Time for an Israeli initiative
Past experience teaches us that we can also create opportunities when we reach a crossroads, like the present one, when Arafat's leadership and his domination of the Palestinians are fading away.
In my estimation, there have been four major opportunities over the years for a significant change in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The first was after the great victory in the Six-Day War in 1967, which transferred the Gaza Strip and West Bank to Israel. Although it's true that the Arab countries, led by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, decided on "No peace, no recognition and no negotiations," Israel could have taken up an initiative of its own with the Palestinians, and didn't do so.
A second opportunity was created in the wake of the peace agreements with Egypt and the negotiations with Cairo over Palestinian autonomy. Israel withdrew into itself and didn't come out with an initiative vis-a-vis the Palestinians that could have won Egyptian support.
And the third opportunity was created in the wake of the 1991 Madrid Conference and the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel took a step forward but the agreements came to nothing - and not only the Palestinians are to blame.
The fourth opportunity was at the Camp David summit (in which then-prime minister Ehud Barak participated, along with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat), and with the publication in December 2000 of U.S. president Bill Clinton's parameters for resolving the conflict.
The rest - with the thousands of dead on both sides - is history and the story is not yet over. Some people will certainly add other examples to the list, such as the proposal by Jordan's King Hussein that Israel allow him to return to part of the West Bank.
There have also been tactical opportunities, like at the time when Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was appointed Palestinian prime minister. Had Israel given Abu Mazen, on the issue of the prisoners, what is gave to its sworn enemy, Hezbollah, many things might have looked different. Had Prime Minister Ariel Sharon given to Abu Mazen, as a gesture, part of what he is willing to give away free of charge perhaps to Hamas, in the disengagement plan, that would have breathed life into Abu Mazen's chances.
From the past, we have learned that when we get an opportunity for a major change, it usually arouses fear and trembling in the hearts of the politicians.
Instead of demonstrating courage, the tendency is to freeze everything and to wait until perhaps we receive divine confirmation for the step. And, in the meantime, the window of opportunity is closed. Past experience teaches us that we can also create opportunities when we reach a crossroads, like the present one, when Arafat's leadership and his domination of the Palestinians are fading away.
At the moment we have to wait and avoid direct involvement in the coronation of kings, which we tried to do in the 1982 Lebanon War. Nevertheless, we have to prepare an Israeli initiative. Just as Sharon initiated the unilateral disengagement plan, we have to construct an Israeli initiative related to the change that will be taking place in the Palestinian leadership.
The suicide attack carried out by the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) in the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, which was crowded with civilians, should be seen as part of the internal Palestinian struggle, even though it was planned about a month ago. This organization refused at the time to join the cease-fire, when Abu Mazen was serving as prime minister. It is also clear that any Israeli initiative will prove futile if Arafat's successor doesn't fight terrorism. From their point of view, the best policy is to adopt the British-Palestinian security plan.
The Israeli initiative, even before the negotiations, must focus on the adoption of two principle elements: The first, acceptance of the parameters in President Clinton's December 2002 proposal for an overall solution.
These parameters relate to a division of the territory, partition in Jerusalem, an exchange of territories and the problem of the Palestinian refugees.
The second element, with which we have to begin, is an Israeli declaration of willingness to withdraw in the West Bank to the lines of September 28, 2000, the eve of the present conflict. That is a positive initiative, in anticipation of a renewal of negotiations with a new Palestinian leadership.