A Welcome Dose of
By Steve Masters,
The past few weeks have witnessed a
cluster of positive events in the Middle East that, taken as a
whole, provide a welcome dose of hope.
Bush Administration Engagement
Growing American Understanding
The most important news is, of course, the
recently achieved ceasefire between Israel and
the Hamas government in Gaza. Though the calm is
understandably fragile, any opportunity to bring quiet to a
desperately inflamed situation is a good thing; Israelis are
badly in need of a break from the fear of daily rocket barrages,
and Palestinians urgently need an end to Israeli military
incursions and the chance to re-establish lines of supply,
bringing relief to the hundreds of thousands of Gazans who
suffer from daily hunger.
Moreover, the ceasefire will allow Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas, who governs the West Bank with his Fatah-led
government, much greater freedom to negotiate with the
Israeli government. Much as he, and most of his
constituency, want to see an agreement, it is difficult for
Palestinians to support talks while Gaza remains in daily
conflict with the occupying power. Both sides will have to work
very hard not to allow themselves to be distracted by extremists
and naysayers; the stability of the ceasefire will depend on it.
It is perhaps equally crucial that Abbas's Fatah party is
holding reconciliation talks with its Palestinian
adversary, Hamas. While no one in the American Jewish community
holds any great love for Hamas, the fact is that the movement
governs Gaza, and retains the support of a significant portion
of the Palestinian populace. There is no way to achieve a real,
lasting peace without all of the major Palestinian factions
behind it; anything that Fatah achieves on its own, in short, is
vulnerable to the Hamas "veto" of violence against Israelis. It
is significant that as soon as talks began between the two, Abbas's popularity shot up, with the majority
of Palestinians saying they would vote for him in Presidential
elections rather than Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader, if such
elections were held today.
The Bush Administration’s
recent re-engagement with the peace process is equally
promising. This has been expressed on a variety of issues, each
a sign that the White House appears to understand that it must
commit itself to aggressively following up on President
Bush’s inspiring words at Annapolis last November.
Most recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had some
harsh words for Israel in response to the decision to build 1,300 more homes in East
Jerusalem, on lands that Palestinians see as part of
their future capital. "We should be in a position of encouraging
confidence, not undermining it. No party should be taking steps
at this point that could prejudice the outcome of the
negotiation," Rice said, stressing that the US would not see any
settlements established now as permanent Israeli territory.
In addition, the US government has also begun to pressure Israel to withdraw
from a disputed piece of land on the Golan Heights, the
Shaba Farms. Lebanon views the land as Lebanese, but the UN has
said it belongs to Syria. Israel annexed it following the 1967
war, and it remains a very thorny issue whenever negotiations
are attempted with either country.
Perhaps, in response to this push, Israel announced its
interest in peace talks with Lebanon that would bring every
issue of contention to the table. The Lebanese government
rejected Israel's call, but meanwhile Israel confirmed this past
week that it is engaged in talks with Hezbollah regarding a prisoner swap that would involve the two
kidnapped Israeli soldiers whose capture precipitated the Second
Lebanon War of 2006.
The Shaba Farms issue has resurfaced lately in
part because of the Israeli-Syrian talks currently being conducted
in Turkey. These quiet negotiations have the potential
to be tremendously important; not only would a permanent peace
treaty serve both war-weary nations, Syria's position
vis-à-vis Israel also has an enormous impact on the
positions of Lebanon and Hezbollah. The very fact that the two
sides are sitting in the same room is a significant step
forward, and indication that even the most intractable enemies
can learn to change their behavior. According to Israel, U.S. involvement will be necessary to take the
steps towards direct negotiations.
Finally, there are clear signs that
the American political climate has changed, as
our representatives come to understand that a negotiated,
two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in the
best interests of Israel, the Palestinians, and the United
States. The leadership of both political parties has made clear
that the end goal of negotiations is the establishment of an
independent Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure
Israel. Presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama recently stated before AIPAC: “Israelis
understand that real security can only come through lasting
peace. And that is why we — as friends of Israel —
must resolve to do all we can to help Israel and its neighbors
to achieve it. Because a secure, lasting peace is in Israel's
national interest. It is in America's national interest. And it
is in the interest of the Palestinian people and the Arab
The Bush Administration’s recent involvement is a
further sign of this growing understanding. While honesty
demands that we admit that President Bush stands very little
chance of achieving his declared goal of a peace treaty before
he leaves office, the efforts he and Secretary of State Rice
make today have the potential to lay crucial groundwork, so that
the next President will be able to hit the ground running.
HISTORY AS OUR
Interestingly, one notable fact has gone
largely unnoted in recent weeks: The Hamas-Israel ceasefire
talks were mediated by Egypt, a county once determined
to wipe Israel off the map. The fact that this leader
in the Arab world is today trusted by all sides is quite
possibly the best endorsement imaginable of the efficacy of
negotiated peace agreements. The work needs to be done, yes, but
once done, it will take root.
Peace work is never easy, simple, or – as history shows
– quick. Those of us who truly believe that an
Israeli-Palestinian peace is not only possible but absolutely
necessary must bear this in mind as we face our own
frustrations, and listen to those in our community. And we must
also look at the story in its entirety and acknowledge the many
changes that have taken place, and the many reasons for hope.
They do not yet amount to peace – but it is of
these things that peace will be made.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance
for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
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