Getting the sequence right

In our region security does not bring peace, but peace can bring security.

Condi Rice 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Condi Rice 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has just completed another "maintenance" visit to our region. While frequent trips by an American secretary of state are of great importance to our region, I believe US policy suffers from three philosophical flaws: • that war against a guerrilla insurgency can be decisively won by military means alone. It can't. We live in an era when fundamentalists are able to mobilize weaker elements in their societies in a strategic manner employing non-traditional weapons and tactics. Israel experienced this phenomenon along its northern border during the summer. • that democratization brings about peace - the thesis of President George W. Bush. It's overly simplistic. Our recent history proves almost the opposite: In Iran and Afghanistan democracy was instituted by the Americans, but peace seems further away than ever before. The same is true closer to home. The two places in which democratic elections have been held - Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority - are both in a state of violent conflict with Israel. Egypt and Jordan, on the other hand, two less than flourishing democracies, live in full peace with Israel. • that terror must be fully eradicated before a peace process can be instigated. That's not practical. The sequence - terror goes before peace - is seemingly right, but it has proven unrealistic. In our region security does not bring peace, but peace can bring security. Peace with Egypt resulted from a war. But since the inception of this peace, not a single Israeli soldier has lost his life on the Egyptian front. This analysis leads us to conclude that diplomacy is more valuable than force. IN THE SEQUENCE of security, democratization, economic development and peace, I strongly believe that the efforts for peace must come first. I would urge the US administration to engage in and facilitate peace-making between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and between Israel and Syria. This will not only have dramatic consequences for the Arab-Israel conflict, but will also positively influence the situation elsewhere in the region, including in Iraq, where the perception is that the US is anti-Arab and anti-Islamic. When it comes to the Arab-Israel conflict, unless we try we will never know where negotiations might take us. My optimism is based on the sense that the silent (and passive) majorities of Israel, Palestine and Syria are sick and tired of conflict and will opt for a realistic peace process to resolve outstanding issues. The prospects for peace and the chances that efforts to solve the conflict will be seen as legitimate - in Israel, Palestine and Syria - must be judged against these societies as a whole, and not merely with regard to the attitudes of extreme and violent minorities. Moreover, it imperative that in any new peace process efforts should be decentralized to involve important elements of civil society and the private sector. In parallel with a renewed hope for peace, and as the risk factor is reduced, the international private sector can be expected to increase its investment in the region. A breakthrough on the Palestinian and Syrian fronts would also enhance the chances for a more peaceful region from the Persian gulf to north African. We'd see greater stability and a weakening of extremist fundamentalism. WE ALL KNOW what the configuration of peace with the Palestinians would look like. There would be an Israeli withdrawal based on the 1967 boundaries, with territorial swaps creating settlement blocs. There would be a Clinton-like plan for Jerusalem; the right of return of Palestinians to their own state, stringent security arrangements, diplomatic and economic relations among the parties. And the configuration of peace with Syria would include a withdrawal from the Golan Heights in return for security arrangements that would prevent the possibility of surprise attacks, in return, for full, normal, peaceful relations between the two countries. There would be trade, tourism, transportation, free movement of people and goods across the peace border, and naturally diplomatic relations. Such a process would bring economic prosperity, security, and stability as well as being a blow to the terrorists. We all want to see democratization, complete security, economic development and peace. Yet we must courageously conclude that peace comes first. The writer is the president of the Peres Center for Peace. Yediot Aharonot has recently published his second book Kodem Shalom (Peace First).