Peacemaking Demands Peacemakers

For the Palestinians, there is still no real leadership, no one who speaks for all of them, and no one who can get them the state they so desperately want. This must change.
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I recently wrote in these pages about the need for Israel to stop settlement construction in the West Bank, and for the Arab world to take real responsibility in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While immensely important, additional measures by all parties need to be undertaken as well. This third article of a four part series (see here and here) will highlight some of the other qualities that peace requires, primarily vision and courage.


In politics, as in business, leadership is crucial. Much of what has gone wrong in the pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace is due to a lack of strong leadership, primarily among the Palestinians. While there is still a lot Israel can do - especially current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - we shouldn't be under any illusions: there is still not an effective and strong Palestinian partner on the other side capable of delivering on a two-state solution.

Starting from the time of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, it is clear that what peace demands is vision and courage. My old friend Yitzhak Rabin broke many taboos when he signed the Oslo Accords and embarked on the path of peace. I was in attendance in the Rose Garden when Rabin shook Yasser Arafat's hand; it was the epitome of courage in the pursuit of a peaceful vision. Like Sadat, Rabin paid the ultimate price at the hands of a religious fundamentalist.

More recently, Ariel Sharon took the unprecedented step of unilaterally removing the settlements from the Gaza Strip. Before 2005, not many people believed it likely that Sharon of all people would take such a step. However, he was convinced by his closest associates that if Israel retained control of the territories, then eventually Arabs would outnumber Jews between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. This would effectively spell the end of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

We will never know how a healthy Sharon would have carried on the withdrawals from the rest of the occupied territories. What happened in Gaza after Israel's disengagement made such a move impossible. After all, the moderate Fatah party of Mahmoud Abbas lost the 2006 parliamentary elections to the rejectionist Hamas. Hamas followed this up by violently seizing control of Gaza itself. The rest we all know: over 3,000 rockets raining down on Israeli civilians, military retaliation on the part of Israel, and even more bloodshed.

But this shouldn't have surprised us. For years Yasser Arafat ran the Palestinian Authority as a corrupt personal fiefdom. The mismanagement of the Palestinians' affairs under Fatah explains a lot about Hamas' increased popularity and strength. The only remedy is better leadership and reformed governance on the part of moderate Palestinian leaders.

Despite recent security, political and economic improvements in the West Bank, there is still much work to be done on the part of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. A written plan for statehood is one thing; changing the endemic culture of corruption and division inside the Palestinian Authority quite another, and will take time.

In addition, in the occupied territories Abbas only controls half of the Palestinians; the other half is controlled by Hamas, a terrorist group that has yet to even recognize Israel's right to exist. But even in the West Bank, governed by Abbas, there are plans apparently in place to name streets after terrorists and murderers. Even worse, the recent Fatah Congress in Bethlehem inexplicably perpetuated the foolish notion of "armed struggle," with one news report describing a large poster of a child with a gun being displayed prominently at the conference.

Taken together, is it any surprise that negotiations with Israel have not been able to move forward? For the Palestinians, there is still no real leadership, no one who speaks for all of them, and no one who can get them the state they so desperately want. This must change.

The Arab world, specifically the oil-rich Gulf states, and the international community under the coordination of Tony Blair, need to help Abbas develop better systems of governance. Serious amounts of money - already pledged but still not delivered - need to be infused for economic development projects and jobs in the West Bank in order to bolster Abbas' legitimacy. US envoy George Mitchell needs to continue emphasizing the central roles that an end to corruption and reformed leadership must play in any realistic peace process. And, for their part, Palestinian leaders need to speak out consistently and courageously for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has accepted a two-state solution to the conflict, with conditions. While not perfect, this has to be viewed as a courageous step on his part. More will hopefully be forthcoming.

Palestinian leaders need to reciprocate and lay out their own vision for peace. Raising points of contention over final status issues, like Jerusalem, even before they have shown the slightest ability to manage their own affairs and credibly implement agreements, needs to be remedied going forward.

Based on the Gaza precedent, Israel should not simply be expected to withdraw from territory and let it devolve into a state of anarchy. The West Bank is simply too close to Israel's major population centers and infrastructure to allow it to become another launching pad for rockets. A credible Palestinian government needs to be in control, guaranteeing that a future Palestinian state not be taken over by terrorists. An essential precondition to any of this is courageous and visionary leadership.

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