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The Peace Process

The Peace Process - Achieving peace with neighboring states has been as goal of Israel since its inception as witnessed by Israel's Declaration of Independence that reads: "We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East."

However the process of achieving "good neighborliness" has not been easy. Only after vicious and painful wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 did Egypt sue for peace. Syria, under father Hafez Assad and son Bashar, has failed to show a willingness to seriously address Israeli security concerns. Instead that state actively agitates by send Syrian backed emissaries from Lebanon to attack Israel's northern border. The Oslo process was supposed to pay a "peace dividend" of Arab countries normalizing relations with Israel. Only one, Jordan, fully took advantage of the opportunity before Oslo disintegrated.

Despite limited success, making peace and the managing the peace process are the focus of most campaign rhetoric on both sides of the political spectrum. Following are key milestones in the peace process, each of which have left legacies that reverberate in the current election campaign.

November 1977 - Egyptian President Anwar Sadat Visits Israel

This unimaginable act - an Arab head of state visiting Israel - paved the way for the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement signed on March 26, 1979 between Sadat and Liku d Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The agreement stipulated that the "stat e of war between the Parties will be terminated and peace will be established between them" and "Israel will withdraw all its armed forces and civilians from the Sinai," captured from Egypt in the 1967 Six-Day War.

As a result, Begin instructed Defense Minister Ariel Sharon to evacuate civilians and dismantle the Israeli communities established in the Sinai during Israel's rule. Neither Begin nor Sharon wanted Israel's willingness to return the entire Sinai Peninsula and uproot settlements there to become a precedent for future peace agreements. Yet, undoubtedly this enactment of "land for peace" influenced the expectations of all other parties - from Syria to the Palestinians.

October 1991 - The Madrid Peace Conference

Following George Bush Sr.'s Gulf War, a peace conference in Madrid inaugurated direct peace talks between Israel and her immediate Arab neighbors for the first time in history. The conference spawned bilateral negotiations between Israel and Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians, as well as multilateral talks on key regional issues. While the talks with the three Arab states were aimed at achieving peace treaties, the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were based on a two-stage formula: 5-year interim self-government arrangements, to be followed by negotiations on the permanent status issues. To date, these negotiations have resulted in a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, and a series of interim agreements with the Palestinians.

September 1993 - Israel - PLO Mutual Recognition

Like Sadat's visit, Israel - PLO mutual recognition was an unimaginable act that jolted Israel and sent shockwaves throughout the world. Following intense behind-the-scenes contacts between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Oslo, an agreement was achieved between Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. On September 9, 1993, Chairman Arafat sent a letter to Prime Minister Rabin, in which he stated unequivocally that the PLO:

  • Recognizes the right of Israel to exist in peace and security;
  • Accepts UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338;
  • Commits itself to a peaceful resolution of the conflict;
  • Renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence;
  • Assumes responsibility over all PLO elements o ensure their compliance, prevent violations, and discipline violators;
  • Affirms that those articles of the PLO Covenant which deny Israel's right to exist are now inoperative and no longer valid;
  • Undertakes to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes to the Covenant.

As it is well known, the Oslo Accords, as the Israeli-Palestinian interim agreements are known, have failed to deliver peace. Although explanations abound, from the Israeli perspective, the primary reasons cited for its collapse are the Palestinian insistence on a "right of return" coupled with intensification of Palestinian terror throughout the entire process. Both are viewed as fundamental breeches of the agreement inasmuch as they challenge Israel's existence and security, respectively.

October 1994 - Peace Treaty Between Jordan and Israel

For a change, this peace agreement came as no real surprise. Jordan and Israel had discreet ties for years after the Six-Day War. Aside from sharing a long border, Israel and Jordan both wanted to afford the Palestinian population in both countries relative freedom of movement. Even though technically at war, Israel and Jordan maintained an "open bridges" policy allowing people and goods across the border. Although this peace agreement is viewed as an achievement of the Madrid framework, it was implemented only after the Oslo Accords were operable. Despite some ups and downs in the last twelve years, the peace between Israel and Jordan has proven to be a positive development for both countries. While anti-Israel sentiment still exists in Jordanian society, business ties and government cooperation have generally remained strong.

April 2003 - The Road Map to Peace

The performance based, Road Map, sponsored by the Quartet (the US, the UN, the EU and Russia) was hailed as the last step that would lead to peace between Israel and the Arabs by 2005-clearly a time-line that has not been met. The basic premise is that a two-state solution to the conflict will only be achieved through an end to violence, when the Palestinian people have a leadership acting decisively against terror and willing and able to build a practicing democracy based on tolerance and liberty, and through Israel's readiness to do what is necessary for a democratic Palestinian state to be established, and a clear, unambiguous acceptance by both parties of the goal of a negotiated settlement as described in the plan. The three phases of the plan are:

  1. Fighting Terrorism
  2. Palestinian State with Provisional Borders
  3. International Conference with negotiations of permanent status issues

However, as a performance-based plan, progress is dependent upon the good faith efforts of the parties, and their compliance with each of the obligations outlined in the plan. Since the Palestinian Authority never moved to fight the terrorists within its population, the plan never moved forward. When Israel introduced the Disengagement plan back in December of 2003, the Road Map was basically suspended until after Disengagement's implementation in August 2005. By September 2005, there was renewed talk of resuming progress towards the goals of the Road Map. However, in light of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections, there is no consensus in Israel or among the parties of the Quartet on how to move forward.

Political Parties and the Peace Process

All Israeli political parties are ardent supporters of the peace process - they just differ in how they wish to manage it and how they define 'peace'. Hamas' recent electoral victory and subsequent assumption of control of the Palestinian Legislative Council, has sent every political party and leader searching for an answer on how to deal with this new reality.

Despite continued presence of violence, Labor and other left of center parties still maintain the belief that the best path to peace is through negotiations with the PA. This belief is sure to be tested in the coming months as Hamas establishes itself as the ruling party in the PA and it remains to be seen how these parties will formulate their positions. To a large degree, these parties remain committed to the Oslo process (or at least a new, modified version of this process) and, like predecessors Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, aim to "fight terror as if there is no peace process and advance the peace process as if there were no terror."

In the wake of Hamas' victory, Kadima leader Ehud Olmert has stated that Kadima will not deal with Hamas leaders. In the immediate aftermath of the election, Olmert was widely criticized for his decision to transfer tax revenues collected on behalf of the PA. Olmert appears to be attempting the difficult feat of balancing continued contacts with PA President Mahmud Abbas while refusing to deal with Hamas. Kadima's stated position vis a vis the peace process is a duel path of negotiations in line with the demands of the Road Map peace plan coupled with the threat of future unilateral disengagements leading to the eventual unilateral establishment of Israel's permanent borders if negotiations fail.

Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu is currently basing the Likud election campaign on the slogan 'Strong Against Hamas: Only the Likud' and has made strong public statements indicating the a Likud-led government will refuse to deal, even in a limited, low level way, with a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Prior to the rise of Hamas, Likud's was basically consistent with President George W. Bush's statement of June 2002. As a requirement for continuing the peace process, Likud demands a "reformed" Palestinian leadership, including significant moves towards freedom and democracy as key to a renewed peace process and a leadership not stained by terrorism.

Parties to the political right of Likud, including the National Union-National Religious Party joint list, all share a common opposition to any further territorial compromise. Some of the parties have accepted the Moledet and Hazit: The Jewish National Front position that Palestinians who refuse to live peacefully beside Israelis must be transferred to Arab countries, also this is not part of the official National Union-NRP platform.