An open letter to our Palestinian cousins
Dear cousins, the Aqaba summit tomorrow will be a festive day of handshaking and peace rhetoric. But there's no denying that the moment we set foot here, you were so against a Jewish entity in these parts, you chose to turn down the state you were offered on November 29, 1947, in the hopes that Israel would soon be crushed.
Dear cousins, the Aqaba summit tomorrow will be a festive day of handshaking and peace rhetoric, for you and us. This is not the time to argue over who is to blame for the bloodshed on both sides. But there's no denying that the moment we set foot here, you were so against a Jewish entity in these parts, you chose to turn down the state you were offered on November 29, 1947, in the hopes that Israel would soon be crushed.
Since then, as Abba Eban so memorably put it, you've never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity. In the meantime, the world has not stood still.
Egypt and Jordan, which invaded Israel on the day it was born, realized that we are here for good and signed peace treaties with us. Even hard-line Saudi Arabia, the hub of Islam, is ready for a reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world.
After messing up on Oslo, you launched a wave of terror that inflicted terrible damage on yourselves and us. There is no winner, and there won't be. With Bush intent on putting the global house in order and Sharon prepared to end the occupation, the heavens have opened a crack, offering the chance of a lifetime.
Sharon has performed a sharp about-face in stating that occupation cannot continue and accepting the road map that leads to a Palestinian state. It's hard to know whether the change of direction is genuine, as it was for Rabin at Oslo. Actually, it depends a lot on you. If you're smart enough not to flub it up again, Sharon will have no excuse: He'll have to honor his commitments.
Most of the Israeli public has reached the point where it is ripe and ready for the establishment of a Palestinian state, the end of occupation and complying with the demands of the road map to freeze settlement-building and dismantle outposts erected after March 2001.
The fact is, Sharon's words had an immediate effect: The stock market switched on a light at the end of the tunnel and investors crouched at the starting line, roaring and ready for the race.
Sharon was right in saying that the economy depends on the security situation. At the moment, most of the public is dissatisfied with Sharon's performance. But if the dynamic continues, he is sure to regain the tremendous backing he had when he first came to power. It all depends on you, and on neutralizing the policies of Arafat, who has done nothing but drag the two peoples along a path of blood and fire.
President Bush's involvement is very important. But my advice is not to count on him crushing our balls if we don't give in to all your demands and whims. Since September 11, Bush has been building up the image of himself as a fearless warrior battling the Axis of Evil. The man who didn't know that Kabul is the capital of Afghanistan when he began his bid for president, and has rarely ventured beyond America's borders, is leaping into the international ring like a small-town sheriff heading out to Main Street for a showdown with the bad guys.
His gut feeling, when you aligned yourselves with Iraq and when you send suicide bombers into civilian population centers, is that you are part of global terror.
On the other hand, when he visited Auschwitz, and especially the crematoria, where he burst into tears, he came away with a new perspective on Israel's sensitivities. So don't count on any stiff pressure from Bush to solve your problems.
He'll provide an umbrella; he'll supply political and operational assistance to get the road map moving. But as the U.S. elections draw near, his interest will gravitate to the domestic economic issues that could prove to be his downfall. You have six months tops to get on the conflict-resolution track.
Bush's contribution will lie in making the parties confront hard choices. Both peoples will face battles at home, maybe even to the point of civil war. Israel will be asked to make gestures. It will be forced to dismantle illegal settlements, triggering clashes with the settlers. Sharon will have to decide who he is more afraid of - Avigdor Lieberman or George W. Bush.
You will wrestle with the same problem that Israel faced on the eve of statehood: becoming a state with one government and one army. Don't let Arafat sabotage your efforts and don't help Sharon shirk his verbal commitments to end the occupation. When opportunity knocks, don't slam the door.