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Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week attacked the involvement of a number of Labor Party MKs and other left-wing activists in an effort to formulate an agreed document for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sharon was refering to the so-called Swiss initiative, which aims to present the two peoples with a peace agreement, based in great part on the Clinton plan discussed at the Camp David and Sharm el-Sheikh summits three years ago. Sharon described the Israelis' participation in this brainstorming effort as "activity being carried out behind the back of the government and in coordination with the Palestinians." The words were meant to stain the effort as a treasonous act.

Sharon's attempt to label this new peace initiative is audacious, even for a man well versed in distracting public opinion. He does not hesitate to make use of inflammatory demagoguery in order to hobble early a legitimate diplomatic initiative and he is not deterred from stigmatizing his political rivals, even if they have done nothing wrong.

Both in practice and in principle, the involvement of individuals such as Amram Mitzna and Yossi Beilin in formulating a new proposal for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is absolutely legitimate. The effort to put an end to the bloodletting is a morally worthy cause and whoever disputes this welcomes doubts as to his motives and his worldview. Thus, even during total war among sworn enemies, there is room for initiatives whose aim is to end the killing; even more so in armed confrontations like the one being carried out between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a principle that Sharon recognizes; evidence of this, at least in appearance, is the fact that he has lent a hand to a number of diplomatic moves aimed at achieving a cease-fire and bringing the two sides back to the table. Why are the Mitchell and Tenet plans, and the Road Map, acceptable, but the Beilin-Abed Rabbo initiative is not?

Sharon does not propose a diplomatic alternative to the current proposal being discussed by Israelis and Palestinians. For nearly three years, he has been authorized to lead Israel toward peace but he has consistently led her away from it. Since he was elected prime minister, Sharon has shown his creativity only in the forceful means he implements in order to bring an end to the confrontation with the Palestinians. This approach has failed; he has no moral right and no official authority to unequivocably disqualify efforts to present another option.

The substance of the formula that some of the Labor and left-wing leaders, along with Palestinians, will present will be tested on its own merits. It will be presented to the two peoples and they will judge it: to what extent it is trustworthy, can be implemented, and meets their expectations? Sharon is seeking to foil this democratic move by labeling it with the stigma of illegitimacy. In this way, he violates the basic rules of the game in Israeli politics: It is the role of the opposition to challenge the government's policy, and urge the public to think differently and free it from the official versions with which the government washes its brain. The MKs from the left, involved in the new proposal for a settlement, are fulfilling their public duty and should not be deterred by the prime minister's brute attacks.