May 21 2003

To reach Mideast Peace, Avoid Public Moves

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

The scores of innocent Israelis killed Saturday and Sunday in a series of Palestinian suicide attacks and the scores of innocent Palestinians killed before and since in various Israeli operations, point to the need for a new approach to resolve the Palestinian-Israel conflict. . This new approach must be based on secrecy and the need to work out a package agreement away from the pressures and pitfalls of a publicly declared process.

Although as a journalist I whole heartedly support freedom of expression, in this case, I believe that lives can be saved by temporarily refraining from the exercise of this right.

A clear pattern has been emerging for years. On the eve of any publicized high level visit, or time-linked arrangements, hardliners seem to get active. A Palestinian land to build a Jewish settlement here, or a Palestinian attack against Israeli settlers there. An Israeli assassination or incursion here or a gruesome Palestinian suicide attack in a major Israeli city there. The situation has become so predictable that Palestinians and Israelis brace themselves every time high profile visits or crucial target date for decision-making approaches.

For the most part these attacks and counter attacks are meant mostly to send a message to their own leaders and public and to sabotage progress in the peace process. Invariably these attacks produced a retaliation that would be quickly claimed as proof that the other side doesn’t want peace.

Radical groups should not be allowed to succeed. Not a single Israeli or Palestinian need to perish in this inhuman fashion.

The recently publicized US-led road map to peace in the Middle East is another such open invitation for any side opposed to the compromises that peace entails. With every publicly declared target date, hard-line settlers and hawkish army officers as well as militant Palestinian groups see an open invitation to sabotage the peace process.

For over thirty years, the Palestinian population, moderate and hard line nationals as well as Islamists have suffered Israel humiliation and brutality. In Israeli prisons, radicals and moderates Palestinians have reached common bondage. Out of prison ground they are unable and unwilling to fight each other.

Similarly, Israeli societies suffering from the random Palestinian attacks have difficulties separating doves and hawks. Pro settlement hardliners opposed to any compromise and wishing to kick out all Palestinians are part of the establishment and some even participate in the Israeli governing coalition.

To both groups, the idea of controlling their own hardliners seems next to impossible. Leaders on both sides insist that such internal crackdown will lead to a civil war.

This leaves authentic peace loving negotiators one of two choices. Either to keep moving ahead in the talks no matter what happens on the ground, or work behind the scenes to produce an agreed upon peace deal that will be presented to the public to vote for as a package deal.

The first option calls for a parallel approach to work for peace and fight violence. The late Yitzhak Rabin publicly adopted this approach. He repeatedly said that peace talks must continue as if there was no violence and that violence must be tackled as if there were no peace talks.

Israel’s present government seems unable or willing to adopt such a policy. By canceling his long awaited trip to Washington, following Sunday’s anti Israeli attacks, Ariel Sharon showed he can’t adopt the Rabin approach as a way to stop the cycle of violence.

The Palestinian Authority has not fared any better even with help from the head of the Egyptian intelligence service. Attempts to convince the militants to unilaterally stop their anti Israeli attacks have failed, partly because Israel has refused to promise to stop its policy of assassinating what it calls leaders of “terrorists.”

Israeli settlers and settlements are not popular in Israel. Poll after poll show that the majority of Israelis would accept a peace process without settlements rather than settlements without peace. But despite these poll, settlers seem to have an exaggerated power within Israeli decision makers. The Palestinian public similarly say that they prefer a solution without resorting to attacks against Israeli civilians but such ideas fail to produce results.

This leaves Palestinian and Israeli leaders as well as the international community with one simple mechanism to break up this ugly cycle of violence. By now all the parties know exactly what is needed to bring about a fair and viable agreement to the Middle East conflict. Key elements to such an agreement was reached in the Egyptian resort of Taba in January 2001 and have been articulated by US president George Bush.

Some might say that this approach was attempted by Clinton, Barak and Arafat in Camp David. But although the talks in Camp David were held in secret, they were rushed, ill prepared for and the public was well aware of them and their failure left a major disappointment we are suffering from till now.

What we need now is a handful of honest and authentic leaders meeting in secret to work out all the details. After getting the blessing of the US and other international parties such package agreement would be presented to the Palestinian and Israeli public. The majority of both sides will be asked to say yes or no without the chance to make any amendments. I am confident that such a concerted effort will receive positive approval in a referendum of Palestinians and Israelis. It would surely end unnecessary suffering, injury and death and usher in genuine peace.

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