In the past, the longing for peace united Israeli society, which sought to end the conflict with the Palestinians and the Arab world. But in recent years, and especially since the second intifada, it seems as if Israel has given up on the peace option. The debate instead focuses on ways to manage the conflict, so the price is apparently tolerable to the public and the leaders won’t be forced to make hard decisions.
Under the guise of the status quo, the settlement enterprise has expanded and the discriminatory regime of one law for Jews and another for Arabs has become entrenched in the West Bank. Israel has made great efforts to push Palestinians into enclaves (known as Areas A and B in the Oslo Accords) in order to make room for more settlers and the possible annexation of open areas. The occupation has spread to Israel within the Green Line in the form of attempts to crush the democratic regime, suppress the Arab community’s political expression and restrain human-rights activists.
Haaretz has sponsored the Israel Conference on Peace, which opens Tuesday in Tel Aviv, to reinstate peace in the public debate as the essential choice for the country’s future. Only a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and in its wake with Arab countries as well, will ensure Israel’s existence in the region as a state with recognized borders and preserve its democratic character with a Jewish majority. There is no other way to achieve the goals of Zionism than the way of dialogue, agreements and compromise with our neighbors.
The freeze in the diplomatic process has led to another round of violence and to growing fears of a third intifada. The events of the past few weeks have revived fears on both sides. The incitement by right-wing politicians, who always propose more and more force, threatens to drown Israelis and Palestinians in rivers of blood.
The only answer to these hate-filled statements is to refuse to give up, to proudly raise the banner of peace and to show that it is both necessary and possible. Precisely at this difficult time the debate must focus on the reasons peace has tarried and how it can be achieved.
In articles contributed to Haaretz in honor of the conference, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Saudi Prince Turki Al Faisal show that Israel has a partner for a peace agreement based on the Arab League’s peace initiative and dividing the land into two states – Israel and Palestine. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues must step up to the challenge and show that such an agreement also has an Israeli partner.
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