Interesting Times: What Arabs can do

The speech Olmert should give at the Herzliya Conference.

saul singer 88 (photo credit: )
saul singer 88
(photo credit: )
At the august Herzliya Conference three years ago, Ariel Sharon unveiled his plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip - a plan he called "disengagement." Eighteen months ago, this plan was carried out, and six months ago we fought a two-front war against Hamas in the south and Hizbullah in the north. What should we learn from this history? Some, perhaps understandably, conclude from this sequence of events that disengagement was a mistake. I disagree, but I also disagree with those unwilling to learn from the tragic history we have lived since the handshake on the White House lawn over 12 years ago. Since then, it is difficult to deny two unifying threads running through events: on the one hand, an increasing Israeli commitment to establishing a Palestinian state; and on the other, increasing terrorism, radicalism and rejectionism on the Palestinian side. Three times, with increasing definitude, Israel has committed itself to creating a Palestinian state: at Oslo in 1993, at Camp David in 2000, and with disengagement in 2005. The Oslo Accords were designed to produce such a state through an orderly negotiating process. At Camp David, when terrorism threatened the complete unraveling of Oslo, Israel put that state formally on the negotiating table. And then again, after Palestinian terrorism took 1,000 Israeli lives, we began to unilaterally advance Palestinian statehood by withdrawing entirely from the Gaza Strip. All this was done to accentuate the political horizon that is available to the Palestinian people, namely, the two-state vision embraced by Israel and the international community. WHAT WE have seen, then, is a history of painting a political horizon for the Palestinians in increasingly vivid and concrete terms. Each time that vision was made more vivid, the Palestinian reaction became more violent and we reacted by asking ourselves: How can we make the political horizon even clearer, and even more tangible? I do not believe it was a mistake for us to ask ourselves this question, or for Israel to take the steps it has to answer it. Yet I do believe it is time to ask another question, one we have not asked or answered with sufficient insistence: What can be done to help the Palestinians take "yes" for an answer? A political horizon is absolutely necessary, and that is why Israel has taken such difficult and risky steps to create one. But a political horizon is not sufficient for peace. To advance peace we must address the reasons why the Palestinians have been unable to stride toward this horizon, and have even moved away from it. Clearly, the Palestinians have become trapped in a spiral of increasing chaos and radicalism. They have elected a government that openly supports terrorism and refuses to accept Israel's right to exist or previous agreements signed with us. While Israel and the international community watch with dismay as a struggle ensues that is in part between moderates and extremists, we all agree that the moderates need support. Equally clearly, however, political horizons and financial assistance, even it it successfully bypasses Hamas, will not alone be sufficient to strengthen those who choose negotiations and peace over endless war and terror. To gain a hope of prevailing, Palestinian moderates, whether currently in leadership roles or not, need strength and support from a new source: the Arab world. Arab states can help the moderates in three ways. First and most directly, it is critical for these states to deny financial support and weaponry to extremists. Syria must abide by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, imposing an embargo against supplying weapons to Hizbullah, or face measures to enforce that resolution. Hamas is trying to emulate Hizbullah's weapons buildup in Gaza. Though Egypt has taken some steps to crack down on weapons smuggling to Gaza, these steps are grossly insufficient. Egypt has the power to implement the painful lessons this region learned from the war in Lebanon, and to prevent the next war. There is no excuse for failing to do this. THE SECOND way for the Arab states to help Palestinian moderates is to lead by example. Egypt's Anwar Sadat did this by coming to Jerusalem and signing a peace treaty with Israel. King Hussein, on behalf of Jordan, also signed a peace treaty with Israel. But all the Arab states, including those at peace with Israel, refuse to engage in normal trade and diplomatic relations with us, will not meet us either in our capital or theirs, and continue to sponsor anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations. This knee-jerk policy of isolating Israel is so ingrained that when the International Committee of the Red Cross sought to welcome both Israel's Magen David Adom and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society as members, a bloc of Arab states broke the international consensus and voted against - despite the fact that welcoming both organizations would have been a perfect expression of support for a two-state solution. If the Arab states want peace with Israel they cannot expect the Palestinians, weak and divided as they are, to lead the way by themselves. It is the Arab states that have the power, through their statements and actions, to demonstrate that the path to peace lies through moderation and openness rather than through isolation and terror. A marked Arab thawing of relations with Israel would also contribute to the third and most important step to foster moderation in the region: standing up to Teheran. Iran is trying to fuel conflict in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza to distract and deter the West from sanctioning its nuclear program. Through increased openness toward Israel and supporting the Iraqi government, the Arab states can help defeat this Iranian strategy. Iran, however, will not stop its campaign of terrorism and its pursuit of nuclear weapons unless the price of these policies is raised sky-high. If the international community wants to see progress in Iraq, Lebanon or Gaza, it must impose draconian sanctions that will force the regime in Teheran to choose between its power and its policies. No policy of support for moderation has a chance of success if radical regimes are allowed to export terror with impunity.

- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11