We too deserve a political horizon

The truth is that the peoples of the Middle East share the same fate. We are destined to be neighbors.

launch peace 298 88 (photo credit: AP)
launch peace 298 88
(photo credit: AP)
For too long, the Middle East has been governed by zero-sum logic. One side's loss was seen as the other's gain. This thinking has brought much suffering to our region. It has helped polarize each side's view of the other and hurt those seeking common ground. The truth is that the peoples of the Middle East share the same fate. We are destined to be neighbors. Our futures are inevitably linked together. And no peace will be lasting if it fails to take this fact into account. This is as true for Israel as it is for other nations in the region. We have built a strong and dynamic democratic society that has much to be proud of. But for all of the country's achievements, we remain a nation struggling to realize our basic right to a peaceful existence side by side with our neighbors in the region. Too often Israel's positions have been misrepresented or misunderstood. Too often there has been a gap between perception and reality. And too rarely have the people of the Middle East spoken directly to each other, openly and honestly, not in an effort to lay blame for the past but in an attempt to share responsibility for the future. I WOULD like, therefore, to take this opportunity to share with you, directly, Israel's vision and its concerns, so that we can begin a genuine dialogue for the benefit of the region as a whole. Israel's raison d'etre was, and remains, to be a peaceful democratic and Jewish State - with these values existing in harmony and not in contradiction. It is these very values that lead us to embrace the vision of two homelands, two states - Israel and Palestine - living side by side in peace and security, and to pursue genuine peace with all our neighbors. We have no desire to control the lives of Palestinians. Palestinian terrorists have targeted Israelis, and we must defend ourselves against them, but they have also brought tragedy to Palestinians. As recent events in Gaza have shown, while the terrorists may claim to be advancing Palestinian rights, they have succeeded only in undermining them. Israel has a vested interest, shared by moderates throughout the region, in the creation of a stable, prosperous and peaceful neighbor that is committed to advancing the Palestinian state, not opposing the Jewish one. As we demonstrated through the disengagement from Gaza, Israel is ready to take painful steps to advance this goal. But we need to know that our partners too are ready for historic compromise, and that our sacrifices will bring a secure and lasting peace. We too deserve a political horizon. THE PRINCIPLE of two homelands for two peoples is not new. And yet, its deeper meaning is not always appreciated. The establishment of Israel provided the answer to the historic national aspirations of the Jewish people, those living in the Holy Land and those outside it, those refugees fleeing the horrors of the Holocaust and those that left or were expelled from Arab and other lands. This must also be the true calling of the future State of Palestine - to be the solution to the national claims of the Palestinian people, those in the West Bank and Gaza and those in the Diaspora, those languishing in refugee camps and those who enjoy equal rights as citizens in other states. The establishment of Palestine must itself constitute the answer to the Palestinian claim of return - it cannot remain as an open wound that keeps the conflict alive. The principle that both states must live in peace and security is equally self-evident. The future State of Palestine must not be a terror state. Neither the parties, nor the region can afford it. For this reason, the international community has insisted that the path to Palestinian statehood goes through acceptance of the Quartet principles, including the renunciation of terror, and the implementation of road map obligations. Any future settlement will need to include agreed arrangements and guarantees to ensure that security is effectively maintained. These are not obstacles to peace, but foundational principles for it. ISRAELIS AND Palestinians will also need to reach agreement on a common boundary, that will include additional territorial withdrawal. There are those who believe that if only we could turn back the hands of time to 1967 all would be resolved. But, in 1967, there was no Palestinian state, there was no link between the West Bank and Gaza, and there was no security. An international boundary between Israel and a viable Palestinian state is a new creation that cannot be dictated but needs to be negotiated in accordance with Security Council Resolution 242. I believe that these basic principles express a common interest shared by all those who support Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. These principles are not pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. They are, simply, pro-peace. To advance this process, Israelis and Palestinians committed to the Quartet principles have the responsibility to engage each other, face to face, and together create the conditions for successful negotiations. In this context, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed that, alongside needed measures to improve the security and humanitarian situation, they will engage in frequent and substantive discussions on the nature of the future, viable Palestinian state that will be part of any prospective agreement. These talks could provide both sides with the political horizon they seek and offer a way out of the mistrust and insecurity that have characterized Israeli-Palestinian relations for far too long. While there is no substitute for direct Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, the supporting role of the international community will be essential. All those who support the cause of peace need to maintain an uncompromising stand against the extremists, tackle incitement and intolerance, while strengthening those truly committed to co-existence. Only in this way can we demonstrate that it is dialogue and mutual recognition not violence and rejection which produce results. THE ROLE of the Arab world in this context is critical. We have erred in the past by not sufficiently involving constructive regional actors in assisting the process of Israeli-Palestinian peace-making. The landmark Arab peace initiative presents just such an opportunity for positive regional engagement. If used correctly, it can serve not as a dictate that ties the hands of the negotiating parties, but as a vehicle for Arab states to provide support and legitimacy for the agreed compromises that both Israelis and Palestinians will need to make as part of any future agreement negotiated between them. The Arab and Muslim world can also act as a catalyst for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation by advancing parallel steps towards regional reconciliation and giving all peoples of the Middle East tangible indications of the benefits they will enjoy when the region is at peace. In this way, the principle of normalization can be transformed from a vague reward offered at the end of the conflict into a concrete process that helps bring it about. There are some encouraging signs that we are moving in this direction. The first historic meeting between Israel and representatives of the Arab League, held in Cairo last month, could signal the beginning of a process of working together to support the cause of peace, and creating the climate in which it can take root. We should have no illusions. The enemies of co-existence, headed by the likes of Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas will do all in their power to sabotage any prospect for peace. They are determined to transform conflicts that are political and resolvable into ones that are religious and irreconcilable. If they succeed, they promise a future of violence, hatred and despair for us all. We cannot close our eyes to the dangers they pose and we will not reach peace unless we work together to overcome them. It is not enough for the people of the Middle East to quietly hope that the dark designs of the extremists will not materialize. Yes, there is a peace alternative. It offers a brighter, more secure and more dignified future for us all. It offers an alternative reality for a region built on hope rather than fear. But the people of the Middle East, and their leaders, must have the wisdom and the courage to choose it. The writer is Vice Prime-Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel.