Talks offer hope if compromise replaces rhetoric
Israeli and Palestinian efforts to revive peace talks at Annapolis offer a new chance for peace, if courage and compromise on both sides can replace rhetoric and PR.
The proposed Annapolis peace conference must not be like the Camp David "talks" where Israel offered its infamous "most generous offer." Compared to paltry Israeli offers of the past, it was more generous, but not generous enough.
Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak never met face-to-face at Camp David. President Clinton's aides, specifically pro-Israel negotiator Dennis Ross, sought to manipulate Arafat into accepting Israel's agenda.
The Camp David collapse led to violence provoked by both sides because both sides failed to make real compromises, not withstanding Israel's public relations spin and exaggerations on the issue. Israel's offer to share Jerusalem was a shell game. Abu Dis is not Jerusalem. But Arafat could have pushed back. The real impediment to peace was the issue of the Palestinian right of return and Israel's refusal to dismantle all West Bank settlements, including those around Jerusalem.
On purely legal terms, Palestinians evicted by Israel from their homes and lands in 1948 have an absolute legal right to return.
Yet, 60 years later, the reality of that right has faltered. It is as much the fault of failed Arab leadership as it is Israel's refusal to allow Palestinian civilians to return.
We are lying to the Palestinian refugees when we imply that their "legal right of return" means they will someday return. They cannot return because the Arab leadership is incapable of making that happen, in conflict or in peace.
We can be honest, though, telling the refugees the truth, once and for all. At stake is not just "refugee rights" but the very existence of Palestinians as a people.
Palestinians do not have a state. They are imprisoned by the Israeli military occupation and by extremists' hatred that feeds on their suffering.
Fanatics exploit Palestinians at every turn. The terrorist organization Hamas used violence, including its most heinous form, suicide bombings, to undermine all peace. They are no different than Arial Sharon, a terrorist who also used violence and provocation to undermine and block peace.
For Palestinians, it is about survival. Palestinians must be allowed to live with a dignity that can only come from having sovereignty. We need a real state now.
Israelis must also show courage and accept responsibility, apologize and compensate the refugees.
For both sides to do otherwise will condemn Palestinians and Israelis to an uncertain future where violence will worsen as the extremists become more powerful.
Extremist rhetoric on both sides feeds hatred. It denies Israel a future free of conflict, while Palestinians are being erased as a people. Israel's supporters must drop the propaganda and start being fair. Palestinians must recognize that extremists who denounce compromise are trading a state for their uncompromising dream.
But that unachievable dream of tomorrow is the Palestinian nightmare of today, not just for the refugees but for every Palestinian. The rights of the refugees do not undermine the larger rights of the Palestinians as a people.