Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
Bumps on the 'road'
It's the violence

David Akov
Tuesday, April 12, 2005

After four and a half years of unmitigated violence in Israel, optimism is finally in the air. Recent events have emboldened Israelis and Palestinians to set aside certain differences and work toward peace and reconciliation.

In the coming months, Israel is set to embark on a path that will mark a new chapter in the Middle East. With the implementation of the Gaza Strip disengagement plan, initiated by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and approved by both the Israeli government and Knesset, Israel will no longer be present in the Gaza Strip and substantial parts of the northern West Bank by the end of 2005.

Yasser Arafat's death last November changed nearly every aspect of Palestinian life for the better. Democracy has become part of the Palestinian agenda, as a new leadership with a cabinet full of fresh faces has legitimately taken power of the Palestinian Authority. For the first time in many years, money granted by the international community for Palestinian development projects will hopefully go toward its intended purpose. High-level contacts have been renewed in earnest between Israelis and Palestinians. Monday's meeting between President Bush and Sharon in Crawford, Texas, furthers U.S.-Israel understandings regarding the Gaza disengagement plan and can lead us toward negotiations and, we hope, toward resolution.

Too much optimism, however, tends to push reality aside. Nearly every day there are attempts made to attack Israel, and it is only due to the effectiveness of Israel's preventive measures that just a handful end with casualties. We need to see a dramatic reduction in these incidents.

In order to create confidence, the Palestinian leadership must condemn terror attacks for their moral profanity rather than for their detrimental effect on Palestinian self-determination. While it is clear from his statements that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas does not approve of the use of terrorism, mere disapproval is not enough. Let there be no illusion of what is required to end this conflict: The Palestinian Authority must take a comprehensive stand against terrorism by dismantling terrorist organizations and their infrastructures. This is the first requirement of the "road map" that the Palestinians agreed to implement.

Another crucial obligation that the Palestinian Authority made when committing to the road map was to cease all forms of incitement. For too long, the Palestinian state-controlled media and education system have chosen to demonize Jews and Israelis. Abbas is just now coming to realize that by instilling hatred in the minds of Palestinian youth, any potential peace deal would feel cold at best. The Palestinian Authority must foster a culture of peace so that future generations may flourish. The Palestinian leadership has taken initial steps, but more are needed.

At the same time, Israel realizes that it must take some concrete steps of its own. This is why we have begun releasing Palestinian prisoners and removed roadblocks to allow greater freedom of movement, and why we plan to continue transferring control of key cities to the Palestinian Authority, as we have already done in Jericho and Tulkarem. Both sides should translate the goodwill and cooperation asserted at February's Sharm el-Sheikh summit into defined actions that will advance the process.

The Israeli government's decision to dismantle settlements and disengage militarily from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank is one of historic proportions. In order to help guarantee a successful outcome, Sharon recently formed a national unity government that includes the more liberal Labor Party. Disengagement will be painful to implement, placing great strains on Israeli society. Thousands of Israelis built their homes and lives in these areas, which they will now have to leave behind.

The government is prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure a safe and smooth pullout from these settlements while upholding the core democratic values that Israel was founded upon. Disengagement will leave Israel stronger and the Palestinians in control of their own fate in the areas handed to them.

The last four and a half years have not been easy for Israelis. The fear of terrorist attacks affected the most basic routines of every Israeli. But through it all, the government of Israel and the people of Israel never wavered from our dream for peace. Now is the time for a courageous Palestinian leadership to do its part, alongside Israel's efforts, in order for this troubled region to move on to a new, more optimistic phase.

David Akov is consul general of Israel for the Pacific Northwest region.

©2005 San Francisco Chronicle