Bumps on the 'road'
It's the violence
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.
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,
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.
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
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.