(photo credit: AP)
It is essential that the impending regional meeting in Annapolis be successful. Failure at Annapolis would translate into a victory for the extremist elements in Israel, Palestine and throughout the region. Without success at Annapolis the next phase of the Palestinian-Israeli relationship will find a far less forthcoming Israeli government squaring off against an implacable Hamas.
So it is essential that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, his ministers and advisers act now. Israel must create a solid groundwork for permanent status negotiations. We must set the stage for a two-state solution, an end to the occupation, a dramatic redeployment of the settlements into several settlement blocs and, most importantly, we must pursue a relationship based on trust, respect and equality with the Palestinians.
Ehud Olmert must understand that only through such an approach can Israel strengthen Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the Fatah Party; and doing so is absolutely in our interest.
I have had the privilege of getting to know Abu Mazen and Abu Ala (Ahmed Qurei) well. In addition to what Israel must do to bolster these good men, I believe they can and must do much more to strengthen themselves and their camp.
To insist that strengthening Fatah is the task of Israel alone is paternalistic. Only an internal political process can strengthen the Palestinian peace camp so that it can better manage Palestinian affairs. And nothing can strengthen Abu Mazen more than success at Annapolis.
To that end, the Palestinian leadership must aim for a substantive Annapolis declaration with Israel, offering a timeline for negotiations - say, about one year. So now is the time for the Palestinian side to bite the bullet, to set forth realistic positions in order to find a common platform with Israel.
HERE IS what I believe the Palestinians must do:
Road map. The Palestinians must implement the first phase of the road map and uproot violence from their midst. The struggle against terrorism and the terrorist infrastructure must be relentless and ongoing. This should be done not as a "goodwill" gesture toward Israel, but because it is in the supreme interest of the Palestinians.
The Palestinian leadership has said it wants a single security force under one wing of its government, without militias or terrorist groups competing for power. Now is the time to act on that stated commitment. Plainly, a single armed force is a precondition for a viable democratic state.
Borders. The Palestinians rightly insist that the borders of a new Palestinian state should be based on the 1949 armistice lines. However, they should also agree to mutual modifications in order to have Israel retain several settlement blocs in its own territory.
Right of return. This is without a doubt the most difficult challenge for the Palestinians. Here I urge my Palestinian friends to be pragmatic. Even the most moderate Israelis, myself included, vehemently opposes the influx of millions of Palestinian refugees or their descendents into sovereign Israel.
Palestinians should have the right of return to their own nation state - Palestine. Some would receive compensation and others would be resettled under various refugee programs in a number countries. Israel might permit, in the course of future talks, some refugees to settle on its territory. But the Palestinian leadership must finally tell its people that adhering to the right of return as an ideology would torpedo any hopes for a negotiated settlement with Israel.
Jerusalem. The Palestinians will justifiably insist on a capital in the Arab-populated neighborhoods of Jerusalem, yet they should agree to postpone the final details of the future of the holy sites to permanent status negotiations.
The Palestinian side should cooperate with Israel in two critical areas: economics and security.
Only by working together via open borders can we witness an improvement of the existing economic conditions for Palestinians, and of economic growth that would benefit both peoples. Yet for there to be a free flow of people, Israelis must feel certain that their lives will not again be placed in jeopardy by terrorism.
Security cooperation must be renewed. Israel will not tolerate terror against any Israelis. And terrorism is also a threat on the authority of the Palestinian leadership.
IT IS TIME for both Israelis and Palestinians to pursue a policy of realpolitik. Israel must make painful concessions, and so must the Palestinian side. Israel must strengthen Abu Mazen, and Abu Mazen must strengthen himself and his party. It will be a challenge. But I genuinely believe that both Abu Mazen and Olmert understand the importance of this opportunity, and I hope - for the sake of both our peoples - that our leaders will act accordingly.
Annapolis must be successful. It must provide a solid and implementable basis for real peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, and act as an impetus for regional peace.
The writer is the president of the Peres Center for Peace.
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