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Many people who love to see peace in the Middle East want Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate as soon as possible. They reject Olmert's unilateralism and some say that Israel should even talk with Hamas.
I also love to see peace in the Middle East, and I think this can only happen in the end through a negotiated settlement between both parties, mediated by several other countries that will need to use both the carrot and the stick to press Israelis and Palestinians alike to make painful concessions. However, failed negotiations and failed peace plans are worse than no negotiations and no new plans. Failed negotiations strengthen both parties in their belief that the other side doesn't want peace. They strengthen the hardliners and extremists on both sides, and weaken the moderates. This happened after the Oslo peace process and the Camp David negotiations failed. In fact, the Camp David negotiations failed at least partly because the Oslo peace process failed and positive results on both sides failed to materialize. The Palestinians did not experience a significant improvement in their daily lives, terrorist attacks in Israel increased and delayed further Israeli withdrawals repeatedly, and both sides did not abide by accepted agreements. Extremists on both sides were able to disturb the peace process repeatedly, and the respective governments didn't prevent them from doing so. On the contrary, Palestinian terrorism was used by Arafat as a means of putting pressure on Israel, and after Nethanyahu won the elections in 1996, he finished the job of killing what was left of the peace process.
At the final peace talks in Camp David, the Palestinians especially were not able or willing to make the necessary compromises on the right of return of the refugees. It remains doubtful however if Barak's proposal, that provided for a contiguous Palestinian state and division of Jerusalem, would have been accepted by a majority of the Israeli public if it had been put to a referendum.

The second intifada and the harsh Israeli counteractions have made peace more distant than anyone could imagine in the early years of the peace process, and virtually destroyed the Israeli peace movement. Everyone who is serious about peace between Israel and the Palestinians has to examine what exactly went wrong during the peace process and why it went wrong. Many books and articles have been written about it, mostly blaming one of the parties, or the USA. It would be much more helpful to understand what processes were at work that prevented both parties from keeping agreements and being more willing to compromise. Why did the extremists of both sides strengthen each other, instead of the moderates? And how could the moderates have been strengthened more?

It is also important that peace-minded outsiders, who often hold left-leaning convictions, are able to put aside their tendency to automatically blame the stronger ('white' and 'Western') party and side with the 'underdog'. People who sincerely seek peace, should face unpleasant facts from both sides.
They should not only call on Israel time and again to abide by international law and remove the settlements, but also on the Palestinians to accept the right to exist of a UN member state. This means abandoning the right of return of the refugees to Israel.

Despite all its negative features, the peace process made both sides more aware of the necessity to find a compromise. On the Israeli side, there is a slim majority now for territorial concessions; on the Palestinian side, there is on one hand the elected president Abbas, who wants a compromise and denounces terror, although it is unclear if he really wants a two-state solution, and on the other hand the Hamas government that sometimes talks openly about 'the liberation of all of historical Palestine' and on other occasions (or by other ministers) takes a more moderate approach, and recently even spoke about a two-state solution.

Yasser Arafat accepted the Oslo accords because he was in Tunis at that time, and needed an agreement to be able to return to the territories. Also, after the Palestinians supported Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War, he was in desperate need of some international recognition and 'rehabilitation'. Without these motives, it is doubtful if he had ever renounced terror or would have been willing to shake Rabin's hand.
It is very unlikely that Hamas will be as compromising as Arafat, and Arafat turned out to be not the man who made peace in the end. Therefore Hamas will not really compromise without strong pressure. But strong pressure alone, like the withholding of international aid the Palestinian Authority desperately needs to pay the salaries of its civil servants, is not enough to bring about more moderation. It might even backfire, as also moderates feel that 'the whole world is against us and punishes the Palestinians for our choice in the elections'. Hamas is still a terrorist organization with a charter that not only calls for Israel's destruction, but also for the killing of all the Jews and holds them responsible for the first and second world wars. How the international community can work around Hamas and prevent money fromcoming into their hands, while at the same time preventing a humanitarian disaster, is beyond me. It is a devilish dilemma.

The failure of the peace process teaches that pressure (on both sides) is not enough. The moderates have to be strengthened. Instead of pressing Israel to talk with an uncompromising leadership, as some especially left-leaning people propose, or just punishing that leadership by withholding all aid to the Palestinian Authority or even the UNRWA, as some right-wing people want, we should talk to moderates on both sides and bring them together. Before peace negotiations can be successful, the necessary compromises need to be accepted by a majority of the people on both sides. They have to learn about the legitimate grievances of the other side. In Israel, there are critical journalists and peace activists and 'new historians' who often blame Israel mainly for the conflict and the ongoing violence. They make the public aware of the fact that on the other side of the green line, there is a people that suffers from the military occupation and the harsh security measures and has a right to freedom and security like the Israelis have. But in the Palestinian territories, it is much more difficult to speak out against terrorism, to acknowledge the legitimate right of the Jews to self-determination and the Palestinian role in the conflict. The people who do so against all odds deserve our support. They are the real partners for peace.

Another lesson from the peace process is that agreements have to be kept. It sounds simple, but until today this often hasn't happened. The international community can play an important role in this, but only if their observers don't go home if they face problems in carrying out their job, as for example happened regarding the murderers of former Israeli minister Ze'evi, who were jailed in Jericho. By an agreement brokered in 2002, British and US observers had to ensure that the murderers wouldn't be released by the Palestinian Authority, and would not be able to organize terrorist attacks from jail. The observers were not able to carry out their job properly, and repeated complaints didn't help, so they left. About half an hour later Israeli military besieged the jail and forced the terrorists out. See also Ehud Fit the battle of Jericho Jail.

Enforcing agreements and strengthening moderates is more important than organizing the umpteenth international peace conference, where beautiful words will be spoken and politicians can imagine themselves to be important. Dealing with the unruly reality is more helpful than voicing high hopes for a final status solution.

Ratna Pelle

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