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The tragic events of last week in Gaza provide us with a new opportunity to reconsider the future of our region and the chances for some kind of future accommodations between Israel and the Palestinians. There is no doubt that many readers of The Jerusalem Post will see the brutality of the Hamas takeover as the final proof that the Palestinians will never live in peace with Israel.
The Hamas victory in Gaza prompts us and the more moderate Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, as well as the allies of peace around the world, to reexamine the current reality and chart a new course toward peace and stability.
Gaza is lost, for the time being. The Palestinians of Gaza, both the supporters of Hamas and their opposition, have to live with this new reality. Gaza will be detached from the world. Israel and Egypt have both sealed Gaza's borders, but sooner, rather than later, the world, and Israel, will have to consider how to deliver food and medical supplies in order to prevent a colossal humanitarian disaster. At the same time, Israel and the world should consider how to save the West Bank from a similar fate.
An Iranian-Hizbullah supported Hamas entity on Israel's border is a danger to the stability of the entire region and threatens not only the immediate neighborhood. Both Jordan and Egypt are threatened by the Hamas victory. Israel and Palestine are the backyard of Europe and the local threats extend to there as well.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has taken the first positive steps by dismissing the unity government headed by Ismail Haniyeh and appointing Salam Fayyad to head a nonHamas government made of professionals and moderates. Abbas has also called for international forces to be stationed in Gaza. It is unlikely that the international community will heed that call, but the Arab League could be called on to station forces in Gaza and Israel should agree to that proposal.
ABBAS NOW has an opportunity with a new government to re-enlist the diplomat and financial support of the international community. The focus should be on creating a new reality in the West Bank that includes noninterrupted permanent status negotiations with Israel on the creation of a Palestinian state, first in the West Bank and later in Gaza (when the reality there changes for the better).
Abbas should be encouraged and pressured to implement sincere governmental reforms including the Palestinian security forces and the collection of all unauthorized weapons in the West Bank. New parliamentary elections should be conducted in the West Bank with the participation of political parties that accept the previous agreements between the PLO and Israel and renounce the use of violence.
In order to encourage positive Palestinian steps, Israel must show its peaceful intentions by announcing a freeze on the separation barrier in all areas beyond the Green Line, freeze all settlement building, remove checkpoints and road closures within the West Bank and return to the new Palestinian government the $700 million of tax revenues held by Israel.
The Palestinian and Israeli peoples have lost all trust in peace and in peace processes. The fall of Gaza has only strengthened those sentiments among all Israelis. Dramatic steps are necessary from both sides to rebuild any public support, on both sides, for peace. While both peoples desire peace, they have little faith that peace is possible. Certainly, any positive step on one side should be strengthened by positive steps on the other.
Personal security, which is at the top of the agendas of both sides, can only be promised when it is mutual. While Israel is the stronger of the two and could be expected to take first steps, with the great instability and internal conflict within Palestine, it is unlikely that Israel would be forthcoming prior to seeing some concrete Palestinian steps toward peacemaking.
One step that should be easy for Abbas to take is a renewed declaration and policy to outlaw all forms of incitement against Israel and Jews. This could be strengthened with the appointment of a professional committee to reexamine Palestinian textbooks and to make a commitment to teach the students of Palestine that Israel has a right to exist.
Israel should do the same, and the Ministry of Education should issue a declaration that Israeli schools will also teach that the Palestinian people have a right to a state that will live in peace next to Israel replacing the Israeli occupation.
THE RECENT developments enable the European Union to also consider dramatic steps that could contribute to a peace process and to the end of the spread of Islamic political radicalism in the region. The EU has always searched for its role and has been shy in the face of US hegemony on political processes in the region.
The EU has the possibility to provide the people of Israel and Palestine with a powerful incentive, strong enough to rekindle a belief in peace and the desire to work towards that goal: EU membership.
Israel and Palestine could be offered to enter into a process of membership in the EU, which like Turkey could take 10 years. The offer would be conditional on fulfilling the Copenhagen guidelines for membership - democracy, respect for human rights, economic and legislative reforms, and the resolution of and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Membership would granted only as a package deal - Israel could not join without Palestine joining.
Both sides would have to make great efforts to fulfill the conditions but the potential rewards could provide enough hope and promise to finally motivate the Israeli and Palestinian publics to support the kind of concessions that are necessary to reach and to implement peace agreements.
The dream of becoming part of the new Europe, with stability and security and open borders has the potential of providing the light at the end of the tunnel that Israeli-Palestinian peace alone apparently could not do.
The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.
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