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Precedents for Mideast Peace

By Jimmy Carter

This Op-Ed appeared in the New York Times. DO NOT REPRINT WITHOUT PERMISSION. Copyright© The Carter Center.

Even though violence continues and leaders of Israel and the Palestinians seem adamant and incompatible, history shows that real steps toward peace are not impossible in the Middle East.

In the 30 years before 1978, thousands had been killed on both sides in four wars between Israelis and Arabs. President Anwar Sadat, the pre-eminent Arab leader, had devoted his political and military career to the destruction of Israel. Prime Minister Menachem Begin, as leader of the guerrilla group Irgun Zvai Leumi, had been widely considered to be a terrorist, responsible for a bombing that killed 96 in Jerusalem's King David hotel in 1946. Later, as head of the Herut Party, he insisted that Israel's territory should include all the land west of the Jordan River and substantial portions of the nation of Jordan.

These two leaders, personally incompatible, came together at Camp David and agreed in September 1978 to terms that were then approved officially by the parliaments of both nations. One of the basic elements of this accord was Israel's agreement to withdraw both political and military forces from the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians were to have full autonomy under a self-governing authority elected freely by the people in the West Bank and Gaza, and were to participate on an equal basis in future negotiations.

Egypt, as the dominant Arab nation, pledged to exchange ambassadors with a peaceful Israel, to condemn economic boycotts and to normalize other relations: for example, giving unlimited passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal. In addition, Begin agreed that Israel would cease putting settlements in the occupied territories until a final agreement was reached on how to fulfill the Camp David pledges.

Six months later, in April 1979, a formal peace treaty was signed that settled all direct disputes between Israel and Egypt, not a word of which has since been violated.

A crucial pledge by both sides was to honor United Nations Resolution 242, which was approved in November 1967 by the United States and Israel and calls for withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the 1967 war and acknowledgment of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries, free from threats or acts of force.

A later resolution, Resolution 338, was unanimously adopted immediately after the Yom Kippur war of October 1973. It called for a cease-fire, the immediate implementation of Resolution 242, and negotiations to establish a just and durable peace.

In September 1982 President Ronald Reagan reaffirmed that the Camp David agreement remained the foundation of American policy in the Middle East. He added, "It is the United States' position that - in return for peace - the withdrawal position of Resolution 242 applies to all fronts, including the West Bank and Gaza." His final point was clear: "America's commitment to the security of Israel is ironclad."

In 1993, without involvement by any American mediator, a group from Norway helped negotiate an Israeli- Palestinian agreement that provided for peaceful coexistence, step-by-step withdrawal by Israel from the occupied territories and then negotiations to resolve the issues of final boundaries, the control of Jerusalem, and the return (or compensation) of Palestinians living in exile. This led to a free election of Palestinian leaders in 1996 and to a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan.

Subsequent resort to violence has not changed the basic issues that confront the leaders of Israel, the Palestinians, other Arab countries and the United States. Last month, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated the current American position concerning Middle East peace, saying:

"The Palestinian leadership must end violence, stop incitement and prepare their people for the hard compromises ahead. All in the Arab world must make unmistakably clear, through their own actions, their acceptance of Israel and their commitment to a negotiated settlement.

"Israel must be willing to end its occupation, consistent with the principles embodied in Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and accept a viable Palestinian state in which Palestinians can determine their own future on their own land and live in dignity and security."

Secretary Powell also said: "The good news is that a framework for a solution exists. It is based on the core principles of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which are rooted in the concept of land for peace."

No matter what else happens, there is no way to avoid the internationally supported applicability of these resolutions, which emphasize "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security."

A prerequisite for peacemaking is for antagonists to realize that good-faith negotiations are preferable to sustained violence. When this time comes again, I believe inevitably, the basic parameters already exist. As in 1978 and 1993, balanced mediation can induce mutual and voluntary concessions so that both sides, living in peace, can claim credit for victory.

Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States, is chairman of the Carter Center in Atlanta.

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