olmert ben gurion 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
Yesterday, at the grave of David Ben-Gurion in Sde Boker, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert extended an olive branch to the Palestinians on behalf of the people of Israel.
The Palestinians should know: The offer is real. Take it. Take yes for an answer.
Olmert's offer is simple - stop attacking us and we will release thousands of prisoners, give you a state and help you economically.
What's the catch, Palestinians might ask.
Well, the border between Israel and Palestine would have to be negotiated, and would not go exactly along the 1949 cease-fire lines. Palestinians would have to agree that their "right of return" would be limited to the new Palestinian state itself (just as Jews may only "return" to Israel), so there would be no option of destroying Israel by flooding it with Palestinians. That's about it.
Indeed, assuming it embraced peace, assistance to the new state would flood in from the West, from the Arab world, new industrial zones would be created, and Olmert explicitly stated that the tax revenues Israel has been holding up for some years due to Palestinian terrorist attacks would be released.
In essence, Olmert has just given the Palestinians a chance to accept the offer Israel made at the Camp David summit of 2000 that was rejected by Yasser Arafat. This is remarkable, given that Arafat's rejection set the stage for more than six years of Palestinian suicide bombings and rocket attacks that continue to this day. Yet Israel has again shown that it is still committed to creating a Palestinian state, located in the midst of the biblical Jewish homeland and cheek by jowl with Israel.
Some Palestinians might say that Israel is bluffing. Anyone who thinks this, however, is clearly not a very observant student of Israeli politics, nor of Israeli actions.
Since 1993, when the Oslo Accords split Israel into camps bitterly opposed over the question of Palestinian statehood, our political landscape has utterly changed. Have the Palestinians noticed that Ariel Sharon, formerly an arch opponent of Palestinian statehood and champion of settlements, embraced the former and dismantled the latter? Or that Ehud Olmert, who came from an even more right-wing pedigree than Sharon, outflanked him to the left and became his successor?
The truth is that the more that Israelis have come to support Palestinian statehood, the more the Palestinians have moved away from the idea, towards Hamas-style dreams of eradicating Israel. It may well be that a higher proportion of Israelis, citizens and leaders, support Palestinian statehood than do Palestinians, particularly at the leadership level.
The bluff that must be called is on the Palestinian side. Do the Palestinians really want a state at peace with Israel or instead of Israel?
The same goes for the Arab world. Olmert, it should be noted, cited "positive" aspects of the Saudi plan that he had previously dismissed. What Olmert also should have done is more directly challenged these governments to lead the way in encouraging the Palestinians to engage with Israel by setting a positive example themselves.
Rather than constantly trotting out anti-Israel resolutions at the UN, these states could start warming diplomatic contacts, eventually leading to exchanges of visits between Israeli and Arab leaders. If the Arab states were serious about peace, what better way to strengthen the Palestinians who want to engage Israel in earnest?
The United States could play a critical role here as well. Though President George W. Bush's April 14, 2004, letter to Sharon was a good start, the key is to more openly and regularly endorse Israel's requirement that the Palestinians drop the "right of return" to Israel, to push Arab states to do so as well and to lead a process of normalization with Israel by example.
If the US, Europe and the Arab states all joined in encouraging the Palestinians to accept Israel's offer, there is a chance to finally reverse the trend of Palestinian radicalization.
All of these external forces claim to support the two-state solution. Now Israel's support for this same solution is more explicit than ever. Unfortunately, unless the international community takes the opportunity to endorse and echo Israel's offer, the trend of Palestinian rejectionism will likely continue.