What Olmert could say
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's work to advance the peace process, as welcome as it is, symbolizes more than anything the lack of local initiative.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's work to advance the peace process, as welcome as it is, symbolizes more than anything the lack of local initiative, not to mention the helplessness and perhaps reluctance to progress.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert shouldn't have waited until Rice crossed the ocean to force both sides to come to their senses. He should have directly approached the Arab leaders meeting in Riyadh, wished them productive debates and success in working for the good of their nations, and responded positively to their peace initiative.
Since they are now dealing with the peace issue and since the Arabs' peace is tied to Israel's peace, both sides have a joint interest. Olmert should have approached them and said we have all had too many wars, and it's time to educate our sons and daughters in a new way - in terms of humanity, that of ourselves and the other.
After every war, people on both sides ask themselves: For how long will we dream that our sons become war heroes? Every real patriot, both Jewish and Arab, would like every child in his nation to dream of becoming a world renowned scientist, a successful businessman, a creative artist, a sports star, a brilliant thinker, a life-saving doctor or a member of some other profession that advances humanity - not a decorated combatant who dies in battle.
Clearly these are lofty words, but they must be accompanied by an action plan. The Arab peace initiative - which was formulated by Saudi Arabia and adopted at the Beirut summit - is on the Arab leaders' table today. It could serve as a sound, effective basis for solving the Israeli-Arab conflict and especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which these leaders consider more important than any other issue. Most importantly, it is a good basis for a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab countries.
Israel should have no problem even with the issue of the refugees - because the Arab initiative gives Israel veto power, and no solution will be accepted without its consent. The Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular are deeply concerned about Israel's reaction to this issue. They are convinced that Israel, at best, does not understand the problem. But they also see the contemptuous way with which Israel deals with it.
What, then, is preventing Olmert from mitigating this fear and saying: "I feel compassion for the refugees. These people and their families have suffered enough. We must all find a way that would lead to a real solution to their problem. And we, as those who had a part in creating this problem, are ready to be part of an Arab and international body that will find solutions."
Olmert could also take this opportunity to say that the Arabs, too, must understand that the Jews also have a problem with this issue and ask them to find a solution that is sensitive to the Jewish problem as well.
"Our nation has been persecuted for more than 2,000 years and we still haven't reached our safe haven," Olmert could tell them. He could add: "I will make no secret of the fact that you, the Arabs - though you haven't treated the Jews among you like the West has - you too are not making us feel any safer. We hear the hatred-filled statements and threats, and see the suicide bombings, and cannot remain indifferent.
"I believe that if we act together, out of a genuine desire to free our nations from the burden of conflict, we can find solutions to all our problems. After all, this is our duty as leaders of our peoples," he could say.
It would be naive to believe that such an approach would bring peace, but it would doubtlessly contribute to creating a different atmosphere, which we all need to begin.