Today’s events in Gaza suggest the time has never been more appropriate to finally realize the vision of two states for two peoples.

 Behind the Headlines: Recent events in Gaza and the Mideast peace process

 

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and PA President Mahmous Abbas at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit, June 25, 2007 (Photo: GPO)

The peoples of the Middle East are neighbors whose futures are inevitably linked. No peace will be lasting that fails to take this into account.

Israel’s goal of being a democratic Jewish state, living in harmony with its neighbors, led it to embrace the vision of two states for two peoples as resolved by the United Nations in 1947. It has taken nearly 60 years, and far too many wars, for this vision to be recognized by Israel’s immediate neighbors, the Palestinians. Today’s events in Gaza suggest the time has never been more appropriate to finally realize this vision.

While Hamas terrorists continue to target Israelis, they have also brought tragedy to Palestinians. As events in Gaza have shown, while the terrorists may claim to be advancing Palestinian rights, they have succeeded only in undermining them.

Israel has a vested interest, shared by moderates throughout the region, in the creation of a stable, prosperous, and peaceful Palestinian state. As demonstrated by its disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Israel is ready to take painful steps to advance this goal. However, it must know that its partners too are ready for historic compromise that will bring lasting peace.

The establishment of Israel answered the historic national aspirations of the Jewish people – whether those living in the Holy Land, fleeing the horrors of the Holocaust or expelled from Arab lands. The future Palestinian state must fill a similar purpose for Palestinians. It must be the embodiment of the  national claims of all the Palestinian people – of those in the West Bank and Gaza, of those refugee camps in neighboring Arab states and of those living throughout the world.

It is self-evident that the future Palestinian state cannot be a terrorist state. For this reason, the international community has insisted that the path to Palestinian statehood goes through acceptance of the Quartet principles, including the renunciation of terrorism and the implementation of the Roadmap obligations. These are the foundational principles for lasting peace.

The role of the Arab world in this context is critical. In the past, the involvement of constructive regional actors in assisting the process of Israeli-Palestinian peace-making was lacking. The recent landmark Arab League peace initiative presents just such an opportunity for positive regional engagement.

Nevertheless, we should have no illusions. The enemies of coexistence, led by Iran and its sponsorship of Hizbullah and Hamas, are trying to do all in their power to sabotage any prospect for peace. The Teheran regime, in its declared intention to “wipe Israel off the map,” has perverted Islam into a totalitarian political manifesto merely masquerading as a religion. It is determined to perpetuate a resolvable conflict into a future of despair.

Syria, as well, is undermining Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, through its support of terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, whose operational headquarters are located in Damascus.

There is no insurmountable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Rather, there is a common denominator in the desire for peace, supported by all moderate states in the region that understand that the real threat to peace comes from the extremist states that support terrorism.

There are moderates in the Palestinian Authority who could be Israel’s partners for peace, who believe a future Palestinian state should be based on democracy and understanding – as opposed to the extremists, whose basic totalitarian idea is to deprive others of their rights.

While Israel will continue to defend its population against Hamas terrorism, it is ultimately the role of the moderates among the Palestinians to confront Hamas.

Israel left Gaza to create the opportunity for peace. It removed its armed forces, dismantled civilian settlements, yet left greenhouses for the Palestinian farmers in the hope this could be the beginning of a peaceful Palestinian state. But, instead of a flourishing peace, Israeli towns adjacent to Gaza are the targets of almost daily Kassam rocket attacks.

Despite this ongoing Hamas terrorism, Israel will maintain an ongoing dialogue with the moderates, in order to send the message to the Palestinians that they have an option of living differently; that if the moderates can represent their own national aspirations, they can achieve a state of their own.

The principle is to differentiate between the moderates and the extremists, between those who are willing and ready to advance the peace process and those whose ideology is based on extremism and religious fanaticism and who treat even their own people with the utmost brutality. Israel hopes that the former will prevail, yet ultimately, the choice must be made by the Palestinians themselves.