#10: What Israel Has Done for Peace
(September 2, 2002)
Peace can be achieved in the Middle East. Every time an Arab leader has reached out his hand and offered peace, Israel has willingly shook it. When Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Jordan's King Hussein recognized Israel's right to exist, they were met by equally courageous Israeli leaders who agreed to peace treaties that benefitted the peoples of Egypt, Jordan, and Israel.
In the interest of peace, Israel took a risk that Yasser Arafat, who for decades had led a terror campaign against Israeli civilians, had chosen the path of peace. Israel signed a series of peace agreements aimed at creating a Palestinian state beside Israel, only to discover that Arafat remains committed to a Palestinian state replacing Israel.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered unprecedented concessions that most Israelis thought were dangerous at summits with Arafat and President Clinton. Barak agreed to the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state in 97% of the West Bank with east Jerusalem as its capital, and to dismantle isolated settlements. According to U.S. peace negotiator Dennis Ross, Arafat rejected "every single one of the ideas" for compromise.
Israel agreed to withdraw from parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and arm a Palestinian police force and did so even though Arafat did not fulfill his promises to recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce terrorism, negotiate disputes, and confiscate illegal weapons.
Israel captured the West Bank defending itself after being attacked by Jordan. Still, Israel offered to trade most of this land for peace. It took 25 years before the Palestinians said they would accept this deal, but after Israel withdrew from almost all the Gaza Strip and nearly half the West Bank, the Palestinians have not given Israelis any peace, only terror.
The Palestinian people have alternatives to violence. They could choose the non-violent path of Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. Better yet, they could choose negotiations with an Israeli leadership anxious to end the conflict and produce a mutually agreed settlement that will bring peace and security to Israelis and independence to the Palestinians.
When Egypt's Sadat demonstrated by word and deed that he would keep his promise of peace, Israel withdrew from the strategically important Sinai desert, gave up its oil fields, and dismantled Jewish settlements.
Israel is willing to accept the creation of a Palestinian state on its doorstep despite the danger that this may serve as forward base for Arab states, such as Iraq, or as a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism and terror.
The founders of Israel sought peace with their neighbors decades before the state was established. Recognizing all along the need to coexist with the Arabs, these visionaries suggested compromises to allow the tiny Jewish state to live in peace and security in the vast Arab nation, but their overtures were rejected.
The United Nations recognized the only fair way to resolve the conflicting claims of Jews and Arabs was to divide Palestine. The Jews were asked to give up most of the territory they had lived in for centuries, and where they had been independent for more than 400 years. They were asked to accept the internationalization of their historic capital of Jerusalem. In the interest of peace, they accepted the UN partition. The Arabs rejected it. Had they not, a Palestinian state would now be 54 years old.
The day after Israel declared independence, it was invaded by five Arab states. Israel prevailed in the war and expected to sign treaties that would allow all the nations to live in peace from that point on; however, it took more than 30 years before any Arab state recognized Israel's right to exist.
Israel welcomed the initiative of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, even though it contained many demands that would be threats to Israel's security. Prime Minister Sharon expressed a desire to negotiate directly with the Saudis and other Arab states, but they insist instead on the unacceptable terms being imposed on Israel.