Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Why the Gaza war is the only path to true peace

Why the Gaza war is the only path to true peace

Many years ago Golda Meir made the now-famous statement that peace would come to the Middle East when the Arabs love their children more than they hate Israel. Recent years have led me to rephrase this as follows: True peace will come to the Middle East when the Arabs can gain more from a negotiated peace than they can through terror.

Like many Israeli citizens, I have been truly concerned over the past few years that peace would never come to the region. In the past few days, however, I have come to believe that we are finally on a path that can lead to true peace.

To understand what I mean, and to truly understand the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, we need to look at two recent events that changed the entire landscape of the conflict: The negotiations between Prime Minister Barak and Yaser Arafat ten years ago and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza three years ago.

Prime Minister Barak changed the entire dialog in Israel from the question of whether to give the Palestinians land for peace to the question of how much land to give and under what conditions. His famous offer of 98% of the West Bank and Gaza to create a Palestinian state made clear Israel's willingness to offer land for peace. Similarly, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza changed the dialog in Israel from whether to withdraw from Israeli settlement towns to when and how to do so. It demonstrated without question that Israel was willing to do so and in fact has now done so.

At the same time, however, Prime Minister Barak's negotiations with Yasser Arafat showed the futility in negotiations in which the Palestinians believe that they can get more through terror. With an offer on the table of 98% of the West Bank and Gaza, including all areas primarily occupied by Palestinian villages, the Palestinians chose a second intifada over accepting the offer. Even more so, when the Palestinains were given full control of the Gaza strip three years ago, with promises to withdraw subsequently from the West Bank, they chose not to build a functioning and peaceful society, but rather to fire thousands of rockets at Israeli towns.

These events bring me to the simple conclusion that the Palestinians believe that terror can bring them more than negotiation. The only way to stop this impasse is for Palestinian terror to have such a high price tag that they will choose peace through negotiation.

For three years the Palestinians have been shooting rockets at Israeli towns such as Sderot. Israel has never responded, hoping against hope that world opinion would influence the Palestinians abandon terror and choose peace. But this has not happened, because there was no price tag associated with terror. Why compromise when terror might bring more, with no cost?

Now, however, Israel has attached a price tag to terror. If the Palestinians choose terror, they will pay the price instead of Israeli towns paying the price. This price tag, and only this price tag, brings the hope of a situation in which the Palestinians will choose negotiation over terror.

My hope is that when a cease fire is reached, Israel will make clear that any rockets fired at Israeli towns will bring a continuation of this response. There must be no options other than peace negotiation. Another hope is that the result will be a true two-sided compromise, not a negotiation under which Israel is presumed to give whatever the Palestinians want.

Israel has demonstrated its willingness to compromise and offer land for peace, and to withdraw from land and give it to the Palestinians. Israelis dream of a day that the Palestinians will respond by building a peaceful and productive country of their own. To realize this, terror must be given a high enough price so as not to be an option.

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