All Writings
June 1, 2003

A Road Map In Need Of A Compass

For President Bush to breathe real life into the road map for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, he must first insist that two prerequisites are immediately met: The Palestinian Authority must publically recognize and unequivocally accept the Jewish/Israeli historic right to exist in part of their ancient homeland and Israel must accept the Palestinian's right to exist as a free nation in the West Bank and Gaza.

The unequivocal acceptance of these two principles by the two parties is the only thing that can create a new national psychological disposition in each which will allow the parties to deal with the issues that have blocked any previous agreement. These issues include: the use of violence as a political tool, the Palestinian right of return to villages within Israel, the disposition of the Israeli settlements, the future of Jerusalem, and the establishment of final borders. Without the acceptance of these two principles, all the confidence building measures the administration is asking both sides to agree to will be tactical in nature and easily reversed, as occurred with the previous advances which were wiped out by the second Intifadah. Yes, reciprocal confidence building measures to ease tensions may work for a while, but in the end will offer Israelis and Palestinians only the mirage of peace.

President Bush would be wise to recall the reasons behind the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at Camp David in the Summer of 2000. At that time the Palestinians could have realized almost everything they demanded from Israel. Former Israeli Prime Minster Barak was willing to concede all of Gaza, 97 percent of the West Bank, and a Palestinian foothold in Jerusalem. But Chairman Arafat viewed the prospective accord as just another stage in the process of eliminating Israel as a political entity. Thus, he insisted on the Palestinians' right of return, which had it been accepted by Barak, would have meant the end of Israel as a Jewish state. (The return of more than three million Palestinian refugees to Israel proper would have established the Palestinians as an absolute majority in less than 10 years, thereby obliterating the Jewish "identity" of the state.) In addition, Arafat refused to consider the prospective agreement as the final one, putting an end to the conflict between the two peoples and with each side disavowing any future claims against the other. Rather, Arafat insisted that he had no authority to commit future generations to any agreement that fell short of his people's national aspirations. In other words, from the time of the signing of the first Oslo Accord in 1993, he–and the rest of the Palestinian Authority–never conceded to the Israeli reality in the region, regardless of the territories Israel occupied. Arafat's refusal at Camp David dealt a devastating if not fatal blow to the peace process. To the majority of Israelis, it now seemed as if the intention of the Palestinian leadership all along had been the elimination of Israeli in stages. Otherwise, why had the PLO charter which called for the destruction of Israel never been amended? And why did Palestinian textbooks fail to mention Israel and its maps not indicate Israeli existence?

Israel made its own contribution to the political and psychological impasse with its expansionist settlements. To the Palestinians every new settlement was a symbol of an occupation with no end in sight, leading them to believe that Israel would never relinquish the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians could find no way to reconcile the settlements' phenomenon with their own aspirations to create a vibrant Palestinian state. Moderate Palestinians who had accepted the inevitability of the Israeli existence now bowed to the growing voices of the extremist Islamic and leftist Palestinian groups that saw no virtue in accommodating Israel even tactically. The nature of the occupation itself was also intolerable, humiliating the Palestinians in ways large and small, making them determined to throw off the Israeli yoke.

The second Intifadah, or I should say, the Israeli-Palestinian war, changed the conflict into a war for survival. This is why no confidence building measures will work unless the fundamental premise of each side's right to exist is reaffirmed in an unshakable, determined, and direct manner. Only then, will the Palestinian Authority be able to explain to its people why the right of return is no longer viable and the permanent cessation of violence, especially suicide bombing, is at the core of any permanent solution. And only then will the Israeli government be able to explain to its people why most of the settlements, which happen to be political and as such the least populated, must eventually be dismantled to make room for a functioning Palestinian state. Are these prerequisites necessary? The short answer is: absolutely yes.

After nearly three years of disastrous failure incurred by the second Intifadah, it has finally dawned on a growing number of Palestinians that Israel is there to stay. This realization might provide their new leadership with the mandate to commit itself to dealing with Israel as an unshakable reality. Meanwhile, a majority of Israelis (62 percent) want to end the occupation. Their support of this in turn has given Prime Minister Sharon the backing he needs to end the settlements' policy. A hint of the change in the air is his recent labeling the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza as an "occupation."

This is why if President Bush is serious about peace between Israel and the Palestinians, he must first demand that they unambiguously recognize each other's right to exist in their mutual homeland. Only then, will confidence building measures become the markers on the road map to permanent peace.