By Jimmy Carter
Published by USA Today.
The United Nations General Assembly vote last week that overwhelmingly recognized Palestine as a state could serve as a steppingstone to relaunch the long moribund Middle East peace negotiations.
In an attempt to advance the peace negotiations, President Obama emphasized two crucial issues during his first year in office: that the building of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory should stop, and that the basis for peace should be the pre-1967 border (or Green Line), to be modified by mutual agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
With all moderate factions now absent from the two-party Likud-Beitenu coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are precluding the possibility of the two-state solution for peace in the Middle East. Their concept of greatly expanding Israel's borders has been branded as a tragedy for Israel by previous prime ministers, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.
In addition to rapidly confiscating Palestinian territory for new Israeli settlements, announcing permanent control of Palestinian air space and the Jordan River Valley, requiring acknowledgment by Palestinians of a Jewish state that marginalizes 20% of Israel's population, and blocking reconciliation among the major Palestinian factions, the Netanyahu government has announced the building of several thousand settlement units in an area that cuts the West Bank into two parts and permanently separates East Jerusalem from what would be left.
U.S. Policies Disregarded
Never before has an Israeli government so flagrantly disregarded clearly stated U.S. policies, as well as those of its previous prime ministers and the international community.
It is good to remember that the 1978 Camp David Accords called for peace between Israel and Egypt and also specified that "the Israeli military government and its civilian administration will be withdrawn" from the West Bank, and that "the agreed basis for a peaceful settlement of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors is U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, in all its parts." Based on this same basic formula, all Arab nations have offered peace to Israel.
The new Netanyahu policy is also counterproductive for the future well-being of Israel in that it might precipitate legal actions by Palestine under its new status as a state. These could include filing a complaint within the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice against Israel for violations of international law, including building settlements in occupied territory, transferring Palestinian prisoners to Israel and the siege of Gaza.
All these developments can best be avoided by strong action of the U.N. Security Council, led by the United States, Egypt and other influential nations to enforce common agreements that have already been approved by Israel within the U.N. and at Camp David.
An equally necessary issue to be resolved is reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, within the context of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Most likely to be orchestrated by Egypt and with full backing of other Arab states, this will require that in a final two-state agreement, all Palestinians and Israelis guarantee the right of Israel and Palestine as safe and secure nations within recognized borders.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal has agreed to accept the right of Israel to live in peace alongside a viable and independent Palestinian state. His only proviso is that any such agreement be put to a referendum among the Palestinian people. Despite disagreement from his more militant associates, Meshaal reiterated this commitment during a recent interview with CNN. The combined influence of Egypt and all other Arab states, plus U.N. peacekeepers if necessary, would ensure compliance.
Israel has overwhelming power to retaliate against any rocket attacks from Gaza, but it has become increasingly clear that Hamas in Gaza cannot be defeated without horrible bloodshed among the 1.7 million Palestinians confined in the cramped area, with a tight economic boycott dampening their efforts for economic survival. This would leave Israel ever more isolated in a region where citizen rights are gaining force.
Although the U.S. now has reduced influence among either Israeli or Palestinian leaders, Egypt can be a helpful partner in peace efforts, as demonstrated recently in alleviating the recent crisis in Gaza.
The path to peace in the Middle East has always been difficult, but never impossible.