Who said that Ehud Olmert is not walking along Ariel Sharon's path? The new agreement for a cease-fire in the territories proves that the prime minister is indeed committed to the strategy of "there is no partner for peace." Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip taught the Palestinian people that the terrorism of Hamas has worked where the diplomacy of the proponents of Oslo failed. The cease-fire - as "advance payment" for lifting the siege on the Palestinian Authority, releasing funds and freeing prisoners - fits like a boxing glove on the pounding fist of Hamas. Khaled Meshal and his colleagues also prefer unilateral steps to negotiations.
Long-term intermediate arrangements and short sightedness are better suited to the Hamas agenda than recognition of Israel and a peace agreement with the Zionists. With its "no-partner" policy, Israel teaches its neighbors that anyone still left in the peace camp becomes irrelevant. Imposing a cease-fire, lifting the siege on the PA and releasing prisoners are welcome steps whose importance cannot be underestimated. Nonetheless, in the absence of a broader political context, they turn into moves that are a recipe for disaster. They offer the rejectionists breathing room and a time-out to broaden their hold in the territories, without forcing them to alter any fundamental principles.
If it is possible to be rid of the Israelis for free, why pay in hard currency - such as relinquishing violence or all of Palestine? Who needs peace initiatives that require painful surgery now when Meretz leader Yossi Beilin, of Oslo, and key European Union countries are willing to prescribe another dose of pain-killers in the form of interim agreements? A little more patience and the government of Israel will sign off on a hudna (long-term cease-fire), placing all the plans for a final settlement in mothballs for the coming 10, maybe 20 years. Meanwhile, yet another generation will grow up in the territories, not knowing about Oslo and believing that Iran's bomb and Hassan Nasrallah's missiles will put the Jews in their place.
An Al-Qaida state has already been established in Iraq and the Americans are going to flee Baghdad any time now. The day in which Sharon's dream of "Jordan is Palestine" becomes the bitter reality of "Hamastan" on both sides of the river is not far away.
When the sole alternative to temporary arrangements and unilateral steps is the perpetuation of violence, temporary arrangements and unilateral steps become indispensable. However, when an alternative offering all-encompassing peace in the Middle East is within arm's reach - and includes normalization between Israel and the members of the Arab League - a hudna is criminal, if not downright stupid. This alternative is written, in black on white, in Arabic, in an unprecedented resolution passed at the League summit on March 28, 2002 in Beirut. In return for "normal relations" - which is much more than mere recognition of Israel's existence - it says that Israel will pull back to the borders of June 4, 1967, and reach a just, negotiated settlement of the refugee problem on the basis of United Nations Resolution 194.
The significance of the Arab League resolution lies well beyond what it has on offer - a historic shift in the attitude of Arab states vis-a-vis the Jewish state. It is an invaluable achievement also because of what it excludes: It does not mention the evacuation of settlements, and allows for the possibility that settlement blocks can be exchanged for territory elsewhere. It also skips over the phrase "right of return" for every refugee (which is not mentioned in UN resolution 194), and instead grants Israel the right to determine how many refugees will be allowed to return and on what terms. The fact that the holy sites in Jerusalem were not mentioned in the final draft was meant to allow the negotiators room to maneuver over this sensitive issue.
A cease-fire and unilateral initiatives that undermine the Beirut resolution are a heaven-sent gift to Arabs and Jews who believe that having Hebron without peace is preferable to peace without Hebron. Sharon's response to the Arab League initiative, a development of a Saudi Arabian plan, was to carry out Operation Defensive Shield. The destruction of the PA during the operation pushed him into the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Olmert's statements suggest that he actually does understand that Sharon's path may be forcing the sensible elements backward.
Saudi Arabia is waiting for a phone call.
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