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From the Mideast moderates, a bold plan for peace

IN ISRAEL, with the Geneva initiative in hand, we are waging a major campaign for a radically different tomorrow, one in which Israel's right to exist peacefully as a Jewish and democratic state will be secured. In the near future all citizens will receive in their mailboxes the draft of a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Just days after release of some of the most salient details, a poll taken by the Israeli daily Ma'ariv found that nearly half of the respondents already supported the initiative.

The Geneva initiative is the culmination of negotiations between Palestinian moderates and moderate Israeli political leaders and security experts. It is a detailed accord that meets Palestinian needs for a just and viable state alongside Israel and Israeli needs for security and the promise of peaceful relations with its Arab neighbors.

Contrary to the claims of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, this plan entails neither surrender nor betrayal of Israel. Instead it offers the potential to realize the principles on which Israel was founded -- the creation of a democratic Jewish state.

For the past three years, the prime minister has contended that there is no one to negotiate with and nothing to negotiate about. In no uncertain terms, we have proven them wrong. The Geneva initiative is a historic turning point because it lays out for all to see what each side is willing both to gain and to concede in return for true peace and security.

Together with Palestinian leaders who enjoy the confidence of both the Palestinian Authority and the activist leadership of Palestinian resistance to occupation, we have created a model for the resolution of the conflict that leaves no stone unturned.

For the first time in history, the Palestinians explicitly recognized the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people forever. They have given up the right of return to Israel and, therein, a solid, stable Jewish majority in Israel will be assured.

Jerusalem for the first time will be accepted as the unified capital of the Jewish state. The Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter, and David's Tower will all remain in Israel's hands. The suffocating ring around the city will be lifted, and the surrounding settlements will be a part of Jerusalem forever. None of the inhabitants of those areas will have to leave their homes.

What we have in hand is a proposal that must now move from the extra-governmental negotiating table to kitchen tables throughout Israel. It is time for a change. The initiative is like the little boy who cries out that the emperor is wearing no clothes. The prime minister's belief that the Israel Defense Forces can win a peace by waging war though military incursions into Palestinian population centers and targeted assassinations has resulted only in loss.

Nearly 800 Israelis and 2,500 Palestinians have been killed thus far, and the terror escalates, the economy collapses, civil society breaks down, and the demographic reality threatens the existence of the Jewish state.

Sharon was elected on the promise to bring the Israeli people both peace and security, but he has succeeded in achieving neither.

As in any struggle, allies play a pivotal role. And Israel has had no closer or more constant ally than the United States, which has stood steadfastly by Israel's side through times of both turmoil and triumph.

Israel and its citizens stand at a critical juncture. The Bush administration's support for the road map to peace has been a source of great hope for those of us who still believe a negotiated peace is possible. Now we're asking the American people and their government to support the Geneva initiative, which is actually analogous to the third stage of the road map, which deals with establishing a permanent agreement.

It is long past the time for the bloodshed and hostility to end and for Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace. It would be naive to think that simply releasing this document will overnight change the dynamics of the past 50 years. But it will not take long to build support for it among Israelis and our friends around the world, and the Israeli peace camp intends to do just that.

Amram Mitzna is a member of the Knesset in the Labor Party, a retired general in the Israel Defense Forces, and his party's candidate for prime minister in the last elections.

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