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 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