The Moral Majority for Peace

In our divided political systems, the "spoilers" of peace on both sides seem to have more power to destroy than the leaders have to negotiate.

Reaching a peace agreement by the end of the year seems almost impossible. The violence and the rage on the streets of both Israel and Palestine is once again in full gear. Israel killed more than 100 Palestinians in the last "operation" in Gaza—more than half of them civilians. Palestinian celebrations in Gaza after the murderous attack in Mercaz Harav and crowds of Israelis calling "death to the Arabs" once again demonstrates that we learned little. Jews and Arabs have been killing each other over this land for 100 years. The mutual calls for revenge continue to feed this horrific cycle of death and destruction. Many of our political leaders, on both sides, follow the mob response calling for more death, more blood, and more revenge. How many more families must bury their dear ones before we all wake up and realize that this must end? Fortunately, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded to the recent violence positively stating: "Despite all the circumstances we're living through and all the attacks we're experiencing, we insist on peace. There is no other path."

Israeli leaders have been less explicit. This is most unfortunate. Leaders on both sides should sound a voice of morality recognizing that the mutual violence will continue as long as there is no political agreement to the end of the conflict.

I find it beyond comprehension that people on both sides actually believe that the way to end the violence of the other side is to hit them with more force and more suffering. How can any rational person believe that if we kill more of "them" that they will simply surrender? Would we? If the Palestinians continue to kill us in a wholesale manner would we consider surrendering our rights? Would we lay down our arms and make concessions on our rights for liberty, freedom, statehood, and justice because we suffer losses?

Palestinians are no different than us on matters concerning their national dignity, dreams of statehood and demands for justice. If we were occupied and denied our freedom would we lay down our arms? Would we adopt strategies of nonviolence? I doubt it.

No, it is not easy to reach a negotiated end to this 100-year conflict. Both political systems are so weak, divided, and dysfunctional that it is almost impossible for the political leaders to find the courage necessary to give each other the minimum concessions needed to produce an agreement.

In our divided political systems, the "spoilers" of peace on both sides seem to have more power to destroy than the leaders have to negotiate. The public outcry for revenge is the food that energizes the spoilers. The leaders have almost no support. They must stand against the tide of cynicism and the real sense of despair that peace is not possible.

Reaching a peace agreement, however, is possible. An agreement cannot be reached in any kind of public forum. An agreement cannot be reached by negotiating each of the issues separately. The issue of Jerusalem cannot be detached from the issue of borders, refugees, security, or even economic relations. Each one of the issues is inter-connected and inter-dependent. The agreement will be a package deal with trade-offs on the various issues. The agreement will provide each side with at least the minimum of what is defined as their key national security and strategic interests. Both sides will need to feel that they got the most that was possible. Both sides will have to feel that they have achieved some sense of justice for their people. Both sides will have to sell the agreement to their public in some form of democratic process.

If I were in the Israeli leadership I would be conducting secret negotiations since July 2007. I would engage only my closest confidantes in those talks. I would know that if even an inkling of the concessions being considered were made known, the coalition would collapse, elections would take place, and under the current political mood, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu and the right wing would take over and lead us to more doom, death, and destruction.

I would understand that I need until the end of the year gifted to us by President George W. Bush and his Annapolis summit. I would use each and every one of those remaining days to produce the best agreement possible.

I would even agree to a one-year cease-fire with Hamas that would provide the quiet required to negotiate. The cease-fire would put an end to the rocket fire in the south. Yes, it would tie our hands in our ability to respond militarily to potential dangers and risks in Gaza and in the West Bank. It would require that we significantly increase our security and even intelligence cooperation with the security forces of Abbas (which is in our interest to do anyway).

It would require us to understand that Hamas will continue to smuggle weapons into Gaza and that we would have to increase our cooperation with Egypt in order to destroy these tunnels. It means that we would have to end our strangulation of Gaza for the coming year. The cease-fire cannot be kept in place if the people of Gaza continue to feel under siege and their private sector brought to total bankruptcy.

I would understand that once I have an agreement in hand, I would call for new elections in Israel. I would be convinced that the overwhelming majority of Israelis would support the agreement. I would know that because the silent majority of Israelis desire life and peace. I would hope that Abbas would also lead a democratic process in Palestine that even if limited to the West Bank would produce a moral majority that would be significant enough to demonstrate that the Palestinian people support peace also. I would understand that the implementation of the agreement would take place over a number of years and that a change in the political situation in Gaza would enable it to be implemented there as well.

I would understand that we need to work together to create conditions on the ground that would enable significant improvements in the daily lives of Palestinians. If security conditions did not allow for the removing of many checkpoints immediately, I would work with the Palestinians to transfer the civil and administration control over any area that would no longer be part of Israel, including most of what is known as area "c." There would be no need for Israel to continue to control planning and building in most of the West Bank. I would understand that I hold the keys that open many doors of hope for both the Palestinians and Israelis.

No, I could not do it alone, but fortunately, I would have a partner in President Abbas who continues to show his commitment and courage to lead his people to peace; and I would stand tall knowing that I too had the courage and the moral commitment to lead the people of Israel.

Gershon Baskin is the co-C.E.O. of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org). This article from the Jerusalem Post is distributed by the Common Ground News Service.