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Hope flickers, again

The Annapolis meeting has the potential to restart the process to change the face of West Asia. Israel hopes that all parties involved will seize this opportunity, writes Isaac Ben-Israel.

india Updated: Nov 28, 2007 13:52 IST

Sixty years have passed since the United Nations resolved to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict by creating two homelands. The failure to achieve this two-State solution has meant decades of suffering for both peoples. Yet, the justness of this solution remains valid. The two-State solution is the best way for Israelis and Palestinians to establish peace and security for themselves and for one another. The upcoming Annapolis conference is meant to revive this peace-making effort.

While no core issues or timetables will be negotiated at Annapolis, the fundamental commitment to a peaceful solution will be re-established. This is to be followed by intensive talks on all outstanding issues with the aim of putting an end to mutual suffering and beginning an era of mutual building. In this regard, it is well to remember the guiding vision of ‘two States for two peoples’. Just as Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, so Palestine will be established as the homeland and the embodiment of the national aspirations of the Palestinians — wherever they may be.

The burden of solving the Israel-Palestinian issue lies with the parties, and the compromises that must be made in the negotiations ahead will be difficult and challenging. Many complex core issues must be addressed, while, at the same time, the situation on the ground cannot be ignored. While negotiations on the shape of the two-State solution move forward, the implementation of the vision is dependant upon fulfilment of the performance-based roadmap. In the first phase of this document, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has obligated itself to stop all terrorism against Israelis everywhere. The world does not need another terrorist State. For this reason, the PA’s roadmap commitments, especially those concerning security issues, must be completed before the establishment of the Palestinian State.

Israel, for its part, has shown its readiness to meet its own obligations under the roadmap as well, and has implemented a number of measures to support the process — for example, the recent release of 800 Palestinian prisoners involved in terrorist activity against civilians. Moreover, Israel has joined with international partners to promote Palestinian infrastructure development projects, and reconvened several of the bilateral committees established in the Oslo accords — all in order to address the ongoing needs of the PA.

While the responsibility to solve the conflict lies with the sides, the Annapolis meeting must also be followed by an international effort to provide a supportive environment for the sides to reach an agreement. For example, the Paris Donor’s Conference scheduled for December will provide an opportunity for international donor States to help the PA advance in the process. The international community has an important role to play by enhancing the functioning of the PA and improving economic conditions for the Palestinians at large. This is crucial to win the support of the population, which needs to see some of the fruits of peace-making even while negotiations are taking place.

Working for the realisation of a peaceful solution would be a daunting challenge even without the background of a worldwide escalation in Islamist extremism. For this reason, the Arab and Muslim worlds in particular have a special role to play in backing the moderates and isolating the extremists. When agreements between the parties are reached, even on smaller issues, the support of the moderate Arab States is crucial, especially in confronting those extremists determined to prevent any success. Similarly, as advancements are made, so should normalisation progress between the Arab world and Israel. With the support of the region’s moderates, the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue should lead to enhanced ties and cooperation throughout West Asia.

While for Jews and Arabs alike, Annapolis represents the hope, Gaza represents the nightmarish alternative. Within Hamas-controlled Gaza, the Palestinian population is subjected to tyrannical religious oppression, Christian minorities are beaten and murdered and women in violation of the extremist dress code are harassed on the streets. Additionally, since the Hamas takeover in June 2007, over 350 missiles and 500 mortar bombs have been fired at Israeli civilians from the Gaza Strip. Israeli efforts to create a new reality of peace with the moderate Palestinian leadership do not mean that Israel will cease to confront the extremists or forfeit the lives of its citizens.

The Annapolis meeting has the potential to restart the process, to change the face of West Asia. Israel hopes that all parties involved will seize this opportunity.

Isaac Ben-Israel is a member of the Kadima Party, Israel.