Talk to Abu Mazen

Our real partner is the Palestinian people as embodied in their president.

mahmmoud abbas 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
mahmmoud abbas 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
In the beginning it was refreshing, but the genesis of our new government is unraveling as we speak. And what is being revealed in the scriptures of the day is a new yet experienced team dealing with both the day-to-day issues and the enduring questions in a matter-of-fact fashion. The prime minister is portraying clarity with respect to his long-term vision and concrete plans, while a peace team composed of Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres, Tzipi Livni and Amir Peretz is highly promising. It was and remains essential that Olmert declare his plans of unilateral withdrawal from most of the West Bank to safeguard a Jewish majority within Israeli borders, both in the pre- and post-election period. While the broadcasted government strategy clearly signals an initial desire for a negotiated settlement if a suitable Palestinian partner exists with whom to deal, it seems that the new and eloquent prime minister and his mate Justice Minister Haim Ramon are enamored with the option of unilateralism. I believe the government's logic with respect to such unilateralism is somewhat flawed. The rationalization for a unilateral withdrawal is inconsistent - permanent Israeli borders and peace for that matter will only exist if they are recognized by a Palestinian partner and the international community. Furthermore, if our government is already articulating the benefits of permanent borders and a Jewish majority, it would not be damaging if it expressed the notion that Israel should depart from the territories as our occupation of Arab land is corrupting our values and our society. BUT MOST importantly, this enormous emphasis on unilateral withdrawal does not allow for any residual momentum to genuinely search for a Palestinian partner with whom to negotiate. President Mahmoud Abbas has openly declared his willingness to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people; this is even supported by the Hamas government. Indeed, a peace mandate was his trump card in the Palestinian presidential elections; he garnered massive support from his fellow Palestinians to negotiate peace with Israel. Our real partner is thus the Palestinian people as embodied by their elected president. And thus there is nothing more urgent than for Olmert to open the door to Abu Mazen's knock; they should meet to negotiate the modes for implementing the road map. Such a negotiation will not be easy, but with the right motivation, ingenuity, and the vast experience of his deputy Shimon Peres, I believe it is feasible. Moreover, I recently met with Palestinian leaders of the Fatah movement; I have no doubt that the road map is a path worth treading with the Palestinians. In his upcoming trip to the United States, Prime Minister Olmert, together with the Bush administration, should coordinate two phases of initial negotiations. Phase 1 should be embodied by negotiations with Abu Mazen and his team, and only if they fail, should Phase 2 begin, i.e. an attempt at a unilateral withdrawal to defensible, though provisional boundaries. It should be emphasized, however, that the Phase 1 approach is desirable for the prime minister. Beyond any bilateral results from a negotiated peace process with the Palestinians, such talks will also have a stabilizing influence over broader regional stability. Olmert has brought hope to Israel and a breath of fresh air with his innovative party and government. It is his challenge to make every effort to bring peace for our nation. Genesis is the book of creation. It is thus the time to create peace and negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian interpretation of the road map and its implementation. The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace.