An 11th-Hour Opportunity

By Mahmoud Abbas

RAMALLAH - Negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis have resumed after a year and a half of a stalemate that began after Israel launched its devastating military assault against the Gaza Strip in December 2008.

The resumption of negotiations came as a result of concerted and persistent efforts by the US administration and by President Barack Obama in particular, together with extensive Palestinian, Arab and international support.

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This round of negotiations provides an 11th-hour opportunity to achieve a permanent and lasting peace based on the two-state solution. For the opportunity not to be lost, courage and bold leadership are required.

Despite the harsh realities imposed upon us, the Palestinian side intends to negotiate in good faith in order to end the state of conflict that has plagued our region for so long. Achieving peace and coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis has been my lifelong commitment. I came to believe from an early stage that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict cannot be resolved without dialogue. This vision has guided my political thinking and work for the last 35 years.

I was the first among Palestinian leaders to establish and encourage dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis as early as the 1970s. These early activities paved the way for the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993. Ever since, I have worked hard, together with my colleagues in the Palestinian leadership, to end the conflict and achieve peace. Since taking office, I have never walked away from serious negotiations, and I do not intend to. However, we cannot be asked to negotiate forever as the reality on the ground deteriorates by the hour.

The Oslo Accords and subsequent peace plans and initiatives such as the US-sponsored Road Map require Israel to stop all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories. Yet, consecutive Israeli governments have continued to expand settlements. These settlements, deemed illegal by the international community and an obstacle to peace, have not stopped the Israeli leadership; the number of settlers has tripled in size since the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Meaningful negotiations and Israeli settlement activity do not go hand-in-hand because the continued building of settlements will not leave enough land for us to establish our own contiguous and viable state. It is for this very reason that I have insisted on the need to stop all settlement activities before the resumption of direct negotiations. Those who insist on continuing settlement activities cannot be serious about the two-state solution or peacemaking as a whole.

Unilateral measures jeopardise the prospects of achieving a negotiated peace agreement. I have always rejected unilateral steps by either side and continue to do so, be it the unilateral Israeli redeployment from Gaza, the building of Israeli settlements, the separation wall, or a one-sided declaration of a Palestinian state.

With the full support of the United States and the international community, we are currently building the institutions of our future state. We are making great progress, and we are determined to do more.

We recognise that Israelis have concerns about their security. The need for security is paramount to both peoples. Given that the security of Israel and Palestine has become inseparable, we Palestinians have a vested interest in seeing Israelis living in peace and security in their state next to the Palestinian state. I refuse to allow the just struggle of my people for freedom and independence to be exploited by extremists, regardless of who they are. For extremism to be defeated, we must all redouble our efforts to bring about a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

It is time to break with the past and look forward to the future. In the Arab Peace Initiative, 57 Arab and Muslim countries offered Israel peace and normalised relations in return for Israel's withdrawal from the Palestinian and Arab territories it conquered by force in the 1967 war and has occupied since. Israeli leaders have so far failed to grasp this historic opportunity and instead are actively working toward making the two-state solution impossible.

I have great faith in the fairness of the American people, who have struggled so admirably to achieve and maintain their freedom and independence. The Palestinian people want the same things that Americans want: to live in freedom and security and to have the opportunity for our families and loved ones to prosper.

Palestinians and Israelis are destined to live together. Resolving this conflict, once and for all, is not only in the interest of the peoples of the region, but is also of utmost importance to US national interests. If there ever was a global issue that begged for courage and leadership, it is this issue and now.

Mahmoud Abbas is president of the Palestinian Authority and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Ma'an News.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 10 June 2010,
www.maannews.net

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