlement blocks such as Ariel and Gush Etzion. This would be a "Geneva Plan" minus.

2- Palestinians would get an entity that would be close to a state. This entity would recognize the right of Israel to exist, but would not grant Israel full diplomatic recognition. It would be demilitarized. It would have a single unified security force and all the armed groups would be disarmed. It would be pledged to maintain peace and stop incitement. Probably this Palestinian entity would have a UNIFIL type force that would keep the peace on both sides, and it might be a joint UN trusteeship of several states. The Palestinians could achieve statehood if they demonstrated the ability to maintain order and keep the peace.

3- Israel would also withdraw from the Golan heights, but not to the border of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) as the Assad government desires. Syria would stop supporting the Hamas and Hezbollah, and cease its efforts to destabilize Lebanon and Iraq.

4- The EU and US would sponsor a program to resettle and compensate Palestinian Arab refugees, as well as an aid package for the Palestinian entity.

5-Arab states would end the trade boycott of Israel, and sign non-belligerence agreements with Israel.

6- The Haram as Sharif - Temple Mount would become an international territory, jointly administered by Israel and Jordan, since the Hashemite family have never abandoned the positions of custodian of the Haram as Sharif.

7-"Impossible" questions such as Jerusalem and right of return would be postponed for quieter times.

This non-solution would allow Israel, the Arab Palestinians and the Arab countries to provide a better life for their citizens. It would end the misery of the Arab Palestinian refugees. It could create an atmosphere that would lead to a peaceful solution, not in five years perhaps, but in fifty. Meanwhile, nobody would give up their principles and nobody would need to make concessions that are really politically impossible. Syria would not immediately give up its claim to the Sea of Galilee, and Palestinians would not give up their claims to that part of the Jerusalem that was to be internationalized under the UN partition plan or to the "right" of return. It is probably a utopian dream, though it is less of a dream than the Palestinian state that is contemplated by the Bush admnistration and the quartet under the road map. We can all see the flaws and problems in both "plans." Understanding why even this non-solution will not happen gives us a much better insight into what is so sadly wrong in the Middle East.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000538.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 6 comments

The nonsolution in the article leads back to Oslo where the peace process drags on with no real solution. I prefer we try to make a solution that ends the whole situation.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 12/06/2006 12:29 AM CST

In this I agree with Butrus.

Any partial solution causes the Israelis to think they have done enough even when they haven't, and cause the Palestinians to revert to violence at the nearest opportunity. Periods of quiet don't cause the Palestinians to become more flexible,. It does for some Israelis, but for others the quiet makes them think that the temporary can become permanent. When the violence begins again all end up loosing faith in peace.

In any case, it is unlikely that either the Israelis or the Palestinians wil be willing to go that far based on less than peace.

A reverse approach should be tried. The Israelis and the Palestinians should start negotiating at once for full peace, but without demanding or offering nothing from each other. The Palestinians should not be asked to disarm based on future promise of peace, and the Israelis should not be required to take security risks based on the Palestinians unreliable promises to shape up sometime in the future. At best we should try to have a ceasefire to make negotiations easier.
If a peace deal is reached, and passes referenda in the two countries, then all the requirements and conditions leading to peace will be undertaken by both sides in the context of a known deal agreed by both sides.

If no such deal is available, than the two other options are a lesser non-solution ceasefire with a clear intornational promise that the negotiations for a final deal will occur at a timely fashion, and that it will react if the Palestinians restart the violence. Or unilater Israeli partial withdrawl, followed by a new military approach to deal with a hostile terrorist neighbor country -- a disproportionate responce to terrorism emerging from that country.

Posted by Micha @ 12/06/2006 02:05 PM CST

A disproportionate response is probably never a wise idea.

Consider India and Pakistan as a thought-experiment.

Posted by Spike @ 12/15/2006 03:09 PM CST

On the contrary. The objective of organizations like the Hamas, Jihad or Hizballa is to sting the other side continuously without escalating. An endless skirmish that goes nowhere, but increases their popularity while preventing any chance for peace. If peace is not an option, and complete defeat of the other side is not an option, the only solution is to prevent these organizations from having their pleasant war of constant skirmishing and will cause them the face the possibility of actual harm to their side -- bnamely a disproportionate attack -- followed by an offer for a temporary ceas is something they can agree with without loosing face completely.

Posted by Micha @ 12/16/2006 01:55 AM CST

Well, quite apart from the fact that the disproportionate response is a tactic more commonly associated with the Nazis in occupied Europe, and objectionable in itself, I'm not sure it works as you have suggested.

The disproportionate response against Hezbollah certainly doesn't seem to have done them much damage.

I think a better tactic would be a closely targetted policing style of response; that way you avoid creating martyrs, boosting the other side's popularity and alienating world opinion.

Posted by Spike @ 12/21/2006 03:05 PM CST

The only way to Peace forever.

Let us introduce ourselves to all already active in the process of promoting peace by inviting you to view our web page www.peace365.org in which we point out to the invitation received from the United Nation Resolution 55/282 where in paragraph3 it states: …(UN) Invites all …regional and non-governmental organizations, individuals, through education and public awareness… to cooperate with the United Nations in establishing of the global ceasefire. Yes, we are invited.
Let us all accept their invitation by promoting our plea for additional 365 days of peace to the existing resolution and with the united voice in action wipe out wars from the face of our Mother Earth for ever.

Marek and Peppe

Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding.

Albert Einstein

Posted by giuseppe biondo @ 01/18/2007 11:29 PM CST

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