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On May 26, 2005, 38 years less 10 days after the Six-Day War broke out, in an open message to the prime minister of Israel, the elected leader of the Palestinian nation proposed a peace agreement, full recognition of the June 4, 1967 borders, and a mutually agreed solution to the refugee problem. Along with that message, which was published in The Wall Street Journal, the Palestinian foreign minister proposed in the pages of Haaretz readiness to leave a number of settlements in place for proper territorial compensation. And what happened? Nothing. The Prime Minister's Bureau is silent, the Oslo architects are busy with primaries, Peace Now is pasting stickers for disengagement. And the negotiations for a permanent status agreement can wait.

The disengagement seems to have dried up the memory. Like the road map, the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza was custom-made to fit the problematic shape of Yasser ("there is no partner") Arafat. The permanent solution, based on two states along the 1967 borders, was postponed for the sake of a provisional state, to fill the political vacuum that claimed the lives of more than 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis. We were told that the permanent agreement would wait until the Palestinians choose a democratically elected, pragmatic leader who would declare war on violence. In short, someone like Abu Mazen. But the approach that says security now, peace later, remains in force even after he was elected, and the formula of "land for peace" has given way to the annexationist fence and an arbitrary withdrawal in exchange for nothing.

In an important article that barely was noticed in Israel, Abu Mazen announced the end of the era of interim arrangements and partial agreements. He calls on Sharon to abandon the unilateral policy and to immediately engage in direct negotiations "to put an end, once and for all, to our tragic conflict." True, he did not announce that he was giving up on the right of return - as some expect him to do even before Israel agrees to even discuss the end of the conflict with him. And didn't Sharon declare just a week ago that "united Jerusalem," including the sites holy to Islam and Christianity, is never going to be subject to negotiation?

Abu Mazen rightly wrote that time is the greatest enemy of the peace. Time is the great enemy of the Palestinians who want to be freed of the occupation, and of the Israelis who want to get rid of its burden. Since 1967, as Moshe Dayan said, Israel has been awaiting a phone call from the Arabs. When the phone call came, for example from the late King Hussein, with a proposal to begin negotiations for peace in exchange for a withdrawal from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, we didn't like the sound of the ring. If not for the trauma of the Yom Kippur War, the phone lines to Egypt would not doubt have remained cut to this day.

The first intifada was needed to make Yitzhak Rabin lift the phone to the PLO. The second intifada produced for the first time a conciliatory ring from Saudi Arabia and then from the Arab League, first at the Beirut summit and more recently at Algiers. Jerusalem did not hear it. Now, the ruckus over the disengagement is deafening the ears and the Golden Calf of unilateralism is hiding the clear political horizon that Abu Mazen is presenting. Only at academic seminars are there discussions of what will happen in the rest of the territories on the day after the disengagement. Apparently, academia has ceased believing the prime minister, who constantly reiterates that as long as he remains in office, what existed in the West Bank for the last 38 years (exactly twice the number of years we lived without the occupation) is what will be in the future. It should be remembered that 38 years ago, Israel ruled over 670,000 Palestinians there. Now there are 2.3 million who don't want our rule, including in East Jerusalem.

When Abu Mazen argues that time is the enemy of peace, he presumably is warning against the danger that in the absence of political progress toward an end to the occupation, the national conflict will turn into an armed religious conflict, with validation at the polling booth. According to all the signs, Sharon is sticking to the belief that time is on his side, and the person holding the line, George W. Bush, apparently hasn't decided yet, who is right.