Ehud Olmert

Failure to act is not an option

Whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigns now or after the final Winograd report is issued is only a question of time. The political earthquake in Israel is but one more piece of evidence that Israeli democracy has become dysfunctional. Will this prime minister, who is already under investigation for multiple cases of alleged fraud and corruption, be in a position to devote any real time to the challenges that face Israel today?

The answer is actually not completely negative. There is a small, albeit unlikely chance that Olmert may suddenly adopt a more aggressive peace-making platform as a way to divert public attention from his own decline. It is more likely though, that Olmert will launch an aggressive ground operation into Gaza in order to achieve the same shift in public attention.

Olmert will find great legitimacy among the public to launch that attack as well as support within the army, which is waiting for a chance to redefine Israeli deterrence in the hearts and minds of the Arabs. Olmert will claim that `we are cleaning up Gaza` because the Palestinian Authority is incapable of doing it and the Israeli mission will aim to remove the military threat and to put an end to the Kassam fire into Israel.

ISRAEL WILL not clean up Gaza and the Kassams will not cease as a result of Israeli military actions. The direct impact, however, of such an IDF incursion into Gaza will be the likely final decline of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He can only survive if there is momentum on the political front of providing his people with a political horizon.

The Israeli political system continues to flounder absent real leadership. The Palestinian leader, though a world-class statesman cannot impose his will on a dysfunctional Palestinian political system.

And the US president is in the declining period of his administration. We are facing the final moments of the possibilities for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

This is another defining moment. If the current leadership structures cannot move forward toward producing an agreement or accepting a framework for reaching an agreement, then it is very likely that a new right-wing alliance will emerge in Israel that will face a Palestinian political system which is completely dominated by Islamic radicalism.

When that happens, we will be entering in a new era of Israeli-Palestinian relations that will be defined as the struggle for identity and democracy within a singular territory for both peoples.

This will be the final end of the Zionist enterprise.

DUE TO the urgency of the situation and the possible end of any chance of Israeli-Palestinian peace within the two-state solution framework, the international community within the Quartet mechanism, along with the `Arab Quartet,` with the inclusion of the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, must hammer out a solution that can only be based on the combination of the Clinton parameters and the Arab peace initiative.

This combination provides political assurances for both sides that make permanent status negotiations feasible. Israel gains the understanding that the 1967 lines specified in the Arab Peace initiative are not the final borders but the starting point for negotiations on territorial swaps that enable the Palestinians to understand that they will receive 100% of the 22% of Palestine (the pre-1967 lines). Furthermore, Israel will be able to understand that the effective right of return of refugees will be to the Palestinian state or to territories that are within the framework of the swaps, e.g. on lands that were previously within the sovereign borders of Israel that will become part of the Palestinian state.

Israel will also have it demands for end of conflict and finality of claims recognized by the international community and the Arab world through the acceptance of the Clinton parameters. Palestinians will enter the process with the understanding that Arab and Muslim Jerusalem will be returned to Arab sovereignty, that the Palestinian independent state will be finally established and that the Israeli occupation will end. The Arab Peace initiative provides regional backing and promises of support and full peace beyond the Israeli-Palestinian borders.

The international community through the two quartets should prod the parties to issue declarations accepting the two frameworks – Clinton and the Arab peace initiative – as the basis for renewed bilateral negotiations that will be assisted by the international community.

The international community must demonstrate its commitment by providing mechanisms for implementation assistance, facilitating, monitoring and verification of the agreements that will be reached. Once such declarations are issued the Arab League should then issue a declaration affirming that the Israeli and Palestinian moves serve as the first step toward the implementation of the Arab peace initiative and at that point it would be helpful if the Arab leadership took more bold actions that would further encourage the process forward.

LAST WEDNESDAY, Palestinian chief negotiation Dr. Saeb Erekat and Construction and Housing Minister Meir Sheetrit agreed that the time necessary for reaching a full permanent peace agreement is a matter of months.

All of the issues can be resolved, they both said over and over. It is a well known fact that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians agree to the definitions of peace within Clinton parameters and the Arab peace initiative, but they do not believe that there is a similar view on the other side or the ability to implement peace by the other side.

The public is wrong on the first part of correct on the second. The ability to implement any peace agreement by both sides, as we have seen until now, cannot be done without significant international engagement on the ground that will also provide for real dispute resolution mechanisms when the inevitable disputes arise.

International engagement – and a presence on the ground – would provide guarantees for demilitarizing the arena, on both sides of the conflict, as well as real concrete assistance to the Palestinians in their urgent need to disarm militias, to rebuild their governance and to reinstate the rule of law, particularly in Gaza.

There is no need to wait for Olmert to step down. Olmert will find support within Kadima for this process and his successor can continue it. As long as Olmert holds on the reins of authority he holds the full responsibility and obligation to act as a leader. This is his only chance to make a positive mark on history and to serve the long term interests of Israel and the Jewish people.

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.
Gershon Baskin

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About Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships. Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.