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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

May 17, 2003

Israel Must Not Miss Yet Another Opportunity

Simon Peres has his say in The Los Angeles Times. Agree or disagree, a perspective worth noting
For the "road map" to avoid becoming moribund even before it has had a chance of turning into a green light for the peace process, issues that have little chance of being resolved — such as the Palestinian "right of return" — must be removed from the road map agenda.

Israel's position on this issue is unequivocal and backed by the whole of the Israeli political spectrum. If millions of Palestinian refugees are allowed to return to Israel, it will endanger the very foundations of a Jewish state. A Jewish state means a Jewish majority. And Israel will not commit political suicide.

The Palestinian right of return will need to be realized within the borders of a Palestinian state. I am aware that the Palestinians will not express public acceptance of this position. On this subject, we must therefore agree to not agree, without allowing this absence of agreement to interfere with the road map.

The Palestinian government must without delay put into effect a plan to dismantle and disarm the various armed militias operating on the ground and consolidate matters of security under its sole authority. Unless this course of action is enforced, Hamas and Islamic Jihad will dictate the Palestinian agenda and foil its attempts to advance peace. A government can be democratic or not democratic, but a country disjointed by splintered authority cannot survive.

Israel's government must implement the assurances it gave not only upon its recent election but also during its previous term, that new settlement activities will cease. This resolution was debated at the Knesset and approved, making it legally binding. The same commitment was made to the United States and must be fulfilled.

Since this commitment was made, several hundred settlements and outposts were created, and they must be dismantled. The so-called "painful concessions" pledge (by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) cannot replace the real test of deeds.

All of the sides — the "quartet" with the United States in the lead (along with Russia, the European Union and the United Nations), Israel and the Palestinians — must agree on a two-way track at the start: to fight terror as though there were no negotiations and engage in negotiations as though there was no fight against terror. If one is dependent on the other, it is doubtful that the process will ever leave the station.

Fighting terror is not a gift that the Palestinians are offering Israel.

A terrorist — or even semi-terrorist — Palestinian state has no chance of seeing the light of day. But Israel must also fight the motives for terror. The Palestinian people will commit themselves fully to fighting terror only when it becomes clear to them that an end to terror will yield greater dividends than allowing it to continue.

Therefore, it is manifestly in Israel's self-interest to create a political horizon that will encompass an end to the occupation, its agreement to borders on the basis of U.N. resolutions 242 and 338 and the establishment of a demilitarized yet sustainable and independent Palestinian state.

We must not miss yet again the rare opportunity we are now given. It has always been hard to untangle ourselves from the complexities of the situation, and this time too will not be easy. But as opposed to the past, the potential peace today seems to overshadow the fear of war.