A Mideast Partnership Can Still Work

Last week we and 50 of our colleagues – Palestinian and Israeli political and cultural leaders – signed a declaration that was published simultaneously in Israeli and Palestinian newspapers. Our declaration did not attempt to solve every aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, at this most tragic and difficult of times in the Middle East, it attempted to state unequivocally those principles on which we believe a solution can be based. 

In our statement, we called for an end to bloodshed, an end to occupation, a return to negotiation and the realization of peace between our peoples. None of us would have signed this statement if we did not believe its objectives could be achieved. Even in the midst of ongoing violence, we do not believe we are deluding ourselves when we profess our belief in the fundamental humanity of the other side, or our faith that we do have partners for peace in each other and that a negotiated solution is still possible. 

Lost in the noise and clouds of war is the fact that a formula does exist for resolving all the outstanding issues in our conflict: the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which would lead to the existence of two sovereign national states – Israel and Palestine – which would be the fulfillment of the aspiration of both peoples, Palestinian and Jewish, to statehood based on the 1967 borders, with both capitals in Jerusalem. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators made great progress in their discussions of this solution during the talks that took place between November 1999 and January 2001. 

As two people who participated in the negotiations at Taba in January 2001, we can personally testify to having been extremely, even agonizingly, close to reaching an agreement. In our assessment, the main missing ingredient was quality time, as is needed in any negotiation in which both sides must give up what they desire for what is possible. 

Over the past year, an impression has been created by some of the participants that the talks at Camp David represented the final word on the search for Middle East peace. This distortion of that event ignores both President Bill Clinton’s ideas offered to us in December 2000 – ideas that were welcomed by both sides, with each side having different reservations – and the strides forward made at Taba that built on these ideas. In the Taba talks, we progressed, perhaps for the first time, from general principles to specific details, in candid and honest discussions on even seemingly intractable issues like refugees and Jerusalem. Such was the sense of forward momentum at Taba that in a joint closing statement, the Israelis and Palestinians stated that they had “never been closer to reaching an agreement” and that “the two sides are convinced that in a short period of time and given an intensive effort and the acknowledgement of the essential and urgent nature of reaching an agreement, it will be possible to bridge the differences remaining and attain a permanent settlement of peace between them.” 

It is time now to pick up where we left off. We can build on those discussions and renew that dialogue. We have faith that the overwhelming majority of our citizens, both Palestinians and Israelis, will not only accept such an agreement, but actually yearn for it and understand that it is the only viable solution to the current situation of violence and economic decay. 

There are those on both sides who do not share our vision, and, tragically, who see violence as the route to an absolutist – and yet ultimately unachievable and disastrous – end. Unfortunately, time is on their side, not ours. The longer we wait before returning to the table and reaching an agreement, the more blood will be spilled, the more hearts will be hardened. 

We must move now to end the dehumanization of the other side and revive the option of a just peace that holds out promise for a future for both our peoples. Both sides have made mistakes over the past year, but we have had our fill of mutual accusations and blame. Finger pointing will not point the way to peace. The immediate need is for the full implementation of the recommendations of the Mitchell Committee, including the cessation of violence, a total freeze on settlement activity, implementation of outstanding agreements and a return to permanent-status negotiations. These steps will need to be monitored by an objective third party. 

We and our colleagues have pledged to work together and within our respective communities to rebuild trust and rekindle hope. We call on people of good will throughout the world, and especially in the United States, to help us by adding their voices to our pursuit of a permanent peace between our peoples – a peace allowing both peoples to live in freedom and security as equal neighbors. 

Yasser Abed Rabbo is minister of culture and information in the Palestinian Authority. Yossi Beilin is a former Israeli justice minister in the government led by Ehud Barak.

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