Progressive Writers Bloc

The Holy Land-Part II: Avenues toward peace

By Bill Becker

In Part I of this essay, I outlined the concerns of a number of knowledgeable and serious observers of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. President Bush's lack of leadership toward ending the conflict led 27 Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change to call for his defeat in November. American religious leaders deplored the president's accession to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral plan to keep illegal settlements in the West Bank as a reward for pulling out of Gaza. In accepting Sharon's plan, explained Col. Daniel Smith, (USA, Ret.), "President Bush threw the full weight of the United States government against any impartial settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict." All agree that President Bush's lack of leadership in the Middle East is a serious threat to our national security. The question we must ask is: what can President Bush do instead of following Prime Minister Sharon wherever he leads?

The common wisdom is that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat supports terrorism while posing as a peace-loving victim of needlessly harsh Israeli retaliatory measures. Supporters of Israeli policies point to Hamas and Hezbollah, the extreme Palestinian militant groups which to this day refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist, and who recruit the suicide bombers that kill Israeli citizens without warning. It is a matter of faith for millions of Americans that Israel desperately wants peace, but has no partner with whom to negotiate.

The dismissal of Arafat as merely a closet terrorist is overly simplistic. It is true that Hamas and Hezbollah are serious problems, but it is highly arguable whether they are any more committed to violence than is Ariel Sharon and his right-wing supporters. But, it is a false claim that Israel has no partner with whom to negotiate a peaceful resolution toward the conflict. This reality is recognized in House Resolution 479, introduced December 8, 2003. (An identical resolution, S RES 276, was introduced in the Senate November 25.) H RES 479 expresses

"the sense of the House of Representatives regarding fighting terror and embracing efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace." …

"Whereas despite mutual mistrust, anger, and pain, courageous and credible Israelis and Palestinians have come together in a private capacity to develop serious model peace initiatives, like the People's Voice Initiative, One Voice, and the Geneva Accord;

"Whereas such peace initiatives demonstrate that there are solutions to the conflict and present precious opportunities to end the violence and restart fruitful peace negotiations: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

"(1) applauds the courage and vision of Israelis and Palestinians who are working together to conceive pragmatic, serious plans for achieving peace;
"(2) calls on Israeli and Palestinian leaders to capitalize on the opportunity offered by these peace initiatives; and
"(3) urges the President of the United States to encourage and embrace all serious efforts to move away from violent military stalemate toward achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace."

Among these "courageous and credible Israelis and Palestinians" is a who's who of former Israeli military and diplomatic officials and their Palestinian counterparts who had negotiated together at Oslo and, out of a deep commitment to peace, continued to meet privately after newly elected Prime Minister Sharon ended negotiations. (Sharon had purposefully provoked the second intifada, and then used it as "proof" that Israel could not negotiate peace.) As the sponsors of H RES 479 and S RES 276 realize, these leaders may again be in the position of representing their respective states.

Even so, achieving a solution will not be easy. What is clear is that the solution must be negotiated-it cannot be imposed by Israel with tacit U.S. approval. President Bush has effectively abandoned his own Road Map for Peace in the Middle East (his commitment to which was questionable from the beginning), and he must now support those on each side of the conflict who have placed themselves at risk by standing up to the extremists. So far, Hamas, Hezbollah, Prime Minster Sharon and his ultra-orthodox right wing supporters-all of whom see violence as the only answer to the problem-have marginalized the Israeli and Palestinian middle. It is time to marginalize the extremists, and only the American president has the power to do that. Call or write our Senators in support of S RES 276. H RES 479 currently has 50 co-sponsors. Call or write Representative Devin Nunes and ask him to join the 7 Republican co-sponsors who have courageously stood for peace.

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