Savir's Corner

If Netanyahu and Abbas want to prove real leadership for their peoples, they should choose a path of both courage and compromise.

The Middle East is at a dangerous crossroads as we approach September.
Will the region move to a viable peace process through negotiations, or towards a dangerous volatility due to unilateralism? September has to be seen in the light of last January – the beginning of the Arab Spring. From the time the Tahrir Square revolution took place, no Arab leader will be able to make decisions without consulting his constituency, particularly the young.
When it comes to peace in the region, the thoughts and emotions of the Arab peoples are deeply linked to their Palestinian brethren under Israeli occupation.
To some degree, there are similarities in Israel. After the 300,000-strong demonstration of the young middle class two weeks ago, it can be said that we are indeed witnessing a sort of “Israeli Spring.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will not be able to make decisions on issues of peace and security without the support of that young constituency, who perhaps are neither Right nor Left, but desire a decent and peaceful life.
This creates a new democratic equation in our region – the people matter, and peace will not be a peace of leaders and elites, but a peace of and for the people.
If Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas want progress and stability for their countries, they need to address the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, and to brave the mistrust that exists toward them among their neighbors.
They would, therefore, be best served if Netanyahu spoke directly to the Palestinian people, and Abbas spoke directly to the Israelis. They need to learn from Sadat, not Mubarak.
Why would not each leader take a 20-minute drive, Netanyahu from Jerusalem to the Palestinian Majlis and Abbas from Ramallah to the Knesset, with offers of peace? This is what I believe these two leaders should say, if this scenario should occur.
Netanyahu at the Majlis: Mr. Speaker, members of the Majlis, I come from Jerusalem, so close, and yet so far. I have come to offer peace between two states, two nations. To break the psychological wall that has separated us. To turn prejudice into respect, and fear into hope.
I am privileged to address you here in your parliament.
I am a son of Jerusalem, the heart of Jewish life for three millennia. I represent a people who have known throughout the centuries expulsions, hardships, inquisitions, pogroms, Holocaust – yet never for a moment, abandoned their values inherited from our biblical forefathers, or their yearning for our historical homeland. In the 20th century we were able to witness the rebirth of our nation in its land, and developed a state that we are proud of and a safe haven for our people. It was never our intention that Israel’s independence would be at the cost of our Arab neighbors. But history moved in a tragic direction of ongoing conflict and bloodshed.
After peace with Egypt and Jordan, the time has come to make peace between us – Israelis and Palestinians. It is not our intention to control your lives. I have already, two years ago, recognized a two-state solution, a peace between the Jewish state of Israel and the Arab state of Palestine. This peace must be accompanied by stringent security measures.
Israel will never compromise on its security; that is my prime responsibility.
It is with this in mind that I propose immediate direct negotiations on a peace treaty between us, with borders based on the 1967 ones; mutually agreed land swaps; stringent security measures that will put an end to all violence and terror; and a resolution to all permanent-status issues.
The peace between our countries will be a peace between two societies that will cooperate fully, with full normalized relations in favor of our economies and our societies. Our peace will be an inspiration to the whole world, especially our Arab neighbors.
It is our will to reach comprehensive regional peace that will include the whole Arab world.
I have come here as a proud Israeli and Jew, and am extending my hand to peace between our countries, nations and peoples.
Shalom. Salaam.
Abbas at the Knesset: Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of Knesset, it is a privilege to speak to you here, in the center of your democracy and through you to the people of Israel. I have come as a Palestinian patriot, a representative of the whole Palestinian nation. I have come to you to merge two conflicting yearnings into one – a new reality of peace, with full equality, between Palestine and Israel.
Palestinians, like the Jewish people, have been the victims of history. We lived throughout our long history under the yoke of foreign rulers. Today, we have already lived 44 years under your occupation, never knowing a single day of full freedom.
I have come here to say, enough to foreign rule, and declare a beginning to Palestinian independence, a sovereign Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.
But I have also come to say to you, our Israeli neighbors, that our independence will not come at your expense.
The end of occupation will not mean an end to security; on the contrary – peace with Palestine will bring more security to both our nations. Peace is security. We are ready to enact security measures for the good of both sides that do not infringe on our sovereignty. We will be in charge of our internal security and prevent violence and terror. To this end, we accept Palestine to be a demilitarized state. Independent Palestine will have full diplomatic and normalized relations with Israel, and the future of our societies will be one of cooperation. For that, neither you, nor we, are required to give up on our historical narratives, national traits or religious beliefs.
In this vein, I announce here that within the implementation of our permanent-status agreement, we will recognize you in the way you define yourselves – as the homeland of the Jewish people. Let us start negotiations to resolve all permanent-status issues and create a peace of security and equality between an independent Palestine and an independent Israel.
This will mean an end to unilateralism, you by refraining from building in the settlements, and we by not asking for a unilateral UN vote on a Palestinian state. We will ask our Arab brethren to join Palestine in peace with Israel, to create a comprehensive and just peace in our region.
Salaam Aleikum.
These speeches have obviously not been delivered. But if Netanyahu and Abbas want to prove real leadership for their peoples, I believe this is the path they should choose – a path of both courage and compromise. September is approaching and the alternatives may be catastrophic for both sides. It is not too late.
The writer is the president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator of the Oslo Accords.