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Jewish Journal

There’s No Alternative to Pursuing Peace

by M.J. Rosenberg

August 28, 2003 | 8:00 pm

The bus bombing in Jerusalem demonstrates, as nothing else could, that there is no alternative to implementing President Bush's "road map" in all its parts. That means that the Palestinian Authority has to live up to its commitment to shut down the terror groups once and for all, while the Israeli government has to implement a full and complete settlements freeze and allow Palestinians freedom of movement within their own areas.

Of course, following the act of mass murder on Aug. 20, it is hard to imagine that we can just go back to where we were a short time ago. And, in a critical sense, we shouldn't.

The process that began at the Aqaba summit has simply not worked. Yes, there was relative calm in Israel. For the first time in almost three years, Israelis felt secure enough to dine in sidewalk cafes, enjoy vacations throughout the country and watch the shekel and commodities traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange soar in value.

Palestinians saw some of the hated checkpoints dismantled, which meant somewhat increased ability to move freely in Gaza and Bethlehem. They also welcomed home some of the prisoners released by Israel.

But something fundamental was lacking: goodwill. As has often been said, peace is not merely the absence of war (although the absence of war is a good start). Peace entails the determination to break with the past and begin the process of reconciliation.

The Aqaba peace process was sorely lacking in that determination. Start with the United States, which remains essential in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. Without Bush, there would have been no Aqaba process at all. The road map is his road map. It is, in fact, nothing more or less than a codified version of his June 24, 2002, speech.

Without Bush's efforts, there is virtually no chance that Mahmoud Abbas would have become the Palestinian prime minister or that significant steps would have been taken to push Yasser Arafat aside and begin creating a semblance of Palestinian democracy.

But the United States has not done nearly enough to ensure that Israelis or Palestinians live up to the commitments they made at Aqaba. On one day it appeared that the United States would accept nothing less than Abbas' dismantling of the terror groups; the next, signals were sent that perhaps dismantling was an unrealistic goal and that it was OK if Abbas simply used the powers of persuasion to make the killers stop.

The same on-and-off approach was applied to the Israelis. One day, the United States was insisting that Israel dismantle the hilltop outposts; the next day, we were closing our eyes as new outposts were put up and settlements were expanded.

The same applied to the security wall. First, the United States made clear that we would not permit the wall to heavily encroach on Palestinian areas well beyond the green line; then we just looked away.

Not surprisingly, Israelis and Palestinians took advantage of the United States' vacillation to drag their feet about living up to their respective commitments. If the Palestinians did little or nothing -- as the Israelis claim -- to confront the terror groups, Israel did little or nothing -- as the Palestinians claim -- to take down the outposts, stop settlement expansion and eliminate the checkpoints that separate one Palestinian village or town from another.

Neither side demonstrated enough interest in satisfying the other's basic needs: Israel's need for security from terror and the Palestinian need to achieve freedom of movement. No, each side was playing solely to the U.S. audience. So long as Washington was appeased, Israelis and Palestinians kept doing what they were doing. Feeling little if any pressure, they simply bought time.

And time is what ran out Aug. 20.

Some people are already saying that the road map is dead and that it's time to understand that peace is unattainable. They are wrong.

They are wrong, because the alternative to peace is an Israel that comes to accept living in constant fear, with a no-growth, no-tourist economy and a no-hope future. They are wrong, because for Palestinians the alternative to peace requires acceptance of a situation in which a 30-minute trip to the doctor's office takes four hours, because of Israeli checkpoints, and where living conditions are as dire as in sub-Saharan Africa. Neither side will accept that.

But each side must understand that that is their fate if they allow a return to the status quo of 33 months ago.

The process must continue, but it is unrealistic to expect the Bush administration to do it alone, even if it had the inclination to do so. The two peoples have to decide that they want to achieve some form of reconciliation.

Maybe the word peace is too grand. And, after all, it wasn't peace that was achieved during the past month -- before Aug. 19 -- but it was a start. It was a start that saved lives and created hope. It was something -- just not enough.

Achieving more will require the Bush administration to continue doing what it started to do at Aqaba but to do it with considerably more vigor and consistency. But, even more, it requires the two sides to look into the abyss and understand that the name of the game is not pleasing the United States -- it is rescuing their own futures.

Don't do it for Bush. Do it so that your own kids -- like those innocent children who died on that bus -- can be free of those terrible nightmares that, all too often, do not disappear in the morning light.

M. J. Rosenberg, policy analysis director for the Israel Policy Forum, is a longtime congressional staffer and former editor of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's Near East Report.

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