by Hillel Schenker
As 2008 draws to a close, the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are entering a major period of transition. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has resigned, and elections have been called for February 10, 2009. On the Palestinian side, President Mahmoud Abbas’ (Abu Mazen) term is becoming a controversial issue following Hamas' claim that it ends on January 9. It is unclear whether the Arab efforts led by Egypt to hammer out an agreement between Hamas and Fateh before that date will succeed, or whether matters will get more complicated, deepening the rift between the two parties and the separation between Gaza and the West Bank.
The Annapolis process, which began in November 2007, is also nearing its target date of the end of December 2008, without having produced the hoped-for agreement.
There is a general perception that, after 15 years of negotiations since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, Israelis and Palestinians are not capable of arriving at an agreement on their own. An active international involvement is absolutely essential in facilitating, monitoring and helping to advance the process.
A positive factor on the scene is the revived interest in the Arab Peace Initiative (which was featured in the Palestine-Israel Journal special issue, Vol. 14, No. 4, 2007). In an unprecedented act, a full-page, full-color advertisement promoting the Arab Peace Initiative was published in the major Israeli dailies and in Palestinian Arabic dailies, with the Israeli, Palestinian and 50 Arab and Muslim states’ flags, presenting the text and a call for Israel to accept this historic opportunity for peace. Abbas explained that “the Arab Peace Initiative is more than a two-state solution; the entire Arab and Muslim world is offering Israel peace and normal relations, in exchange for a two-state solution, based upon the 1967 borders, a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, living in peace alongside the state of Israel, and a mutually agreed-upon solution to the refugee problem.” Two Israeli initiatives to promote the Arab Peace Initiative have also appeared. The Council for Peace and Security, a group of hundreds of Israeli former senior security officials, published a full-page ad in Haaretz, declaring: “The Arab Peace Initiative is an upheaval in the attitude of the Arab states!” They wrote that “Israel doesn’t have to agree to every detail in the formulation of the initiative, but we must not ignore this historic opportunity that the entire moderate Arab world is presenting before us.” In addition, The Israeli Council for Peace Initiatives, a group of 120 prominent Israeli academics, security personnel, businessmen, economists, artists and intellectuals, is also beginning a public campaign to promote the Arab Peace Initiative.
Another major new positive factor is the election of Barack Obama as the new American president. The president-elect has declared that he will make the promotion of Israeli-Palestinian peace a high priority on his international agenda. Unlike President George W. Bush, he will personally engage in facilitating the process from the very beginning of his administration.
It is to be hoped that his administration and his foreign policy team will not squander that opportunity, which reflects a genuine American interest and is clearly in the interest of both the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples.
Obama’s well-known and forward-looking campaign slogan was “Yes We Can.” We hope that he will apply that philosophy to Israeli-Palestinian relations and, together with the Quartet partners — the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — will demonstrate that this is also possible for our region.
This issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal
deals with human security, and how the concept can be applied to Israel and Palestine. The most basic definition of the concept is freedom from fear and freedom from want. A secure and viable peace is the most fundamental way of ensuring human security for both peoples. It is also understood that if the sovereign authority of a people is unable to provide human security, outside factors, the international community and international civil society have to help to provide what the local leaders are incapable of doing or don’t want to do on their own.