Wednesday, October 1, 2008

No more "Peace Process", Please!

Enough talk

By Gideon Levy

The most unstable country in the Middle East is changing its government again. Soon Israel will have a new government, with "continued peace negotiations with the Palestinians" engraved on its banner. Well, now it's time to end the farce after more than 15 years of futile negotiations that led nowhere and brought no peace. It's time to say enough already to the second most dangerous game after the war game - the "political process" game.

This mainly involves playing with ourselves, an idiom meaning masturbation in some languages, and thus a perfect metaphor for this "peace process" that must now be brought to an end. Snuff out this bonfire of vanities, this process of self-deception that pushes us ever further from any agreement. The time has come for decisions and actions - war or peace, annexation and a state of all its people, or dividing the land into two sovereign states. All this must take place during injury time; the 90th minute has long passed.

After 15 years of talking, nothing has been left unsaid or undiscussed. After endless peace plans, "drawer" and "shelf" plans, road maps and interim agreements, none of which has been carried out, we must scream to the new government: Don't start again with that futile negotiations carousel. Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas, Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qureia, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat, Yossi Beilin and Abu Mazen, Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh, Ehud Barak and Arafat - they've all said it all. Now's the time to decide - to pull the detailed plans out of Bill Clinton's or Yossi Beilin's or Barak's or Rabin's drawer. The differences between them are minimal.

There is only one plan on the table: the end of the occupation, the '67 borders and solving the refugee issue in exchange for peace - yes or no. All the rest is insignificant. It cannot take much more time, simply because time has long run out. Take the Clinton plan or Geneva initiative, who knows what the differences are, and start implementing it. There will be no other plans.

It's not merely a criminal waste of time, which always acts against peace. That which could have been achieved a decade ago cannot be achieved today, and that which is still attainable today will no longer be possible in a decade. This danger is real: At the end of each negotiating round lurks the next cycle of violence. Nothing is more dangerous in this region than another failed negotiation.

In addition, the very existence of peace negotiations enables Israel to pretend to be doing something about the situation, without actually doing anything. Israel can thus go through the motions with no intention of reaching a peace agreement and feel as if it were doing everything to achieve it.

But while critical time was being wasted, Israel did not stand idly by. Neither did the Palestinian Authority. While they were negotiating, Israel was building more and more homes in West Bank settlements. In fact, it never stopped. Even Barak, the bravest of them all, added 6,000 housing units to the unworthy project. From one negotiation to the next, more and more opportunities dissipated. The occupation became increasingly heartless and brutal, as did Palestinian terrorism.

The only missing ingredient in all the tedious, superfluous negotiations was sincere goodwill to reach peace. Nothing is more critical than this, which has never been on the table, not even in the great illusion era of Oslo. That is why Israel has never offered, even then, to evacuate a single potted plant in the West Bank settlements. All it did was build more and more, dunam after dunam of destroying every chance. There is no other conflict in the world, it seems, where the negotiations to solve it have lasted so many years while the solution moved ever further away, like the horizon.

If the new government is headed for peace - and this is extremely doubtful - it must start with actions, not talks. It is very easy to change the occupation's road map: Just take a few steps like a mass release of prisoners and taking down all internal roadblocks to signal that the government intends to make peace. This would advance the political process more than all the talks, as daring as they may be.

If I were a Palestinian leader, I'd tell the new government: You know what our positions are, as we know yours. Let's not start everything over again. If you are sincere, start acting, even before the first photo-op between Livni and Abbas. This is even more apt when it comes to peace with Syria - we know what the conditions are, there is nothing to talk about, only to decide. Enough talk. It's time to act.

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