An Opportunity?

The Arab Peace Initiative, the Palestinian National Unity government, Europe’s readiness to intervene – Don’t they all add up to something?

The war in Lebanon – whether victory or defeat – has created a number of considerable opportunities in the region, opportunities to which, it appears, Israel is not tending to pay much attention. Favorable conditions for Israel have arisen not just on the Lebanese front, but also on the Middle Eastern and International fronts. Three important events have converged lately: the Palestinian National Unity government; the Arab Peace Initiative; and European readiness to commit troops. All three point in the direction of an international convention – a sequel to the 1991 Madrid Convention which began the peace process. And such a convention can serve as a framework for what Prime Minister Ehud Olmert could only dream of before the war: international recognition of permanent borders.

Assuming our government’s entire hard-disk wasn’t deleted during the war, it may still recall that the idea of unilateral withdrawal, the principal on which it was elected, was based on a necessity to replace the missing Palestinian consent for partition with an International recognition of borders. Provided we don’t reject the Arab Peace Initiative, on the grounds of it not accepting all our terms up-front, and in the event of an international convention which would enable it to take shape, such a convention could provide Kadima with all it used to wish for. Furthermore, and beyond all of Prime Minister Olmerts’ expectations, should the international framework include wide Arab consent, it will become a significant step along the road to ending the regional conflict, and not just a base for stable partition.

Within this context we need to take a look at the Palestinian unity government. It would certainly be better if Hamas would explicitly recognize Israel’s right to exist. But it doesn’t seem like it will. But even an indirect recognition such as that on which the national unity government is based, would be enough for moderate Arab states to back a partition agreement, and in so doing – to force the Palestinians into coexistence with Israel. Arab acceptance of new borders, together with a little, even temporary, pragmatism on the part of Hamas will suffice to block all feasible plans to “liberate” the whole of Palestine.

For this reason, Israel must turn it’s attention from the question of what Hamas will or wont declare, to the question of what they can actually achieve. Israel has to focus its demands not on the issue of declared recognition of its right to exist, but on the issue of Arab and International commitment to a peace keeping force on a newly established Israeli-Palestinian border. European readiness to participate in peace-keeping in Lebanon is encouraging in that respect. Taken together with the concern of moderate Arab states to stem the tide of fundamentalism, the interests for pacifying the Israeli-Palestinian front have become considerable and urgent. The ongoing occupation plays into the hands of the Extremist, at the expense of moderates, and so there are enough forces within the Arab world interested in restraining Hamas.

It comes down to this: should such a convention manage to force the Palestinians into an agreement – whether labeled temporary or not – the extremist forces on the Palestinian side will find it hard to gather the external support they need, and one hopes that eventually the internal support will be likewise diminished. Because there is one other fact to which the rise of the national unity government bears witness, and to which recent unrest directed at Hamas by the Palestinian public testifies: the Palestinian public is demanding bread and work, not only dreams of future glory.

One hopes that Israel will be wise enough, and bold enough, to utilize these new circumstances towards partition.

(First Published in Hebrew in the daily Ma’ariv)

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