Israel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised to use talks with Palestinians that begin on Wednesday as an opportunity to achieve a lasting peace. “This is an opportunity,” he said, “that entails many uncertainties, many risks, many dangers. We cannot ignore them. But, we absolutely must not allow uncertainty and risks to prevail because an opportunity also exists. I intend to take advantage of this opportunity to wage serious, ongoing and uninterrupted negotiations in order to forge an historic path toward a new diplomatic reality.” the prime minister’s words hopefully can become translated from verbal utterances to written documents that achieve his goals of a secure Israel that can live in peace with Palestinians. However, even as he spoke, President Abbas indicated he could not attend the scheduled Wednesday meeting unless Israel ceases further construction of housing on the West Bank or in East Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Olmert is obviously taking a gamble, one that will be attacked by those in the Jewish community who prefer the certainty of uncertainty to the risk of moving toward conflict resolution. Negotiation always entails a give and take since each side must be prepared to give up some of what they possess in order to possess peace. There is no necessity of building new housing at this moment in East Jerusalem nor on the West Bank. There comes a time when in negotiation one must take a step back in order to make a giant leap forward. Reality is that East Jerusalem will become the capital of a new Palestinian nation. The issue is ensuring religious freedom and access to all religious facilities for every person living in East Jerusalem. The West Bank can not remain as presently constituted, at best, a small portion of the settlers will be allowed to remain, but most must return to Israel.
As I write these words, it is clear some who consider themselves “defenders of Israel,” are furious because in their view not an inch of land should be abandoned. It is time for those who wish Israel to live in peace, security, and prosperity to be the voices of reason that Olmert must follow. Self righteous anger and hatred toward Palestinians will only result in ending all hopes for peace and reconciliation.