Israel’s latest onslaught can only retard the peace process yet again

Monday, April 23, 2007

Editorial

Two deadly Israeli raids in the West Bank over the weekend have rattled a shaky truce and dealt a heavy blow to Arab efforts to revive the stagnant peace process. After the separate raids in Nablus and Ramallah – which killed nine Palestinians, including a teenage girl – we find ourselves once again on the brink of that all-too familiar abyss of tit-for-tat violence. Already, a Hamas spokesman has called for retaliatory attacks and Premier Ismail Haniyya has urged the Arab League to halt any political initiatives that would lead to “normalization with the Israeli occupation.” Even the “moderate” Fatah party has publicly called on Arab heads of state, as well as its own leadership, to consider breaking off diplomatic contacts with Israel. In other words, Israel’s latest military actions have ensured that the Arab-led peace process is already stalling, long before it has had a chance to gain much momentum.

An Israeli government spokesman defended the Jewish state’s actions on Sunday, asserting that Israel “reaches out for peace, while at the same time we will always consistently fight against terror.” It is difficult to find words to adequately describe the absurdity of such a statement. After all, the Israelis themselves found it reprehensible when former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat warned during a speech to the United Nations that he came “bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun.” Such a duplicitous message, they argued then, was hardly a convincing peace overture.

The truth is that the Israeli leadership has not made a significant effort to “reach out for peace.” On the contrary, they have reacted coolly to the Arab initiative, which is arguably a historic opportunity to secure a better future for the people of this region. They have dismissed the plan out of hand, calling on Arab leaders to show “more flexibility.” And while steadfastly rejecting the Arab initiative, the Israelis have not been offering up any peace proposals of their own. Where is the “reaching out for peace” in this scenario?

Far from extending an olive branch, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday flatly rejected Syria’s recent overtures toward the Jewish state, saying that the Syrian president’s “vague declarations” were not enough to restart negotiations. Tellingly, Olmert added that “the Americans continue to think that Syria is part of the axis of evil,” as if the Jewish state has been given a license by the US administration to maintain its rejectionist posture.

Instead of reaching out for peace, the Israelis are relying on military operations to provide them with a (false) sense of security. But arguably, the truce between Israel and Hamas, which has largely been upheld since last November, has saved more Palestinian and Israeli lives than any military operation could ever hope to achieve. Ideally, the Israeli government would have opted to build upon this truce by welcoming the Arab peace initiative, instead of engaging in risky military adventures at this juncture. Instead, the Jewish state has resorted to the gun, and has thus sabotaged any immediate hope for peace.

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