Ahmadinejad is so cool .
(photo credit: AP [file])
Peace conferences are moments of optimism. Any Israeli old enough to have watched cannot forget the brilliant September sunshine that shone on the White House lawn in 1993, blessing the warm handshake of Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat.
Yesterday's ceremony did not exude such warmth. It could not, because no one familiar with the last 14 years can allow themselves to forget what has happened.
Yesterday's joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration, read by President George W. Bush, began, "We express our determination to bring an end to bloodshed, suffering and decades of conflict between our peoples; to usher in a new era of peace, based on freedom, security, justice, dignity, respect and mutual recognition; to propagate a culture of peace and nonviolence..."
Israelis cannot listen to these words, almost identical to those agreed upon and even signed in 1993, without the bitter memory of hopes dashed, and of a terror onslaught that followed in which over 1,000 Israelis lost their lives - not mainly on the battlefield, but in their homes, on their streets, in their cafes, buses, universities and even while seated at their Passover seder.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to his credit, did not fail to mention this history, the three captured soldiers whose returned home we still wait for, and the "ongoing shooting of Kassam rockets against tens of thousands of residents in the south of Israel, particularly in the city of Sderot."
What must rightly be said, therefore, for the peace process Annapolis seeks to launch, is that it does not begin with excessively high expectations. Indeed, the question hanging over the event is whether it marks the beginning of something truly hopeful, or of a "process" doomed to collapse again in renewed bloodshed.
It behooves all peoples and nations who deeply wish for the former to think seriously about how the latter can be avoided. How can the glimmer of optimism in this moment be nurtured it into a steady, guiding light? How realistic is the hope for peace now, of all times?
President Bush gave three reasons why, contrary to the naysayers, now is "precisely" the time to pursue peace. "First, the time is right because Palestinians and Israelis have leaders who are determined to achieve peace," he said. "Second... because the battle is under way for the future of the Middle East, and we must not cede victory to the extremists." Lastly, he argued, "the time is right because the world understands the urgency of supporting these negotiations."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, interestingly, echoed this sense of urgency. He cited "This extraordinary opportunity provided today by the Arab, Islamic and international position, and the overwhelming support from the public opinion in both the Palestinian and Israeli societies... I say that this opportunity might not be repeated. And if it were to be repeated, it might not enjoy the same unanimity and impetus."
Bush and Abbas are right that certain conditions exist that must not be squandered. In the same breath, however, they allude to the elephant in the room, which is that forces actively seeking to torpedo peace are much stronger than they were in 1993.
Back then, Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas, and al-Qaida almost did not exist as factors in the international equation. In particular, Iran was not on the cusp of achieving nuclear weapons capability, an advent that would allow the world's premier terrorist regime to ramp up its international aggression with impunity.
Bush takes this to suggest that the desirable has become a necessity. The battle for Arab-Israeli peace has become part of the battle against Islamofascism, or what he calls "extremists." This is not only true, but has pivotal implications for the present moment. It means that 2008, the year in which Arabs and Israelis are aiming to reach agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state, must also be the year that the Iranian regime's bid for nuclear-backed hegemony is repelled.
Today, Bush and Olmert are to meet precisely on this topic. It will be the most important meeting of this diplomatic mission, even if it is not officially part of the Annapolis conference. At this meeting, Bush needs to hear from Olmert that Israel cannot accept a nuclear Iran, while Olmert needs to hear from Bush that neither can the US and, no less importantly, how Iran will be stopped. The extremists who cast a shadow over Annapolis and who impelled it, cannot be defeated otherwise.
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