The road to peace in the Middle East

Posted: Jun 18, 2002 12:00 AM
Palestinians are entitled to self-determination. Everyone, from President George W. Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, acknowledges this fact. The real issue is whether the Palestinians -- and the Arab world in general -- are prepared finally to acknowledge Israel's right to exist. Until they are, there is no basis for peace in the Middle East, there will be no Palestinian state and no peace. Israel's struggle for survival began in 1948, when the Arab world rejected the rest of the world's recognition of Israel and five Arab nations attacked it. During the 50 years of war since then, only two Arab nations, Egypt and Jordan, have recognized Israel's right to exist. Even 52 percent of Palestinians, whose leaders claim to want to live in peace in a state next door to Israel, revealed in a survey released last week by the Palestinian Jerusalem Media and Communication Center that they believe the goal of the current Intifada is "the liberation of historic Palestine," i.e., the destruction of the State of Israel. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah are leading this fight to destroy Israel. The considerable support they receive from the Palestinian population -- up to 40 percent, according to recent surveys -- goes to the heart of the problem in creating a Palestinian state. Until a Palestinian leadership emerges that has the legitimacy of its people and is both able and willing to subdue the jihadists who seek to destroy Israel, a Palestinian state will not be viable, and certainly its creation will not lead to peace. Led by Saudi Arabia, Arab nations now are holding forth recognition as an outcome of negotiations on Israel's borders. This has the world upside down. The right of Israel to exist is not in question and should not be a bargaining chip in territorial negotiations. Since the Arab world started the war with Israel in order to annihilate it, the war can only be ended after the Arab world concedes Israel's right to exist. Israel's right to exist is a precondition of peace, not a negotiable means of achieving peace. As Abba Eban so eloquently said, "Nobody does any service by proclaiming Israel's right to exist. There is certainly no other state, big or small, young or old, that would consider mere recognition of its 'right to exist' a favor or a negotiable concession." What is negotiable is how closely Israel's permanent new borders will proximate its original borders before the Arab world invaded it. Since 1967, Palestinians and their irredentist Arab compatriots have attempted to settle the border dispute by war. They have persisted along the course laid out by former Egyptian Prime Minister Gamel Abdel Nasser -- "We have to go along a road covered with blood" -- even after Egypt recognized it as a failed strategy and made peace with Israel. It is now time for the Palestinian people to abandon Nasser's "bloody road" and proceed down the alternative path of nonviolence paved by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. I know in my heart there is a future Palestinian leader somewhere who is prepared to stand up and say what King said in 1964: "Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time, the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence." Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah can help bring about a change in Palestinian public option and set the stage for the emergence of a Palestinian Mandela by speaking the language of peace to their own Arab people. For starters, they should rein in the demons in their own state-controlled media and religious institutions that routinely incite violence against Jews. For example, Mubarak denounce Egypt's new Mufti, Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, who endorsed terrorism in April when he said, "The solution to the Israeli terror lies in a proliferation of Fidai (martyrdom) attacks that strike horror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah." As long as public discourse in the Arab world continues to demonize Jews, the state of Israel will be viewed as illegitimate in the eyes of the people, not because of anything it does but merely because of what it is -- Jewish. Mubarak and Abdullah could take a giant step toward peace by convincing the Arab League to recognize Israel now. The 18th century British parliamentarian and philosopher Edmund Burke said, "I venture to say no war can be long carried on against the will of the people." I venture to say the will of the people for war cannot long persist if leaders truly desire peace. The road to peace in the Middle East -- the road of love and reconciliation described by King, not the "bloody road" mapped out by Nasser -- runs directly through Riyadh and Cairo.