February 8, 2004

Israel is ready to make the sacrifices needed for peace. Is the other side? On Jan. 14, a Palestinian mother of two young children, hating Jews more than she loved her own children, became Hamas’ first female suicide bomber when she blew herself up at the Erez crossing, killing four Israelis and injuring another dozen.

The Palestinian reaction to this attack was appalling. The leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, blessed the bombing and called for more. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia refused to condemn the terror attack or call for a ceasefire. This should not be surprising, considering a faction from his own Fatah movement took joint responsibility for this murderous attack. In this reality, can anyone blame Israel for considering unilateral disengagement if there continues to be no progress by Palestinians on the implementation of the road map, first and foremost, ending terror?

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s recent speech articulated Israel’s strategy of disengagement, which includes the pulling back of Israel Defense Forces along new security lines, a relocation of some settlements and acceleration in the construction of the security fence. These measures will reduce friction between Israeli military forces and Palestinians, and increase security for Israeli civilians. They can also ease the lives of the Palestinian population not involved in terror, since many of the Israeli tactics used today as security measures will no longer be necessary, especially with the construction of the security fence.

Right now, Israel’s policy decisions focus on the successful implementation of the road map, President Bush’s vision for Middle East peace. Mr. Sharon’s speech unequivocally restated Israel’s commitment to the road map and clearly detailed the concrete steps that Israel will make in order to achieve a viable process of reconciliation between two peoples who have known too much bloodshed. He outlined significant steps:

** Unauthorized outposts will be dismantled; no new settlements will be established;

** There will be no special economic incentives to assist settlements; and there will be no expansion of existing settlements.

Furthermore, Israel is taking – and will continue to take – steps to significantly improve the humanitarian conditions of the Palestinian population. Sadly, the Jan. 14 attack would not have happened had the Erez crossing not been reopened as part of these Israeli humanitarian actions designed to facilitate greater employment and trade opportunities for Palestinians.

If necessary, the disengagement plan is a security – not a political – decision. It does not establish a political border, nor does it preclude a negotiated settlement at a later time. It will not prevent the progress along the road map once Palestinians start to fulfill their obligations.

The road map unambiguously defines the actions that Palestinians must take in order for them to receive political gains. Palestinians must make a determined and unconditional effort to end terrorism against Israel. They must collect illegal weapons and stop smuggling them, arrest terrorists and dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism. They must also end hatred and incitement in their official media and in their educational system. A peaceful future cannot develop from the poisonous foundations that exist in current Palestinian society.

To this day, Israel must suffer from these attacks because the Palestinian leadership has not acted to fulfill its obligations set forth by the United States and the international community. The decrease in the number of attacks on Israelis in the past few weeks is a direct result of Israeli security measures and successes in thwarting terror. Even when Israel has provided detailed intelligence information about terrorist activity to Palestinian security forces, such information has been routinely

ignored and no action has been taken to prevent these murders.

Like all democracies, the government of Israel’s fundamental obligation is to provide for the security of its citizens. Israel cannot allow its future to be determined by a corrupt and murderous Palestinian leadership. Israel has to consider a disengagement strategy in order to reduce terror and ensure its security. Such a declaration is not an abandonment of the road map; rather, we hope it will be a catalyst for its fulfillment.

We hope Palestinians will finally see the wisdom of achieving peace through genuine negotiations held in good faith and accept the benefits peace will bring to both sides. Israelis understand that to secure a genuine peace with Palestinians, we will have to make many painful sacrifices, including giving up parts of our historic homeland and generations of vibrant communities will have to be relocated.

The government of Israel has been preparing and educating its citizens for such difficult decisions. We are ready to make the sacrifices needed for peace. However, we can’t make peace a reality without a true commitment from Palestinians, whose leaders have done nothing to prepare their population for concessions on their part.

For over 50 years, we have searched for a peace partner. The time for inaction and excuses has passed. Palestinians no longer have any excuses. They must make the strategic choice for peace backed by genuine actions on the ground and fulfill their obligations according to the road map — the best way forward for both peoples. If they continue with their current inaction, we will move to disengage unilaterally.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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