Sharing What Providence Has Given
The third, and final phase of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which have just begun at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba, is expected to be even more difficult than the previous rounds that led to the Oslo Agreements. This time, however, negotiations will be conducted in a different psychological and political atmosphere, with each party knowing that the final settlement will define the national character of both Israel and the Palestinian entity.
Any single issue on the agenda — the future of Jerusalem, the fate of the Israeli settlements, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, or what constitutes the final borders — could entangle the negotiators for months, if not years. Should Likud leader Natanyahu become the next Israeli Prime Minister (following the elections later this month), negotiations will be further complicated. Palestinian and Israeli extremists who oppose the talks will no doubt also do their best to torpedo the whole process. There are three crucial developments, however, that will encourage the spirit of greater understanding and cooperation than prevailed throughout the first two rounds.
First, Chairman Arafat has finally grasped the necessity of reining in violence as a prerequisite for the continuation of the peace talks. Neither Hamas nor the Islamic Jihad are likely to cease their terrorist activities against Israel, but it is now expected that the Palestinian Authority will deal with future violence with a vigilance and a commitment guided by the principle that negotiations and terrorism cannot go hand-in-hand.
The second important development is the amendment to the PLO Covenant, removing all the clauses that had called for Israel's destruction. This particular historic action has had tremendous psychological impact on the Israelis, many of whom see Arafat for the first time as a reliable partner in the peace process — a perception that will not be lost on the Israelis in the peace negotiations when hard choices must be made.
Third, and most important, is the human dimension evolving from the long, tough and often intractable negotiations between the two sides. In the course of these negotiations Israelis and Palestinians have come to know and appreciate each others' innermost feelings and emotions. Each party has witnessed the other's deepest fears, anxieties and concerns. Both sides have been traumatized by five decades of bloody conflict that claimed not only tens thousands of lives, but robbed many more of basic human needs — trust, dignity, and compassion. Both Israelis and Palestinians now realize that driven by a conviction of "do or die," they killed each other because the choices were reduced to "you" or "I". Following four years of painstaking negotiations, they can at last look at each other and see similar weaknesses, feel the same pain, and share the same anxieties for the future. This recognition has led them to believe that only coexistence, under separate political authority, will restore them to sanity and dignity.
There is another reason for optimism. The United States, whose vital interests in the Middle East are sustained through peace and stability, will also, of course, exert tremendous pressure on both sides to achieve an equitable settlement regardless who is the next Israeli Prime Minister or the next head of the Palestinian Authority. In the end a resolution to the future of Jerusalem — perhaps the thorniest of all issues — will be found in the context of a Palestinian state– which does not preclude maintaining the unity of the city as Israel's capital. Many Israeli settlements and settlers will remain in the West Bank under Palestinian jurisdiction (like many Palestinians in Israel), and some settlements (those surrounding Jerusalem) will be incorporated into Israel. A limited number of Palestinians who want to reunite with their families (perhaps up to 100,000) will be repatriated while many others will be compensated. And the final political borders (no barbed wire or walls) will be drawn, allowing people and goods to move freely in both directions.
There are still many blind fanatics, Palestinian and Israelis alike, who will battle the wind in their refusal to accept the historic verdict to coexist in peace. To them I say, give up! The sons of Abraham have come together; they have come home to share what Providence has given!
It is this recognition, more than anything else, that will eventually compel both sides to accept a political settlement. It is this recognition that neither will live in peace without the other and neither will rule over the other, that which gives hope to the future success of the negotiations.