- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

Back in 1969 Beatle John Lennon asked us to “Give peace a chance.” Almost two generations later, the same could be said about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it, too, needs to be given a chance, without which the infernal cycle of violence and counterviolence will continue unabated.

Since outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000 and the ensuing hardships and bloodshed, the Israeli-Palestinian situation has been on a free-fall downhill spiral. Sanctions, road closures, suicide bombings, firing of Qassam rockets at Jewish settlements followed by Israeli security forces’ retaliatory raids, destruction of private property, etc. (take them in any order), continue to plague both communities.

The sidelining of Yasser Arafat by the Bush administration and by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on grounds he was tainted by terrorism did not help the peace talks, which sputtered and eventually came to a dead halt. Alas, the same cannot be said of the violence, which — as if obeying some bizarre law of irrational balance — accelerated as the peace negotiations waned. Peace hardly had a chance.

Arafat’s death last November paved the way for a new initiative and renewed hope for reviving the Middle East road map, a document that, if adhered to, should lead to an independent Palestinian state in 2005. At least that was the initial timetable set up by the road map’s authors — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. But the violence that accompanied the intifada delayed the peace.

The election Jan. 9 of Arafat’s replacement, Mahmoud Abbas, a k a Abu Mazen, offered a moment of hope for peace talks — and even peace — to resume. Abu Mazen, previously nominated by Arafat as the PA’s first prime minister, resigned after only 100 days in office over differences with Arafat about the use of violence. Abu Mazen preferred a more peaceful approach to resisting the Israeli occupation. He lost out to Arafat and opted to leave the Cabinet.

In the weeks leading up to the elections, Abu Mazen has voiced a desire to resume serious talks with Israel and said he would, once elected, take the necessary steps forward.

“Abu Mazen’s election may provide a rare second chance to forge a lasting, secure peace in Israel and to give the Palestinians a state of their own,” said Sen. Joseph Bidden, Delaware Democrat, during the first day of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the nomination of Condoleezza Rice as the next secretary of state.

During the daylong procedure, Miss Rice pointed out a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace deal must be a concerted effort between not only the parties concerned but all stakeholders. She stressed that both Israel and the Arab countries have roles to play. “Israel must do its part to improve the conditions under which Palestinians live and to build a better future. Arab states must join to help and deny any help or solace to those who take the path of violence.

“Peace,” said Miss Rice, “can only come if all parties choose to do the difficult work, and the time to choose peace is now. But there can be no permanent peace without an end to terror.”

Like Lennon, Miss Rice is saying: Give peace a chance.

Indeed, peace will never be possible until terror stops. But that should not mean peace talks should stop because of opposition by certain factions that want perpetual conflict in the region. That would give peace opponents an easy victory.

Bringing peace the Middle East requires the involvement of all parties. As Miss Rice said, “There are other roles that we need the Arab states to play, and I think the most important is … you can’t incite hatred against Israel and then say you want a two-state solution. It’s just got to stop.

“They’ve got to stop it in their media; they’ve got to stop it in their mosques because it is a message that is inciting the people who want to destroy the chances for peace between Israel and Palestine — the Palestinian territories.”

Israel, its prime minister said, would not negotiate until Abu Mazen stops the attacks against Israel. The problem Abu Mazen faces is he inherited such a fractured infrastructure from Arafat it will take him a while to establish some order in the house. Given the state of the PA today, it would be unrealistic to expect Abu Mazen to get a grip on the more than a dozen security apparatuses that abound in the PA in just a few short weeks.

Abu Mazen’s immediate problem, however, is not so much the security forces. His problems, rather, will come from the Islamist groups. These he will try to cajole, negotiate with, maybe even threaten a bit and convince peace is the only viable option. Refusing to open talks with him until the terror attacks stop altogether plays right into the hands of peace process opponents.

“Peace is a very painful process, almost as much as war,” said Ra’anan Gissin, Prime Minister Sharon’s special adviser. “You also have to make painful concessions.”

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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