Encountering Peace: The challenge of statesmanship

If I were prime minister, who would receive my first phone call? It would not be a difficult decision – Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Prime Minister's Office (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Prime Minister's Office
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Election season is here, and many of us Israelis entertain the fantasy/dream of throwing our hats into the arena and imagining that we could soon be in positions of power in government. If I were prime minister, who would receive my first phone call? It would not be a difficult decision – Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
I would tell him that we would immediately resume negotiations toward full peace between Israel and Palestine and would aim to conclude those negotiations within one year. I would assure him that we can make progress rapidly and that he would end up with a recognized and viable Palestinian state on 22 percent of the land between the river and the sea. All of the issues would be on the table and we would work hard to arrive at solutions that would recognize the national rights of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples to a secure homelands and live as peaceful neighbors.
I would announce to the people of Gaza that we have no conflict with them. Israel withdrew entirely from the Gaza Strip and would like to see the people of Gaza living a free and prosperous life. Israel cannot allow itself to be attacked by the regime there and its proxies and will continue to protect itself from those attacks. But Israel sees the Gaza Strip as part of the future Palestinian state. In order to enable the people of Gaza to visualize a completely different reality, I would announce that Israel, with the assistance of the international community, will begin constructing the physical link between the West Bank and Gaza, whether it be a road, rail line, tunnel or bridge (or any combination of them).
Israel would allow that link to be built from the West Bank to Gaza, but it would go as far as one kilometer from the beginning of Gaza. The people of Gaza would see the new reality unfolding before them. They would then have to make the choice: do they wish to be part of the new era of peace or remain in the backwards rule of fanatics who deny them their freedom and liberation? I would announce that Israel has no conflict with the people of Lebanon and is calling for the Government of Lebanon to come to the table and sign a peace treaty.
Hezbollah can remain behind and once again make bad decisions which are against the interests of the Lebanese people. I will announce that Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Syria should have the opportunity to begin a new life in the future Palestinian state.
To facilitate their return to their homeland, Israel will soon be transferring large parts of fully Israeli controlled Area C in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority so that they could begin planning and building as soon as possible several new cities there that would absorb those new immigrants to the Palestinian state. Imagine several cities the size of Modi’in sprouting up in the West Bank that will absorb new immigrants, former refugees. I will call on the international community to begin sending investment money into the Palestinian territories to boost the economy and to create jobs for the new Palestinian citizens.
MY SECOND phone call would be to Nabil Arabi, the secretary- general of the Arab League. I would inform him that the government of Israel supports the peace initiative issued by the Arab League in 2002, which has been ratified five times since, proposing the full recognition of Israel and normal diplomatic relations when Israel resolves its bi-lateral disputes with its neighbors. I would request that Ambassador Arabi arrange for me to address a special session of the Arab League, knowing that Abbas would support my request.
I would inform the Arab League that Israel has no intention of permanently holding on to the Golan Heights. Once there is a regime in Syria that is democratic and supported by its people and interested in making peace with Israel, negotiations would resume on the means for guaranteeing Israel’s security in the north through a demilitarized area that would be returned to the Syrian people.
My next phone calls would be President Morsi of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan, and I would invite both of them to come to Jerusalem to address the Knesset together with Abbas. I would tell them that I would be pleased to see them worshiping together in the Aqsa Mosque so that the message of peace would go out from Jerusalem to the entire Muslim world.
The Jewish people have no conflict with Islam and we believe that Jerusalem must be the city where we can all learn to celebrate our common roots and our diversity. I would invite them to pray with me at the Kotel – the Western Wall, where we remember the Holy Temple, as a symbol of Arab and Muslim leaders demonstrating that Islam has no conflict with Judaism.
My messages would be based on strength and confidence in our state and the achievements that we have made over the past 65 years. We are not afraid to make peace. We believe in our ability to meet the challenges of peace making. We have the ability to defend ourselves against those who would seek to spoil the chances of peace. Our adherence to the sanctification of life as a primary value of our faith and heritage will see us through as we chart a new course that will be the ultimate fulfillment of the Zionist dream – a safe haven for our people in an exemplary state in our ancient homeland.
Our resources will be devoted to investing in what will be the best educational system in the world. Poverty would not exist in out towns and cities. Our hospitals and medical system will be an inspiration to humanity. Our arts and culture will blossom to new heights. Our children will be multi-lingual and multi-cultural, knowing to speak with our neighbors in their language while cherishing our own language and culture.
Yes, this is a fantasy, but it is also a challenge, and perhaps a catalyst for elected officials to understand that after the elections they can be transformed from politicians into statesmen and world-class leaders.
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.