Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Bush administration have correctly pointed that the opportunities for Israeli-Palestinian peace have markedly improved in the past few months. The success that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has had in curbing Palestinian militants seems to have caught both Americans and Israelis by surprise. But what is most important now is how to make sure that this opportunity, like many previous ones, is not missed.
While a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should be the goal for all parties, a more practical approach would be to try and accomplish smaller, more manageable success stories. Success will not happen until the daily lives of Palestinians and Israelis is given top priority.
Israeli citizens must be able to conduct their daily lives in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem with normality and without fear for their lives. While the Israeli population felt a collective sense of terror, Palestinians faced collective punishment in the form of travel restrictions, home demolitions and economic devastation due to various restrictive security arrangements barring the movement of people and goods.
Simultaneous with the improvements in the daily lives of the Palestinians there is need to begin slow but effective negotiations. Every attempt must be made to make sure that the negotiators keep alive hope, the most important ingredient that gives the public something to look forward to. Naturally, this doesn’t mean that there should be negotiations for negotiations’ sake, but there must be regular and continuous efforts to give Palestinians a feeling that there is positive future ahead of them. Only when they feel that they have more to lose than gain by violence will we be able to cut off the oxygen that has kept the violence alive.
Palestinian-Israeli peace talks at present don’t seem to have the ingredients for a quick solution. The differences are so big and the anger is so great that a realistic look at the future of negotiations shows that it will take much longer for results to show than most people would like. If they are going to take a long time, an important part of negotiations will be to agree early on that neither side should carry out actions that will hurt long-term solutions. This means that very early on in the negotiations, both parties must have the courage to be able to agree on the basic shape of the permanent solution. Agreeing on basics early on will become the guiding lamp post for all talks. So, if the two sides agree on the two-state solution –” which they seem to have accepted –” they must agree to do everything possible to ensure that this final status will not be violated by either of them.
Creating facts on the ground and trying to influence the long-term permanent solution can break up the entire process. While this can apply to many aspects, the most obvious issue that threatens the peace talks are the Jewish settlements and Jewish settlement activity.
Most Palestinians insist that one of the main reasons that the Oslo process failed was because it failed to include an iron-clad guarantee that Jewish settlement activities in the Palestinian areas will be suspended. Once Israeli settlements kept growing, the entire peace process faltered because of the lack of trust the Palestinian public had in the talks.
If settlement activity can be stopped, Abbas and the Palestinian negotiators will have plenty of time to work slowly and carefully through the negotiations. For the Palestinians, this particular area is seen as a continuous haemorrhage of the viability of a Palestinian state.
In addition to the settlement issue, much work will be needed on the economic front. The fruits of peace, in the form of an improved economic situation in the future Palestinian state, will also need plenty of attention. This means that on both legal and administrative fronts, as well as the general movement of goods and people, will also need the attention of negotiators.
Palestinians and Israelis have come a long way and the current opportunity should not be lost. Leaders and the public need to work on building on the goodwill that has begun in Sharm El Sheikh. The day-to-day lives of Palestinians and Israelis need to improve and the long-term negotiations must give hope for a safe and secure future for Israel and a free, independent and democratic Palestine.