April 18, 2004

Sharon’s initiative is the latest proof of Israel’s willingness to compromise.Last week Israel’s prime minister made an unprecedented move. Ariel Sharon presented an initiative that included dismantling all settlements from the Gaza Strip and a few in the West Bank, without linking it to any reciprocation on the Palestinian side. For the first time in Israel’s history, an Israeli prime minister offered to dismantle settlements without conditioning it on a final agreement.

No wonder President Bush praised Sharon and called his plan a historic moment and a bold decision. Those who follow Israeli politics will appreciate that this is indeed a political earthquake.

Ever since Sharon was elected, he has declared that Israel would be ready to take “painful compromises” for peace. Contrary to those who doubted him, it is now undeniable that Sharon meant what he said. The initiative he presented at the White House is the latest proof of Israel’s willingness to compromise.

Indeed, it will be painful to many Israelis. The prime minister’s initiative has provoked some resistance from within his very own party, to the extent that it will be put to a democratic referendum later this month. All 200,000 registered members of his party will vote and decide whether to accept this plan.

The purpose of the plan is to reignite the peace process with the entire Arab world. It illustrates to the Palestinians in particular that they cannot dig themselves in the trenches and wait for terrorism to win the battle for them. Rather, the Palestinians must leave the trenches, come to the negotiating table, and match Israel’s willingness for painful compromises.

Now it is up to the Palestinians themselves to decide whether or not they wish to make painful compromises of their own. If they would like to reciprocate with unilateral, bold moves of their own, they would be most welcome.

Unfortunately, it is no coincidence that ever since Yasser Arafat slammed the door on the opportunities presented at Camp David, the Palestinians have continued slamming doors over the past three years, criticizing every initiative without coming up with any valid solution. In the cases where they did accept a solution, such as the Road Map, they did precious little to make it work.

Israel, along with the entire international community, is still waiting for them to open at least one door, which will enable the parties to return to negotiations. It is against the backdrop of this reality that Prime Minister Sharon decided to break the status quo and put an end to the dangerous political vacuum. His initiative constitutes a political step with far-reaching consequences on the ground, unlike the endless number of empty Palestinian declarations.

The US support of Israel’s position demonstrates to the Palestinians that inaction carries a price. It is not about Israel winning the day, but about creating an incentive for the Palestinians to come back to the negotiating table.

If the Palestinians wish to match Israel’s important achievement, then their leaders will have to prove what Prime Minister Sharon proved last week in Washington: political courage and credible declarations.

Taking political risks is not reserved for Israeli leaders only, as history shows. In 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat traveled to Jerusalem and told the Israeli people: “No more war, no more bloodshed.” This took place even before the two counties signed a peace treaty.

Sadat’s willingness to take this unilateral step was indeed “a historic moment” and “a bold decision,” which resulted in the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

This is the kind of leadership of which the Arab world in general, and the Palestinians in particular, are in dire need: Bold leaders who will create historic moments in order to achieve peace.

(Originally appeared in the Boston Globe)

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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