A unique summit will be held in Al Aqaba in Jordan. President George W. Bush is to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas with the participation of King Abdallah, who made laudable efforts to get the US to back the “road map” to peace.
This summit will take place after Sharon approved the road map (with some reticence) to honor the engagements he made to the American President who supported him throughout his mandate and turned a blind eye to all Israeli measures in Palestinian cities, villages and camps. He even provided Ariel Sharon with sizable international cover.
Al Aqaba summit is the breaking point between war and peace. It will play a major role in vindicating the credibility of the US administration and of its President, who decided to pull his weight to advance peace after much hesitation for fear of failure. A failure similar to that encountered by his predecessor, President Clinton.
Thus, it has become possible again to talk about peace, especially after Israeli Prime Minister Sharon said in front of Likoud MPs that it was no longer possible to keep 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation and to continue to rule them.
Many of my Israeli and Palestinian friends call me every time I write about peace, freedom and stability to tell me that I am saying rightful words at the wrong moment, and that no one, whether Israeli or Palestinian believes that what I call for could be realistically achieved.
But now the situation has partially changed. The road map was declared. Palestinians accepted it as it is while Israelis gave it their conditional approval. Thus, I believe that it is once again possible to talk about peace. What I write today resembles undoubtedly what I wrote in the past since the basis for peace, i.e. the right to self determination and the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state are elements which will never change, just as the right for Israel to live in security. However, stating facts and demanding rights depend, as to their effect on public opinion, on the surrounding circumstances: If you say a rightful word at a time when no one wants to hear a rightful word said, what you say will be to no avail. However, if you say your words at the suitable moment when people are willing to hear them, then they will not be in vain.
The conditions in our region have deteriorated to a point that does not bode well. Alarm bells are ringing for all those with the wisdom, courage and realistic clairvoyance to defend peace. This is why I am writing again to both Palestinians and Israelis, for I cannot believe for a single moment that the majority of Israelis do not seek peace. On the contrary, I am quite certain that they want to live in stability and security based on a political solution for the conflict that gives each party its rights, i.e. a solution based on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the land of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, on the right for Israel to live in peace and stability and on cooperation between two states working as partners on all levels.
I am also quite certain that the large majority of Palestinians desire peace. They want to live in stability, security and dignity in their independent state with sovereignty over their land, economy and all aspects of their lives just like any other people in the world.
However, extremists from both parties have taken control through hideous and despicable violence. Violence means a lack of wisdom, of courageous clairvoyance and of the will to achieve peace that might not give each party all it desires, but gives each party what is necessary for peace. Both Israelis and Palestinians have fallen victims to extremists, to their violence, killings and destruction and to their misleading, inciting and dangerous propaganda which gives the impression that violence and resorting to military force might provide the solution to a political problem related to the rights of an entire people. Violence only generates violence. A political and humanitarian issue can never be resolved through violence whether it aims at forcing Palestinians to accept an imposed solution or is used by extremist Palestinians who believe it will put an end to Israeli occupation. In all cases, resorting to violence is not the solution.
Extremists from both sides are using faux pretexts to generate more violence. They are calling for the use of military means to solve political issues. So I decided to use my pen again to make the following facts clear to both parties:
First: Palestinians (the majority) did not change their strategic choice endorsed by legislative, executive and popular organs consisting in peace with Israel through a solution in which two states, one Palestinian, the other Israeli would live side by side on the land of Historical Palestine: an Israeli state living in security and a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Second: The Palestinians’ recognition of Israel, of its right to live in security and stability within secure borders and of it being a partner in the Middle East is inalienable no matter what extremist movements, which will vanish as soon as peace is established, say.
Third: The return of 4 million refugees has no realistic political basis. Finding a solution to the question of refugees must be through serious negotiations between all parties concerned. The solution should be in the framework of two sovereign states and in a way that serves their interests.
Fourth: Palestinians want to translate their legitimate right to self determination on the land occupied by Israel in 1967, according to UNSC resolution 242 adopted unanimously and accepted by Israel, through the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on land occupied in 1967.
Fifth: The Palestinians are willing to accept any international, American or American-European-Russian arrangements, in order to provide Israel with security guarantees concerning international Palestinian borders with Jordan and Egypt and for a period agreed upon by Israel.
Sixth: Palestinians will accept similar arrangements with the US or any other international party agreed upon concerning sites considered by Israel as important on a strategic level or for security reasons (such as the Jordan Valley).
The Palestinian people and its elected leadership strive for peace based on international legitimacy. They want to live next to Israel and to cooperate with it on the economic and cultural levels. There is no doubt that cooperation between the two states shall lead to a better future not only in Israel and Palestine, but throughout the Middle East.
This is why I call upon Israelis and Palestinians to reject violence, to go back to political negotiations and not to waste this golden opportunity for peace. Let war yield to peace. Let us all give peace a chance.
We condemn the killing of civilians. These killings must end whether in Khideira, Jerusalem, Haifa or in Rafah, Khan Younes, Ramallah or Nablus. A human life is a human life. Let us put an end to this situation. Let us go back to dialogue, to negotiations and to mutual and equal respect. Let us put an end to this tragedy that has made many forget their humanity.
Once again, I appeal to you all to give peace a chance.
The implementation of the road map according to the proposed timetable may not mean achieving immediate peace. However, it shall pave the way for political negotiations to achieve our goals, i.e. the establishment of an independent and totally sovereign Palestinian state on land occupied in 1967. The right of return and Jerusalem will certainly be discussed later on.
These negotiations will not be an easy task. But a solution is only possible if both parties, Palestinians and Israelis make serious efforts to establish peace and create a better, safer and more stable future for the whole region. Let us establish peace with honor. Peace for our time.
Bassam Abu-Sharif is a special advisor to Yasser Arafat.