Last fall, I wrote in these pages that the time was ripe for American Jews to follow the lead of two unprecedented, bipartisan resolutions of the House of Representatives and the Senate in support of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks about to be re-launched in Annapolis, Maryland.
While we haven’t yet witnessed the dramatic series of reciprocal, confidence-building steps that we had hoped for, and while, admittedly, it is too often necessary to fight back bouts of despondency about the prospects of this peace process, there are signs that progress is being made. We should not – must not – give in to despair.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, severely weakened by corruption allegations has cautioned against raising false hopes of achieving President Bush’s goal of a peace treaty before he leaves office. In turn, the Palestinians dismiss Israeli proposals for “lack of seriousness.” This diminished confidence underscores the urgent need to show progress soon.
Yet, at the same press conference in which Olmert announced his impending resignation, he declared (seconded by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas) that “Israel and Palestine have never been closer to peace.” The boundaries of the two states and a resolution to the Palestinian refugee problem are easy issues, Olmert stated; it’s Jerusalem that’s the sticking point!
Moreover, regular meetings continue at both the prime ministerial and foreign ministerial levels. On Aug. 12 Olmert formally presented Abbas with a peace proposal whose key provision calls for Israel withdrawal from 93 percent of the West Bank, along with a 5.5 percent land swap. This was immediately rejected by the Palestinian Authority. But this is what negotiations are all about. Clearly, there is movement.
As for Gaza, Egypt has helped arrange a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, while concurrently, indirect talks between Syria and Israel, initiated and mediated by Turkey, are ongoing amidst hints of substantial progress and a desire to move to direct talks. The intervention of these good neighbors – Turkey and Egypt – is heartening, but perhaps even more significant are the observations of the Syrian Ambassador to the U.S. Imad Moustapha that “Syria desires to end the war with Israel” and that “Syria plays the role of gatekeeper between Israel and the rest of the Arab world.”
I do not minimize the fragility of the Middle East situation. All of these positive developments could unravel in an instant – instigated by a fresh round of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, or by Israel authorizing more settlement construction in the West Bank, jeopardizing the legitimacy of the Abbas government.
This fragility only underscores the need for stronger, ongoing U.S. involvement in the peace process, and for a high-caliber peace envoy on the ground to push all sides for progress.
There is ample reason to be hopeful, not to give in to despair. The ups and downs will continue, but it bears saying again: the most pro-Israel thing we can do is to support the peace process.