Seize the new era

arafat poster mukata 298 (photo credit: AP)
arafat poster mukata 298
(photo credit: AP)
A Palestinian leader has died. An era has ended for the Palestinian people. A new opportunity has been created. Yasser Arafat led the Palestinian struggle for 40 years. He labored for his people, but ultimately he did not achieve that which truly mattered. Arafat did more than any Palestinian leader to bring the Palestinian cause to the top of the international agenda and keep it there for four decades. He did this through the path of terror, death, and broken families. If terrorism brought the Palestinian cause to the global agenda, terrorism obstructed its resolution. The Arab states attacked Israel five times in the first decades of the state. They did not achieve their goal and paid a heavy price. When they turned to the path of negotiations, and gave up their aspirations to get rid of the State of Israel, they achieved most of the things they sought. In Oslo, Arafat took a step toward the path of negotiations. He made an important decision when he agreed to the June 4, 1967 lines as the basis for a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. He began to lead the Palestinian people in a process of coming to terms with the new reality. He left behind the 1947 UN resolution that granted the Palestinians 45% of Mandatory Palestine and agreed to establish a future agreement that gave the Palestinians 24% of these territories. His turn to the path of negotiations brought the Palestinians substantial achievement. Had Arafat continued on this path, the Palestinians would have had a sovereign a state of their own by now. But Arafat did not forsake the path of terror.He did not see that it is not possible to walk in parallel the path of violence and the path of negotiations. Arafat did not confront the Palestinian terrorist organizations, certainly not consistently or over an extended period of time. He refused to carry out the required steps to unify them into one force under one command. Arafat guarded his authority as supreme commander jealously, but he did not give the necessary orders, expected of a supreme commander, to cease fire. Arafat was sensitive about his popularity among his people. He made important decisions, but recoiled from executing them. A leader cannot be popular all the time. A leader must be willing to accept controversy. He must face the risk of the anger of his people if he wants to lead them to a new and better reality. In his eagerness to remain popular, Arafat kept alive for the Palestinian people dreams that have no place in the current reality. In doing so he may have won their love, but he prevented them from going through the necessary process that each nation must go through: a process of growing up and coming to terms with reality as it is. The Palestinians could not and will not return to Israel. There is no room for this dream in reality, because it only extends Palestinian suffering and postpones the establishment of a Palestinian state. A new era begins now in the lives of the Palestinians and Israelis. The way has opened to break free of the mistakes of the past and to work toward a final status agreement that reflects the reality on both ends. The road map for peace, initiated by the international community, is accepted by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The outline of a final status agreement is clear to all. To make progress, the Palestinians and we must break free from mistakes we have made. The map of settlements does not fit into a map of peace. We must act courageously to disengage from all territories that will not be under Israeli sovereignty in any final status agreement. We embarked on this path a few weeks ago, and we must stay on course. The Palestinians must abandon completely the path of terror and introduce order to the security organizations and the gangs operating in the territories. Abu Ala and Abu Mazen are courageous, worthy, and patriotic Palestinian leaders. I know them both. They want peace and oppose terror. They will act to realize the true interest of the Palestinians, in the only way possible - the way of negotiations. They will be tough negotiators, but they will stick to the path of direct talks. We now have the power to embark on a process leading to the full realization of the Zionist vision: a democratic Jewish state in the Land of Israel in peace and security with its neighbors. We can open the door to a new era in the life of Israel, when we can dedicate our resources to the building of Israeli society and its development. An opportunity has arisen; history calls upon us to seize it. Originally published November 14, 2004