Abba Eban had many qualities that recommended him to those who remember him fondly. One of his very wise sayings about the Arab-Israeli conflict was: "The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Well, I’d like to turn the saying on its head because with the rise to supremacy of Mahmoud Abbas within the Palestinian leadership, Israel now has a golden opportunity to grasp the olive branch which it claims it’s been pursuing for many decades.
Abbas may not be the type of malleable, pliant Arab leader the Israelis prefer, but that’s not what Israel needs right now. They need a realistic, courageous interlocutor who’s willing to take risks for peace. And that is what Abbas is.
The real question here is does Sharon want real, lasting peace; or does he want the cold peace of security fences, border closings and random terror, which guarantees permanent Israeli supremacy? My guess based on past behavior is that Sharon will not rise to the occasion. He will question the new leadership’s motives and actions. He will not offer good-will gestures like freeing Palestinian prisoners and opening border crossings.
I’m not terribly hopeful when I read these comments (Arafat’s No. 2 Is Set to Assume Leadership) from Sharon’s top advisor:
Raanan Gissin said Israel is aware of the opportunities. "Down the road at least there’s some reason for hope," he said. "We won’t do anything to hamper or torpedo any emerging leader who wants to change the course. A new Palestinian leadership must begin to deal with terrorism. Terrorists can’t continue to rule the streets, and this tiger has to be put back into a cage. If a new leadership can make even a partial effort, we can resume dialogue, both on Gaza withdrawal and on the road map," which lays out steps for a peaceful settlement.
"We will give a new leadership more than a period of grace," Mr. Gissin added. "We will show restraint, and we believe they’ll respond in kind. But they need to make a departure from the heritage of Arafat, of terrorism, of hatred and incitement that leads to suicide bombers. They have to extract the poison. It’s a process, and slow, but it has to start."
So here’s what he’s saying: we won’t perpetrate any heinously aggressive military actions during the grace period. He completely neglects to mention what Israel will do to promote peace or negotiation with the Palestinians. As for the Palestinians, he tells them what he expects of them–that they must eradicate terror. He doesn’t say what Israel will do if they do this. He doesn’t say anything positive at all. And this is a peace strategy?
Based on past performance, Ariel Sharon is likely to waste this opportunity. He will filibuster. He will carp. He will argue. The only thing he won’t do is have a serious negotiation.
Do I wish to be proven wrong? You bet. Though I detest Sharon as much as I detest Bush, I don’t care who ends up taking credit for making a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. Let it be Sharon. Let him win a Nobel Prize. Just give us peace.