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Shimon Peres is the former foreign minister and prime minister of Israel. On May 20, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will meet in Washington with U.S. President George W. Bush to discuss the "road map" to peace sponsored by the so-called Quartet -- the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

By Shimon Peres

TEL AVIV -- The release of the "road map" after the recent formation of the new Palestinian government was aimed at reviving the peace process and extricating the conflict with the Palestinians from its dead-end street.

This is a positive step in and of itself, but the document on its own does not possess sufficient start-up power. The intention of the map was to delineate routes along which the two sides could travel, but it cannot replace the fuel of motivation that is needed to embark on the trip.

For the road map to avoid becoming moribund even before it has had a chance to turn into a green light for the peace process, the two sides need to formally accept it in principle. They can, of course, add their comments. But on no account may these comments turn into preconditions -- which would essentially mean negotiating the negotiation itself. Further, issues that have little chance of being resolved -- such as the Palestinian "right of return" -- must be removed from the road map agenda. Israel's position on this issue is unequivocal and backed by the whole Israeli political spectrum. If millions of Palestinian refugees will be allowed to return to Israel, it will endanger the very foundations of a Jewish state. A Jewish state means a Jewish majority. And Israel will not commit political suicide by waiving that right. The Palestinian right of return will need to be realized within the borders of a Palestinian state. I am aware that the Palestinians will not express public acceptance of this position. On this subject, we must therefore agree not to agree, without allowing this absence of agreement to interfere with the road map.

Confidence-building measures need to be taken. The Palestinian government must without delay put into effect a plan to dismantle and disarm the various armed militias operating on the ground and consolidate matters of security under its sole authority. Unless this course of action is enforced, Hamas and Islamic Jihad will dictate the Palestinian agenda and will foil its attempts to advance peace. A government can be democratic or not democratic, but a country disjointed by splintered authority cannot survive.

Israel's government must implement the assurances it gave not only upon its recent election, but also during its previous term, when it stipulated that new settlement activities will cease. This resolution was debated at the Knesset and approved, making it legally binding. The same commitment was made to the United States and must be fulfilled. Since this commitment was made, several hundreds of settlements and outposts were created, and they must be dismantled. The so-called "painful concessions" pledge (by Sharon) cannot replace the real test of deeds.

In parallel, all of the sides -- the Quartet with the United States in the lead, Israel and the Palestinians -- must agree on a two-way track at the very start of the renewed peace process: to fight terror as though there were no negotiations and engage in negotiations as though there was no fight against terror.

If one is dependent on the other, it is doubtful that the process will ever leave the station. If negotiations are postponed until the fight against terror produces absolute results, they might be delayed indefinitely. We have been witness to such stipulations in the past (such as "six days of quiet" as a prerequisite to start negotiations, which proved to be unfeasible). It is mandatory that the fight against terror start immediately, but what is important at this stage is the standard of performance rather than the results. Justifiably, Israel calls for 100 percent effort, even though initially the effort may not yield 100 percent results.

Fighting terror is not a gift that the Palestinians are offering Israel. A terrorist -- or even semi-terrorist -- Palestinian state has no chance of seeing the light of day. There is no need for such a state, and no one will never come to terms with its existence. Hence, nobody will be able to help establish such a state unless it is manifestly clear that the formal Palestinian government will not serve as a pawn in the hands of a gang of armed militias that reject peace. For their own sake, and in the interest of their future, the Palestinians must prove that they are not only fighting territorial occupation, but also another form -- terrorist occupation.

Political negotiations, on the other hand, are a necessary measure not only for the Palestinians but also for the Israelis. Israel will be making a mistake if it limits itself to fighting terrorists, without fighting terror -- that is, the motives for terror. The Palestinian people will commit themselves fully to fighting terror only when it becomes clear that an end to terror will yield greater dividends than allowing it to continue. In the Arab world, Egypt and Jordan already realized that they achieved much more around the negotiating table than on the battleground.

Therefore, it is manifestly in Israel's self-interest to create a political horizon that will encompass an end to the occupation, its agreement to borders on the basis of U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, and the establishment of a demilitarized, yet sustainable and independent Palestinian state.

Yasser Arafat's image among Israelis is negative. And now hopes are pegged on the appointment of Abu Mazen as Palestinian prime minister.

The tug of war between Arafat and Abu Mazen is portrayed in the media as a matter of executive power. The issue is somewhat theoretical, for Israel is the one that has substantial control over security at present. Hence, the real confrontation between Arafat and Abu Mazen is over Palestinian public opinion.

Arafat may be perceived as being the one who is determined to put an end to the occupation and establish a Palestinian state. So, Abu Mazen needs to prove that he can deliver without resorting to violence. The Palestinian cause will move forward much more quickly through diplomatic dialogue, and we must make it clear that we have no wish to "use" Abu Mazen but rather seek to help him in his role of elected leader of the Palestinian people. Should Abu Mazen be caught between two cold shoulders -- of Arafat and of Israel -- he will have his hands tied and find it hard to free himself of these constraints.


An exceptional strategic opportunity for making peace has emerged in the Middle East. The fundamental change established on Israel's eastern and northern borders as a result of the coalition's victory in Iraq, combined with the establishment, albeit somewhat frail, of a new Palestinian government, created a new situation.

President Bush has now added a new economic dimension to this development by proposing that the Middle East become a free trade zone -- an open Middle East that will turn into a new Middle East. Added to this is the fact that the Palestinians now have as a prime minister a serious person who believes the intifada is jeopardizing the Palestinian cause. On his team are finance minister Salaam Fayyad, who is already putting order in the Palestinian financial system, and security affairs minister Muhammad Dahlan, who has the ability to regain control of the current chaotic situation created by the rampant militias. The combination of all these factors bodes a good start, despite the hurdles likely to be encountered in the future.

On no account must the old tactics be allowed to stifle the new strategy.

We must not miss yet again the rare opportunity we are now given. It has always been hard to untangle ourselves from the complexities of the situation, and this time, too, will not be easy. But as opposed to the past, the potential peace today seems to overshadow the fear of war.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 5/15/03)