Be brave, Mr Olmert

If An­napo­lis is to show any re­sults, the Is­raelis must be pre­pared to with­draw from all land oc­cu­pied in ’67

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS - SAMIR EL YOUSSEF

THE MOOD at the end of An­napo­lis, we are told, was “cau­tiously op­ti­mistic”. Of course, the lead­ing par­tic­i­pants, Bush, Olmert and Ab­bas, have ev­ery rea­son to be cau­tious. For this is the first se­ri­ous at­tempt at Pales­tinian-Is­raeli peace ne­go­ti­a­tions since Camp David seven years ago. And whereas the lead­ing ne­go­tia­tors then — Clin­ton, Barak and Arafat — were rel­a­tively strong and pop­u­lar, the cur­rent trio are weak and un­pop­u­lar. The Amer­i­can on­go­ing blun­der in Iraq; the Is­raeli mil­i­tary fail­ure against Hizbol­lah last year; and the Ha­mas takeover of Gaza, among other fail­ures, have made the new ini­tia­tive seem no more than a des­per­ate at­tempt by the three trou­bled lead­ers to raise their own low pro­files.

Sur­pris­ingly enough, how­ever, the joint state­ment agreed upon by both Pales­tini­ans and Is­raelis shows any­thing but cau­tion; the short, prac­ti­cal aims seem as highly am­bi­tious as the rhetor­i­cal long hopes. We are in­formed that our lead­ers are de­ter­mined to “usher in a new era of peace, based in free­dom, se­cu­rity, jus­tice, dig­nity, re­spect and mu­tual recog­ni­tion; to prop­a­gate the cul­ture of peace and non-vi­o­lence”, etc.

And to achieve all that, our lead­ers have sworn to en­gage in vig­or­ous and con­tin­u­ous ne­go­ti­a­tions and fully im­ple­ment the Road Map by the end of 2008; an im­ple­men­ta­tion which should lead to the es­tab­lish­ment of a vi­able Pales­tinian state and a per­ma­nent peace.

How do they ex­pect to achieve such goals in such a short time? Or even a long time? Is it at all pos­si­ble for the weak and un­pop­u­lar to achieve through An­napo­lis what the less weak and less un­pop­u­lar failed to do in Camp David seven years ago?

The ob­vi­ous an­swer is no — not with­out the Pales­tinian and Is­raeli lead­ers first gain­ing strength and pop­u­lar­ity among their own peo­ples. And the way to do so is not through en­gag­ing in long and what prob­a­bly, at the end, would be fruit­less peace talks, but through a brave at­ti­tude — pri­mar­ily from Prime Min­is­ter Olmert him­self.

In his speech, Olmert ap­pealed to Arab peo­ples to end their hos­til­ity to­wards Is­rael and recog­nise its right to ex­ist as a Jewish state. But the Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter was pri­mar­ily ad­dress­ing Saudi Ara­bia and Syria, whose un­ex­pected pres­ence at the con­fer­ence is pos­si­bly the only sign of hope for peace in the re­gion. Both the Saudi and Syr­ian rep­re­sen­ta­tives made it clear that there could be no per­ma­nent peace be­fore a to­tal Is­raeli with­drawal from the land oc­cu­pied in 1967. The ques­tion is: is Olmert brave enough to take on the Saudi-Syr­ian chal­lenge, of­fer­ing to carry out such a with­drawal in re­turn for to­tal Arab recog­ni­tion of Is­rael and full diplo­matic re­la­tions?

If such an of­fer is made and ac­cepted, Olmert would be achiev­ing what no other Is­raeli prime min­is­ter has been able to do: a to­tal ac­cep­tance of Is­rael by its neigh­bours. And, to be more than “cau­tiously op­ti­mistic”, he would also be paving the way to a real new era of peace. Samir El Youssef is a Pales­tinian writer and critic who has lived in Lon­don since 1990. He co-wrote Gaza Blues with Is­rael’s Etgar Keret

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