by Gershon Baskin
Reaching a peace agreement by the end of the year seems almost impossible.
Israel killed more than 100 Palestinians in the last "operation" in Gaza - more than half of them civilians, say Palestinian sources.
The murderous attack in Mercaz Harav followed by Palestinian celebrations in Gaza and crowds of Israelis calling "death to the Arabs" once again demonstrates that we have not learned anything.
Jews and Arabs have been killing each other over this land for 100 years. The mutual calls for revenge continue to feed this horrific cycle of death and destruction.
Many of our political leaders on both sides follow the mob response calling for more death, more blood and more revenge.
Fortunately Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded to the recent violence positively stating: "Despite all the circumstances we're living through and all the attacks we're experiencing, we insist on peace. There is no other path."
Israeli leaders have been less explicit. This is most unfortunate. Leaders on both sides should sound a voice of morality recognizing that violence on both sides of the conflict will continue as long as there is no political agreement outlining the end of the conflict.
I find it beyond comprehension that people on both sides believe that the way to end the violence of the other side is to hit them with more force and bring more suffering upon them. How can any thinking person believe that if we kill more of "them", they will simply surrender?
Today with our weak and divided political systems, the spoilers of peace on both sides, energized by the public outcry for revenge from both sides, have more power to destroy than the leaders have to negotiate. The leaders have almost no support in standing against the tide of cynicism and the real sense of despair that peace is not possible.
Reaching a peace agreement, however, is possible. The agreement will be a package deal with trade-offs on the various issues, providing each side with at least the minimum of what is defined as their key national security and strategic interests. Both sides will have to feel that they have achieved some sense of justice for their demands and for their people; and they will have to sell the agreement to their people in some form of democratic process.
If I were in the Israeli leadership I would be conducting secret negotiations since July 2007. I would engage only my closest confidantes in those talks.
I would use this year, each and every one of the remaining days gifted to us by President George W. Bush and his Annapolis summit, to produce the best agreement possible.
I would agree to a one-year ceasefire with Hamas for the quiet we need to negotiate. The ceasefire would put an end to the rocket fire in the south. It would tie our hands in our ability to respond militarily to potential dangers and risks in Gaza and in the West Bank and would require significant increase in our security and intelligence cooperation with the security forces of Abbas, which is in our interest anyway.
Hamas will continue to smuggle weapons into Gaza, thus we would have to increase cooperation with Egypt in the hope that the Egyptians will be more effective in finding and destroying the tunnels into Gaza. We would have to end our strangulation of Gaza policy, as the ceasefire cannot be kept in place if the people of Gaza continue to feel under siege.
Once I have an agreement in hand, I would call for new elections in Israel, convinced that the overwhelming majority of Israelis will support the agreement, because the silent majority of Israelis desire life and peace.
I would hope that Abbas would also lead a democratic process in Palestine that, even if limited to the West Bank, would produce a moral majority significant enough to demonstrate Palestinian people’s support for peace.
Implementation of the agreement will take place over a number of years and eventually the political situation in Gaza will enable it to be implemented there as well.
If security conditions did not allow for the removing of many check points right now, I would already work with the Palestinians to transfer civil and administrative control over all of the areas that I already know will no longer be part of Israel, including most of what is know as area "c".
There is no need for Israel to continue to control planning and building in most of the West Bank. I could not do it alone, but fortunately I have a partner in President Abbas who continues to show his moral commitment and courage to lead his people to peace. I would stand tall knowing that I too had the courage and the moral commitment to lead the people of Israel forward to peace.
The original version of this article appeared in The Jerusalem Post
on March 10, 2008.