Tuesday, February 15, 2011
In an article in this past Sunday Times Magazine, Bernard Avishai (left) writes about how close former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas came to realizing the two-state solution, the only viable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their talks were overtaken by Olmert's resignation on corruption charges, the election of Netanyahu and the Gaza war; Avishai, however, sees them as a template for the present. The two former negotiators warn that the opportunity must not be lost:
...the Israeli-Palestinian talks in 2007 and 2008 provide an invaluable template for a new, Obama-led push for peace. As unlikely as it might sound, now is the time. Obama’s hand in Israel has been strengthened by events in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. At the same time, the U.S. is paying a growing price for the current impasse between Israel and Palestine and the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands, for which Americans receive much of the blame...
...The issues that were supposed to be intractable — demilitarization of the Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees — proved susceptible to creative thinking. Even on borders, Olmert and Abbas were able to agree on fundamentals: a desire to disrupt as few lives as possible and to maximize the contiguity (and therefore the economic possibility) of Palestinian cities. “We didn’t waste a minute during our months of negotiation,” Abbas said.
...[Abbas] told me he expects America to act to bring about a plan by this fall. That is what the Obama administration once promised, that it would work to secure a deal on a Palestinian state by September 2011. “If nothing happens, I will take a very, very painful decision,” Abbas said. “Don’t ask me about it.” He grew wistful. “We have to live with each other. We have to talk with each other. We have to know each other. Many have criticized me since the 1970s, but until now I am committed to peace. But not forever. I don’t mean I will return back to violence — never! In my life, I will never do it. But I cannot stay in my office forever doing nothing.”
...“There is a danger that the events in Egypt will mislead some to lose hope in peace,” Olmert told me pointedly in an e-mail. “I think the opposite, that there can be another way to challenge the events near us. This is the time to move forward, fast, take my peace initiative with the Palestinians and make a deal. This will be my advice to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Don’t wait. Move, lead and make history. This is the time. There will not be a better one.”