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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Op/Ed: Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is possible

Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

March 14, 2008

By Ghaith al-Omari and Steve Masters

Grim news continues to come from the Middle East: Palestinian rockets, Israeli incursions, people running for their lives on both sides.

The images of such harsh realities have come to define the conflict, and often serve to polarize people of goodwill who truly want peace. What's not getting ongoing headlines are the negotiations, held reportedly twice a month and kept quiet, to give negotiators a better chance of success.

Moderates sit at tables and discuss a joint Israeli-Palestinian future, while extremists do all they can to undermine any chance of that future being peaceful.

Regardless of individual opinion on the nature of the conflict or its possible resolution, one thing is undeniable: the Israeli and Palestinian futures are irrevocably entwined. The only question is how healthy, or how abjectly miserable, the coming years will be.

Supporters of either side are frequently led to hard-line positions by the images we so often see. Fingers are pointed, accusations made.

But the truth is that no one is innocent, and all can find a reason to deepen the enmity.

But whether these supporters are Bush Administration officials, presidential candidates, or average Americans, they do no one any favors by taking positions that are either extreme, or unrealistic.

Two generations

The incontrovertible fact is that ceaseless hostilities have done nothing for anyone. On the contrary, there are now two generations of Palestinians and Israelis who know nothing but occupation and violence.

Those who would seek the best for either people, chief among them Americans of any stripe, must acknowledge that fact, and move to support the negotiations launched in Annapolis last November.

We’ve seen that resolving the conflict — rather than barely managing the violence — is possible.

Leading American, Israeli and Palestinian diplomats and thinkers have achieved draft proposals (the Clinton Parameters, the Geneva Accords) that demonstrate the contours of the solution, as well as the ability to bridge considerable gaps.

Peace will require two states, based on the 1967 borders and mutually-agreed upon land-swaps; the establishment of a shared Jerusalem as the capital of both countries; and a mutually-acceptable resolution of the refugee issue. Poll after poll has shown that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians would accept such an agreement.

Not only do the people want the conflict to end, they currently have leaders dedicated to rapprochement.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has staked his career on a successful conclusion of the current talks. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (both of whom have a track record of commitment to peace and security) need a deal to salvage their political platform of statehood via negotiations, as against Hamas’ platform of violence to achieve national objectives.

Furthermore, the Arab world supports such a solution. The Saudi Peace Initiative calls for an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict in exchange for an agreement such as the Geneva Accords, and 20 Arab nations attended the Annapolis talks, sitting with Israel in a scene that would have once been considered a utopian dream.

But perhaps as important is that the Bush Administration is trying to move the process forward. Though a final deal may not be achieved before President Bush leaves office, it’s absolutely crucial that the State Department engage in substantive diplomacy to set the stage, and that the next president continue the work from the first day in office.

U.S. leadership is indispensable: America is the only outside mediator acceptable to both sides, and the only nation on earth that can pull together the international coalition needed to reach and implement a peace deal.

Moreover, it is in U.S. interests to place Israeli-Palestinian peace at the center of its foreign policy. A resolution would end the conflict’s spillover effect, helping to stabilize the region, and removing a key mobilization tool of extremists fighting American forces today.

It's easy to understand why images from this conflict are so polarizing. When a Palestinian suicide bomber kills a 78-year-old Israeli woman, or an an Israeli helicopter kills an eight-year-old Palestinian boy, it can be painful to put aside anger and grief to look for a solution.

Yet anyone who wants to end such tragedies must step back from this all-too-human tendency, and dedicate themselves to seeking peace aggressively.

This administration and the next must be urged to marshal America’s enormous resources behind establishing the requisite environment for progress in negotiations, creating mechanisms for follow-through and accountability, and making peace a real, attainable goal.

To do any less would be to abandon Israel and the Palestinians to the ongoing violence. Surely no true supporter of either people wants to see that.

Ghaith al-Omari is advocacy director for the American Task Force on Palestine, was the lead Palestinian drafter of the Geneva Initiative and is a former foreign policy advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Steve Masters is president of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. The two spoke at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee this past Sunday.





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