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Nadav Tamir

A legacy of peacemaking

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nadav Tamir
November 8, 2007

ON SUNDAY, the State of Israel celebrated the life and work of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated 12 years ago. In the context of the new opportunities emerging in the Middle East, Rabin's legacy will get one more chance to shine in the upcoming peace conference in Annapolis, Md.

Rabin created the foundations for the two-state solution - Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace and security - as the only means to end the conflict and the only future for the vision of Israel as a Jewish democracy. Within Israel, an overwhelming majority of the population supports this initiative. So does the goverment of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Olmert views the current Palestinian government under Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad as the best partner Israel has ever had for the creation of a political horizon that would foster peace between Palestinians and Israelis. In the Israeli leadership's estimation, Abbas and Fayyad understand that the Palestinian people will not achieve their deserved right to statehood through indiscriminate violence and terror, but rather through negotiations. They understand that the one-state solution is rhetoric used by extremists on both sides who seek to dominate the other and do not accept the right to self-determination.

New prospects to make Rabin's vision a reality stem from a growing realization in the Arab world that Israel is here to stay. This is manifested in the "Arab initiative," whose sponsor nations declare a willingness to embrace an agreement that will be reached by Israel and the Palestinians.

Among moderate Arabs, there are new shared objectives with Israel and a sense of urgency to keep the extremism espoused by Iran and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah from threatening the stability and the future of the Middle East.

Naturally, there is a lot of skepticism within the Middle East stemming from years of failed attempts at peacemaking. There is also serious concern about Abbas's ability to implement an agreement, as he maintains control of the West Bank but not of the Gaza Strip. In Israel, there is a deep anxiety that high expectations and lack of sufficient preparation to address the most sensitive issues will lead to another tragedy like we faced after Camp David in 2000, when the collapse of peace talks led to egregious violence.

However, the status quo is neither attractive nor sustainable, and we must not allow these obstacles to hinder us from cultivating peace.

We have to make progress while managing expectations. The Annapolis conference can be a new energizing beginning toward peace, even if it can't be the happy ending to the conflict.

The moderate Arab countries can help by participating in the meeting and by giving Abbas the legitimacy to take the necessary measures. Their participation also indicates to Israelis that there is an acceptance of Israel and an eagerness to normalize relations. Such assurances will help Israelis support tough decisions made by their government.

As usual, in the Middle East there are those who would go to any length to destroy this peace initiative. Iran and its proxies are concerned that positive developments would prevent them from exporting the Islamic revolution throughout the region.

This is no longer an issue of being pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, but rather a confrontation between those who support peace and those who prefer chaos and bloodshed.

At Rabin's funeral, former president Bill Clinton said that "legend has it that in every generation of Jews from time immemorial, a just leader emerged to protect his people and show them the way to safety. Prime Minister Rabin was such a leader." It is important that we all help Olmert and Abbas to be such leaders, too, by supporting their courageous resolve to embark on the path Rabin had set out.

The words of the song sung by Rabin just a few minutes before he was shot in a peace rally in Tel Aviv echo strongly today: "Let your eyes look up with hope, not through a rifle sight. Sing a song, a song for love, not for another fight. Don't tell me 'the day will come'; work for it without cease. Inside every city square let out a cheer for peace!"

We have to make an effort to clear the entrenched cynicism in the region, so that people in the Middle East will be able to sing this song once again and "give peace a chance" without sounding trite.

Nadav Tamir is the Israeli consul general in Boston.

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