Recent developments — particularly the recent Summit in Sharm el-Sheik at which Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the newly elected leader of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas declared a cessation of violence — are cause for cautious optimism as Israel continues its longstanding search for security and peace with its neighbors. The death of PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who, despite having signed in the 1990’s a number of agreements associated with the Oslo process continued to support and engage in terrorism against Israelis, has provided an opportunity for the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership. Abbas has made positive statements and taken positive steps toward ending the violence and seeking to resolve differences through negotiations with Israel. It is now vital that his words be matched with swift and effective actions. Abbas will be challenged to ensure that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade fully respect the cessation of violence understanding reached at Sharm el-Sheik.
As part of the first phase of the Quartet’s Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (the Roadmap), which the Government of Israel has endorsed, the Palestinians are obligated to “undertake visible efforts on the ground to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere.” A rebuilt and refocused Palestinian security apparatus must begin “sustained, targeted and effective operations aimed at confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure.” In recent months, Egypt has demonstrated a commitment to improving its bilateral relationship with Israel and to assisting the new Palestinian leadership in meeting its security responsibilities, particularly in the Gaza Strip.
While it is hoped that the Palestinian Authority acts decisively against terror, Israel retains the right to take the actions necessary to defend its citizens against violence, including the building of the security fence that already has resulted in a substantial reduction in the number of successful terror attacks. At the same time, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and members of his unity government — with the backing of the Knesset and, according to opinion polls, a large majority of citizens — have dedicated themselves to implementation of the disengagement initiative that will result in the removal of Israeli military forces and civilians from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank in 2005. Prime Minister Sharon has expressed his readiness to coordinate disengagement with Abbas and the new Palestinian leadership if they demonstrate a commitment to seriously address the challenge of terrorism. For Israelis living in parts of the West Bank and Gaza, disengagement will require great personal sacrifice as they leave their homes and their dreams behind. Opposition to the disengagement initiative in Israel has ranged from voting against it in the government and the Knesset, to calls for civil disobedience and, in some quarters, even urging soldiers in the IDF to refuse evacuation orders.
As President Bush enters his second term, the administration is expected to intensify its involvement in the search for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The President has continued to stress the need for Palestinians to root out the terrorist infrastructure and to start making substantial progress toward political and economic reform. The President and his senior foreign policy representatives also have urged Israel to undertake measures that will strengthen the ability of the new Palestinian leadership to move in these directions.
The JCPA believes that:
New circumstances, especially the passing of Yasser Arafat, offer an opportunity to advance the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
The fundamental challenge facing Mahmoud Abbas and his government is to eliminate the capability of Palestinian terrorist groups to continue their attacks against Israel, to undertake political, educational and economic reform, and to prepare the Palestinian people to accept Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish State. To that end, anti-Israel incitement in the Palestinian media and educational system must end, as stipulated in the Roadmap.
Egypt, other Arab countries, and the international community all have important roles to play in helping the new Palestinian leadership fight terror and undertake the measures referred to above that will enhance prospects for peace. The U.S., the Arab countries and the international community should be encouraged to increase economic and social programs that alleviate the difficult socio-economic conditions facing the Palestinian people. Accordingly, we support the Bush Administration’s $350 million Palestinian aid package and urge Congress to fund it in its entirety. Such efforts must be closely monitored to assure that assistance reaches the people in need. Israel, consistent with the obligation to provide security to its own citizens, also should contribute to the peacemaking environment by taking all possible measures to alleviate hardships experienced by the Palestinians.
Reflecting the Israeli people’s strong commitment to peace, Prime Minister Sharon has demonstrated courageous leadership in moving ahead with the disengagement plan. Thoughtful Israelis are to be found on both sides of this issue and we applaud those who express their views with civility and comity, eschew violence, and avoid de-legitimizing the country’s democratic processes or demonizing those with whom they disagree. It is crucial for Israeli leaders to acknowledge the painful personal sacrifices that disengagement will bring to some Israeli citizens and to refrain from denigrating those who disagree with government policies and avoid challenging their right to legal protest. It would be tragic if disagreements over disengagement result in confrontations among Israelis.
The United States should play an active role in helping the parties create conditions that can lead to productive negotiations within the framework of the Roadmap. Dr. Condoleezza Rice already has demonstrated the U.S. commitment to this issue by visiting Israel and Palestinian territories on her first visit abroad as Secretary of State and in naming Lt. General William Ward to serve as the American coordinator working with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
The community relations field is encouraged to:
Convey the aforementioned positions and messages to members of the Jewish community, to decision-makers and opinion molders in the general community, to the administration and Congress, as well as to leaders in Israel, the Arab world and the international community.