Jun 03 2003

Package deal (agreed in secret) can lead to Peace

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,US-Middle East

Ramallah- The high level involvement of the United States government in the Middle East conflict presents a unique and rare opportunity for dramatically positive movement in the peace process. But for the Bush administration to succeed where others have faltered, a new direction is needed. The new direction must be based on a comprehensive approach, possibly reached in secret talks, and not the step-by-step time based process.

President Bush did well by presenting all parties with his ultimate vision of peace in the Middle East based on a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure state of Israel. To reach this goal negotiations must continue on focusing on the final prize rather than interim steps and phases.

Reaching a package deal and presenting it to the large public on both sides will weaken the power of radicals and give decision-making power back to the silent majorities on both sides.

The past two years have been dominated by headlines of the actions of extremists. They hijacked the peace process. Moderate Israeli and Palestinian leaders allowed them to take our two peoples along this violent ride. Jewish settlers and their right wing supporters (some in the army and government) have had a hay day building settlements, assassinating Palestinian leaders and attempting to crush the Palestinian national spirit.

Palestinian militants (at times with some help from the Palestinian Authority) have used violence and terror to try and force Israel to change its political positions.

Both have failed and left behind a trail of blood and suffering.

Radicals have always fed on partial issues. Taken in isolation, each side can make a strong case against compromise on any single issue whether it be the right of return of Palestinian refugees or the dismantling of settlements.

If you asked any Palestinian or Israeli on a single issue their position would be much different than if presented with an entire deal. Ask Palestinians if they support the right of refugee to return to their homes as stipulated by UN resolutions and more than 90% will agree on this right. But ask the same group if they are willing to compromise on this right in return for comprehensive solutions and the results will change dramatically. Similarly ask Israelis about the right of Jews to live in settlements built on Palestinian land and most would agree to that right. But turn the question around and ask them if a comprehensive peace can be reached without the settlements and most would support that.

To reach any package deal it is important to take a two-prong approach. Public negotiations are unlikely to work if they are not supported by an ironclad commitment to keep moving no matter what happens. Both sides must keep talking in a public demonstration of defiance to their radicals. Any sign of hesitation will be an invitation for carnage.

At the same time, back door negotiations must commence immediately. Away from the public eye, the real concerns of both peoples should be made and dealt with. To solve this century old conflict a fair compromise is needed. Leaders who genuinely want peace and a better future for their people a deal must work such out in total secrecy. This can be presented to the public as a package deal, which each side must approve or reject as a whole.

When the two sides are talking they must try and understand where the other side comes from. Israelis are mistaken if then think that the goal of an independent Palestinian state is the starting point for negotiations. Such a mini Palestinian state on or around the June 4th 1967 borders is the bare minimum compromise that Palestinians are willing to accept in order to have lasting peace.

Having said that one must also face the reality of the situation on the ground as well as the geopolitical balance of forces. Neither are in favor of Palestinians. But to ignore this strong Palestinian aspiration and to nickel and dime Palestinians on their state will not work. Tens of thousands have died, were wounded imprisoned, and became homeless and refugees in pursuit of this national goal. Forcing Palestinians to accept much less will not work.

When Palestinian view comprehensive negotiations with Israel, they start from where they were from time immemorial in historic Palestine and consider the state in the ’67 borders as a historic compromise on the way to negotiations. When Israelis view negotiations, they begin with their own state created on the ground by force in 48, they add to that East Jerusalem and all the new settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and then they start negotiating Palestinians over what remains of the occupied territories.

The points of agreement reached in Taba in January 2001 and the vision of President Bush are a good place to start. Non-stop public negotiations with strong US involvement as well as behind the scenes talks can lead to lasting peace based on the creation of an independent viable Palestinian state alongside a safe and secure state of Israel.

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