The Sharm el-Sheikh summit has raised the hope that a new window of
opportunity in Israeli-Palestinian relations has been opened. After
four and a half years of mutual violence, which has caused great
suffering to both peoples, we now have a chance to return to the
The renewal of talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials
creates the possibility that the Gaza disengagement plan will be a
coordinated step, rather than a unilateral one. If this is
successfully carried out, within the framework of the Quartet Road
Map, it can lay the foundations for progress toward a final-status
agreement that will be based on the 1967 borders, with the
possibility of a mutually agreed upon land swap, a division of
Jerusalem and a satisfactory solution to the refugee problem.
The public opinion polls that are discussed in this issue indicate
that there is a clear majority of both Israelis and Palestinians
who are tired of the violence, support a two-state solution and
want to move forward toward a negotiated settlement.
However, to ensure continued public support in both communities,
they must feel direct benefits from the new atmosphere, otherwise
known as the "fruits of peace," as soon as possible.
The Palestinians have a number of priorities that have to be
satisfied. One of the first is the freeing of political prisoners.
A fascinating evening organized by Physicians for Human Rights in
Tel Aviv emphasized the role that the freeing of prisoners can play
in a peace process. This message was delivered by participants in
the meeting, such as Palestinian Minister for Prisoner Affairs
Hisham Abdel Razek, who spent 21 years in an Israeli prison, a
former member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), who spent nine
years in a British prison; and Benjamin Pogrund, the former deputy
editor of the South African Rand Daily Mail. Other issues of
primary importance for the Palestinians are an end to the targeted
killings, a settlement freeze and the easing of travel restrictions
caused by the proliferation of checkpoints in the Occupied
Palestinian Territories. Continued public support for a cessation
of violence and negotiations depends on a Palestinian perception
that there is a significant improvement in their daily lives.
On the Israeli side, the issue of primary importance is security,
an end to the suicide attacks and the firing of Qassam rockets at
Israeli targets, like the southern town of Sderot. At the public
event in Tel Aviv, Pogrund emphasized that the ANC policy of
carrying out its struggle in a nonviolent manner helped to build
white public support, even among the Afrikaners, for a resolution
to the conflict.
Forceful, determined and creative leadership on both sides can
ensure that these issues are dealt with in a constructive manner.
If the Gaza disengagement is carried out, it will create a momentum
that will carry over to the West Bank.
To ensure that this new atmosphere moves from words to deeds, it is
essential that the international community be an active facilitator
of the process. This includes the regional players like Sharm
el-Sheikh summit host Egypt, Jordan, other Arab countries, and the
Quartet (the United States, the EU, Russia and the UN).
The United States, as the world's only superpower, has a
particularly important role to play. President George W. Bush has
declared that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and
the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside the State of
Israel will be one of the primary goals of his second
administration. For this to become a reality, the U.S.
administration will have to play a more active role in conflict
resolution than it did during its first four years. International
facilitation of the process should include mediation, financing and
monitoring of the process in the field.
The current window of opportunity is not open-ended. If the Israeli
and Palestinian publics do not experience progress in their
respective situations, frustration and disappointment will lead to
a renewal of the cycle of violence, with potentially tragic
consequences for all.