The Long and Divided Path to Peace
By Sarah Ann Haves
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Jerusalem, Israel
"A house divided against itself cannot long stand." Those biblical words found in Luke 11:17 and Mathew 12:25 were repeated by U.S. Senator Sam Brownback at the Fifth Annual Jerusalem Conference in Israel on February 19 and 20, 2008. "Jerusalem is, and is to be, the capital of Israel now and forever, and I don't see any advantage in giving it away," he further stated.
Brownback was referring to the reportedly secret negotiations that recently took place between Israel and the Palestinians over the status of Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has already been accused of planning to concede at least five Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem to the Palestinians.
During the past two weeks Israel has experienced two earthquake tremors averaging as high as 5.3 on the Richter scale. Since the Annapolis conference of November 2007, and the start of officially renewed peace negotiations with the Palestinians, there have been continual earth tremors in the land. It is not only indicative of a larger quake on the horizon, but symbolic of increased political turmoil surfacing in the nation.
Brownback's position about the current peace process was stated firmly by the senator during his speech: "We have reached a crossroads in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and what is clear to me and many others is that the current path that we are on, and have been on for some period of time, is not working, and has not worked, and is not going to work in the future."
A growing grass roots political opposition is taking place in Israel by those who believe that Olmert and his Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni have gone too far in trying to establish a Palestinian state by the end of this year. Many Israelis are especially worried about Jerusalem, a hot issue for Jews around the world. While Olmert continues to assure the public that the status of Jerusalem will not be discussed until the end of peace negotiations with the Palestinians, there is still growing public dissatisfaction with Olmert's policies. Likud party leader and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, along with other opposition leaders, has challenged the Shas party, one of Olmert's largest coalition partners, to immediately leave the coalition. If Shas leaves it will bring down the government and there will be a call for new elections.
For months now, Olmert and Livni have insisted that a peace deal must be reached before U.S. President George Bush leaves office. Negotiations have continued despite repeated attempts by Hamas and other terror groups to derail the process through a missile war on Israel's southern border.
During her speech at the conference, Livni repeatedly said that time is running out, and Israel must take this current opportunity to negotiate a peace deal. "As time passes this doesn't improve our situation," Livni stated. She has been willing to put the Road Map phases aside to try and reach an agreement now with the Palestinians. According to Livni, "If there is a chance to do this, we have to do this today.... A process must continue and it must promote the idea of two states."
During the Jerusalem Conference, I asked former Knesset member, Uzi Landau his thoughts about Livni's statements. "You deal here with a foreign minister, Mrs. Livni, who was the one to draft the 14 conditions that were attached to the original Road Map. She said that without totally following them, Israel is not a signatory of the Road Map. Yet, not only has she totally forgotten about these things, but doesn't stick to the Road Map, itself, and the only losing party is Israel....She is now leading the country into yet a further step of concessions. Hopefully, nothing will come out of it, but damage is already being done."
One of the initial stages of the Road Map calls on the Palestinians to stop the violence and disarm terrorists. Not only has that not occurred, but the Olmert government has been negotiating with the Palestinians under fire, something previous Israeli governments refused to do. Furthermore, the rush towards a final peace agreement is reminiscent of Israel's rush towards the Oslo Accords, which has now been considered a failure by most Israelis, who saw the process lead to a second Palestinian intifada beginning in the year 2000.
Analysts say that Israel is again showing weakness, not only on the diplomatic track, but at the military level, as well. There's a growing sense of frustration because Olmert has refused to fully strike back at terrorists in Gaza who continue to launch rockets against Israel. This supposed sign of restraint on the part of Olmert's government has caused daily pain and trauma to the general population in Sderot, and threatened other southern towns such as Ashkelon and Ashdod.
In the last few days, however, a shifting in strategies seems to be taking place. Olmert is now saying that all he can hope for in the peace process is a signing of a "Declaration of Principles" with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by the end of this year. Olmert may now realize that in order to sustain a stable government he cannot reach a final status agreement any time soon.
There have also been recent calls by Olmert's Kadima party for a "national unity government." This comes while preparations are being finalized for a major military offensive against Hamas in Gaza.
If there is a diversion from diplomacy to a full scale war in Gaza, it would, most likely, cause an immediate breakdown in talks between Olmert and Abbas. It could also lead to the Palestinians repairing their relationship with Hamas. That potential future alliance would be detrimental to Israel.
Yet, while Livni talks about time running short on the diplomatic track, Olmert is giving more and more consideration to the plans of his Defense Minister, Ehud Barak. Barak is preparing IDF ground forces to demolish the terror infrastructure in Gaza, eliminate militant Hamas leaders, and re-occupy the Philadelphi Corridor, an area where there's been a steady flow from Egypt to Gaza of weapons, money, and terrorists.
Whatever measures the current Israeli government takes to assure the safety of its citizens and the security of the State, it needs a unified nation to be behind its current policies.
In a private Knesset meeting on February 19, Benjamin Netanyahu stated, "If you want the peace of Jerusalem, keep the peace united under Israel." He reiterated what Senator Brownback said earlier in the day: Jerusalem must remain in Israel's hands. A growing consensus of the Jewish people, both in Israel and throughout the Diaspora agree.
It is unity of purpose and vision that will bring the kind of strength Israel needs to deal with the critical challenges that lie ahead.
"The Lord bless you out of Zion. And, may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. Yes, may you see your children's children. Peace be upon Israel!" Psalm 128:5-6
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting from Israel on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues affecting the nation.
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.