Actions Are Needed To Make Peace A Reality

by Nizar Abdel-Kader
Beirut - The election of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), with his history as a peace-lover, provides Israelis and Palestinians a new opportunity to stop the violence, start the process of confidence building and prepare to resume peace negotiations. However, the election itself is not enough to dissipate all the feelings of hatred and lack of confidence resulting from atrocities committed in the war. The unwritten truce approved in the Sharm el-Sheik summit cannot withstand repeated security violations such as the terrorist operation that took place at a nightclub in Tel Aviv on February 15, the repeated mortar shellings on settlements or the killing of three Palestinian teenagers by the Israeli army in Rafah on April 10th.

Diplomacy must replace violence in order to protect and fortify this new opportunity and to prevent it from going the way of the previous one offered by the Aqaba summit, which was attended by Abbas as prime minister, President Bush and Prime Minister Sharon.

The circumstances are not the same as those of 2003; Mahmoud Abbas is no longer the prime minister under the chaperonage of Arafat, and Sharon is now looking to benefit from the presence of a Palestinian leader working for peace, in order to provide him the best chance to withdraw from Gaza under favourable conditions. President Bush and the International Quartet are willing to exploit the new opportunity for peace post-Arafat under the leadership of Abu Mazen to provide the process with new momentum.

But Abu Mazen and Sharon face many obstacles and complexities that will make rebuilding confidence and overcoming all of the security risks difficult. Both men have a seemingly impossible mission to control the extremists in their camps: Abbas has to put Hamas and Jihad under his full control, while Sharon is facing the challenge of extremist settlers who, according to the Israeli media, are threatening to assassinate him and some of his ministers. On each side there are two competing movements: one calling for seizing the opportunity to resume the peace process, and the other doing everything possible to destroy it. The good intentions expressed by Abbas and Sharon at Sharm el-Sheik are not enough unless they are coupled with actions on the ground. If Abbas is required to be decisive in the reform process (he has started with the unification of the security services) Sharon, on his part, should freeze all settlement building and hasten the withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. There is no excuse for any delay under religious pretensions.

On the Palestinian side, there are two principal parties: one has a vision for peace with the objective of creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, and the second party calls for the continuation of the struggle until Palestine is liberated "from the river to the sea." The stage for this clash of views is subject to paradoxes and political and ideological complexities that threaten the present opportunity, as well as any future approach to peace. The fragile truce agreed on by Abbas, Hamas and Islamic Jihad does not provide solid ground for the peace process; the risks of new suicide operations are high and may draw forth heavy Israeli military reactions. There is also the risk of seeing Gaza, after an Israeli withdrawal, fall under the control of Hamas and Jihad, who may use it for militant purposes against Israel, repeating Hezbollah's scenario in southern Lebanon. The way to avoid such a dilemma is through negotiation between Abbas and the leadership of Hamas and Jihad with an ultimate aim to reconciling their conflicting visions. Such a process alone will lead to a stronger truce, giving the necessary time for the development of optimism and confidence needed by people in both the Palestinian and Israeli camps.

The Israeli government can enhance the momentum of the peace opportunity by providing Abbas with a political horizon, and subsequently revising the principle of "security first" as the underlying condition for progress. Now is the time for Israel to change its line of policy based solely on security, and to give Abbas the time to rebuild the severely damaged Palestinian security apparatuses. Sharon should come forward to increase the credibility of Abbas through the improvement of Palestinian daily living, the withdrawal from Palestinian cities and the halting of settlement building in the West Bank.

The new promises given by Bush and Condoleezza Rice are not a substitute for an active diplomacy required to hasten the creation of a Palestinian state. The financial assistance promised by the Bush administration or by the London conference and the assignment of General William Ward as a representative for Rice are not enough to ensure any progress. There is urgency for Bush to follow up on his call to Sharon during their last meeting in Crawford to freeze settlement building by taking a firm position on that matter.

The actions of the Israelis, the Palestinians and the US will decide the future of this peace opportunity. All parties must rise to the challenge and accept the responsibilities needed to face the dangers threatening the peace opportunity so that it becomes a clear truth, not just another illusion.


* Nizar Abdel-Kader is a columnist and political analyst at the Ad-Diyar Newspaper.

Source: Common Ground News Service, April 29, 2005.

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A Simple Plan
Urgent Steps Needed To Sustain The Fragile Window Of Opportunity
Promote Negotiations or Abandon the Two-State Solution
The Palestinian Ceasefire: A Window of Opportunity Looming on the Horizon
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Only Public Support Can Sustain a Window of Opportunity
Palestinians and Israelis Should Talk Amongst Themselves
What to Do with the Gaza Settlements
Learning from Previous Mideast Mistakes
Religion and the Issue of Jerusalem
Religion Must be Part of the Solution
The Direction of Peace and its Challenges
Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Worthwhile Steps before Final Settlement
Achieving Long-Term Political Change in the Middle East
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Other articles in this series

A Simple Plan by Hady Amr
Urgent Steps Needed To Sustain The Fragile Window Of Opportunity by Dr. Ziad Asali
Promote Negotiations or Abandon the Two-State Solution by Naomi Chazan
The Palestinian Ceasefire: A Window of Opportunity Looming on the Horizon by Mohammad Daraghmeh
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly by Khaled Duzdar
Only Public Support Can Sustain a Window of Opportunity by Jason Erb
Palestinians and Israelis Should Talk Amongst Themselves by Shira Herzog
What to Do with the Gaza Settlements by Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Learning from Previous Mideast Mistakes by Daoud Kuttab
Religion and the Issue of Jerusalem by Jonathan Kuttab
Religion Must be Part of the Solution by Rabbi David Rosen
The Direction of Peace and its Challenges by Hazem Saghiyeh
Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon: Worthwhile Steps before Final Settlement by Michael Young
Achieving Long-Term Political Change in the Middle East by Dov S. Zakheim