Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Peace breakthrough still needs more support 2-09-05/Newsday

Peace breakthrough still needs more support
Feb. 9, 2005 Exclusive to Newsday

No single event is more encouraging for peace in the Middle East than the joint declaration yesterday at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calling for an end to all violence. The cease-fire they announced comes after a four-year war that has killed more than 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis.

Yet, we must not forget that some of the worst moments in Palestinian and Israeli history have come at the very moment when peace was imminent.

This is not pessimism. We shouldn't pretend serious hurdles do not stand in the way of a final peace based on the two-state solution. History shows it prudent to expect that extremists on both sides will use violence to plunge the region into continued conflict as peace nears. Already groups like Hamas have declared that they are not parties to the agreement.

When violence does occur, Palestinians and Israelis must not be blackmailed into abandoning the peace process as they have done in the past.

Palestinian extremists are seeking to destroy Israel while Israeli extremists, who are more strategic and public-relations savvy, are hopingto block compromise with the Palestinians.

Palestinians and Israelis must be ready to stand together to protect peace when violence strikes. Rather than suspend peace talks in the wake of violence, they must respond by increasing their efforts, leading their people out of the cycle of emotion, pain and suffering that fuels thecontinuing cries for vengeance.

One immediate step is for all Jewish and Palestinian leaders to unequivocally endorse the Abbas-Sharon declaration. Four years after the outbreak of the worst violence between Palestinians and Israelis, both sides can advance real peace by adjusting their rhetoric and policies.

Palestinian leaders here and abroad must make the hard choice to either declare themselves on the side of peace or expose themselves as double-talking extremists standing in the way. Pro-Israeli leaders here and abroad must make the hard concessions, returning all occupied lands including accepting a real plan to share Jerusalem and fairly compensate Palestinian refugees.

Just as importantly, the United States must resume its role as anaggressive arbiter for peace, a role it abandoned four years ago. PresidentGeorge W. Bush must demonstrate his commitment to genuine peace bypressuring both sides equally to make the hard decisions to end a conflict that today is a part of the war on terrorism. Bush can't do it alone.

Congress, which often acts more like an extremist organization than an institution of principled democracy when it comes to policies affecting the Middle East, must end its partisan and political outcries. Rather than introducing one-sided resolutions such as the proposal to declare the Palestine Liberation Organization as a "terrorist" organization, congressional leaders who claim to love Israel and seek peace must now become responsible.

Bush can help by recognizing organizations on both sides that take genuine steps to support peace, such as the mainstream Jewish American organization Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and the newly established Palestinian American grassroots group, the American Task Force on Palestine, based in Washington.

One of the final components that has been missing from all of the recent peace efforts has been the semblance of human compassion. Palestinians and Israelis must stop looking at themselves as the sole victims of each other's violence. Palestinians must change their policies and view the Israeli victims of suicide bombings and violent resistance as true victims.

Palestinians must denounce the murder of Jews as quickly and as forcefully as they denounce the murder of Palestinians. If Hamas, Islamic Jihad or any other Palestinian group commits an act of violence, Abbas must arrest and jail those responsible. This is not to satisfy Israeli demands, but to underscore the fact that no one may take the law into their own hands. The will of the Palestinian people as exercised in the recent democratic elections must be respected.

For Israelis, they must set aside their arrogance and their power and recognize that their actions are as much to blame as the Palestinians for the violence. You cannot take the lands, homes, possessions, rights and dignity of a people and not expect them to react in anger or violence.

The road between the encouraging words of Sharm el-Sheikh and the reality of a final peace will be difficult. But it is worth fighting for.

(Ray Hanania is a nationally syndicated columnist and managing editor of He also is the former national President of the Palestinian American Congress.)

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