Today, 15 months after the Al-Aqsa Intifada started, it is even more pertinent to ask whether peacemaking is still a possibility.
The Intifada this time has gone beyond stone-throwing and burnt tires. All the antagonists are employing deadly weapons and strategies unused before, whether by the Israeli army, the Palestinian movements, or Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. These developments have not only raised the level of violence and the number of victims, they have also created reactions filled with much more intolerance and hatred than ever before.
Israel does not seem to have learned from the first Intifada (1988-93). It was then Yitzhak Rabin who failed to quell its intensity, although he ordered the army to break the bones of stone-throwers. More than two thousand martyrs, jails filled with detainees, and Ketsiot concentration camp in the Naqab/Negev Desert-all were to no avail in Israel's effort to break the Intifada. A series of events in the region diminished the intensity of the first Intifada: the Gulf War and its international repercussions, the Madrid conference, and the development of an atmosphere of negotiations following it.

Forgetting Past Lessons

Yes, the Israeli authorities seem to have forgotten that experience because they are attempting to break the second Intifada, now using even more excessive force than before, including F-16 jetfighters, Apache attack helicopters, tanks, and other heavy weapons and ammunition. Israel has further escalated the strategies of violence by bombing residential areas, uprooting trees, demolishing homes, and sending in undercover assassination squads (like the so-called Duvdevan and Egoz).
Israel is attempting to strangle all Palestinians by imposing arbitrary closures, isolating villages and towns, destroying roads, dismantling facilities and disrupting infrastructure. Almost every Palestinian town, villages or refugee camp is now a prison unto itself. Meanwhile, the Israeli government continues to intensify settlement activities in the West Bank and Gaza, thus taking actions that are deliberate undermining any chances for peace.
Such actions are having an opposite effect to what Israel wants to achieve. The will of the Palestinian people has not been broken; the Palestinians have not surrendered. On the contrary, the results have only diminished the voices of moderate Palestinians, weakened the Palestinian Authority, and increased the influence of extremist elements-in effect, Palestinian society has been pressured into extreme reactions.
Meanwhile, the Israeli rightwing has succeeded in gaining assets. Rightwing politicians have, for example, exploited the Right of Return issue, raised at Camp David and Taba, to cast doubts about the Palestinian desire for peace. They argue that any insistence on the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes would mean, in effect, turning Israel from a Jewish state into a state with a Palestinian majority. This contention has been helped by rightwing efforts to lump all Palestinians into one camp, manipulating the occurrence of suicide attacks as proof that Palestinians don't make any distinction between a Jew in Tel Aviv and a settler in Gaza. Thus, the rightwing seems to have succeeded in paralyzing the Israeli peace camp and causing confusion in its ranks.

A Historic Opportunity

The new US initiative arrives in this debilitating environment to try to achieve a cease-fire and a resumption of negotiations. It seems encouraging that Colin Powell's recent speech stated certain US positions never announced before. Notable among them is the acknowledgement that the objective is to end the occupation and to establish a viable Palestinian state. Powell intimated that such an outcome would mean painful concessions on both sides.
The present US initiative is a historic opportunity for both sides to extricate themselves from the vortex of death and destruction. This should be the more evident to both sides now: Sharon has not succeeded in breaking Palestinian resistance and imposing his conditions, and more Palestinians seem convinced that the Intifada alone and various forms of violence are not the best path to statehood.
Colin Powell outlined a road map: the Tenet plan, the Mitchell report, negotiations, final settlement. Such a road will be neither quick nor easy. However, the US Administration must also realize that Sharon has no peace plan, that his political preference is to keep the status quo in order to accelerate a program of expansion and to preserve a rightwing coalition that views more land as preferable to peace.
The US, therefore, must also set a time limit for the process of final settlement negotiations in order to achieve the objectives it says it supports. In the meantime, all settlement activities must be ceased. If such parallel conditions can be maintained, there is hope of ending occupation and establishing a Palestinian state. A state formed through this process would, I believe, be the best guarantee of permanent security and stability for the State of Israel and the State of Palestine, both of which will coexist one beside the other.
More immediately, to activate the US initiative by Anthony Zinni and William Burns two things should happen. First, Sharon's demand for one week of complete calm should be rejected as impossible; otherwise, the Tenet plan may never get a chance to get started. Second, the Tenet plan and Mitchell recommendations must be implemented immediately and speedily. Otherwise, a continuation of the status quo and Israeli expansion will keep Palestinians in the belief, based on the recent past, that more and more "facts on the ground" will make it impossible for a Palestinian state to be established alongside Israel.
On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority should do its utmost to prove that it is making 100% effort to stop violence.
The US peace effort is not an easy mission. However, both peoples seem to have grown tired enough of the present destruction to want to end their mutual sufferings. Some of their politicians may not want that, but perhaps the people do. Peace remains the only option, and it must be the only target.