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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Photo: AP
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Photo: AP
 
 

Every November, once in 30 years

Olmert needs the courage of Weizmann, Ben-Gurion and Begin to bring peace to Israel

Gadi Baltiansky
Published: 08.24.07, 15:02 / Israel Opinion

Every November, once in 30 years, it happens. Despite all the detailed preparatory work and the expected script, tension engulfs the event and uncertainty is part of the story. In the end, it always happens, as if history was waiting for the right page in the calendar to open a new chapter, a better one, in the history of Israel.

 

November 1917: The publication of the Balfour Declaration and the guarantee to establish a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. Thirty years pass. November 1947: The United Nations approves the partition plan, allowing for the establishment of the State of Israel. Another 30 years pass. November 1977: The president of Egypt, the largest and most important Arab country, visits Israel for the first time, bringing with him the tides of peace.

 

And now, after another 30 years, we're reaching November 2007, the date the United States has fixed for its international conference that is meant to sketch out the parameters of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. This is an opportunity to make history, to succeed in the test also faced by Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, each one with his own November.

 

It's now Ehud Olmert's turn. Exploiting this opportunity is not just down to him, but he must do all he can to ensure it is not missed. It's not every day the political constellation provides a situation in which the leader of the world's largest superpower is prepared to make the effort to bring peace to our region, that the head of the Palestinian Authority is prepared to make dramatic concessions, and that there is a solid majority among the Israeli public and in the Knesset in support of such a move.

 

Strangely enough, it's the weakness of Bush, Abbas and Olmert that provides the hope. The American president, after seven years of failure in our area -- from the fiasco in Iraq to the democratization of Palestine – is determined to rescue something for his legacy. He's left it late, but perhaps not too late.

 

The PA president has already announced that he will not stand for reelection. After all the years of struggle, both internal and external, he wants to achieve peace for his people before he steps down from the stage. He also knows that no other Palestinian leader will agree to the compromises he is prepared to make, due to his weak position.

 

Nothing to lose

Israel's prime minister understands that only a dramatic act will save him from the negative footnotes awaiting the description of his premiership. Peace is more popular than him, and only significant progress towards it can rescue him from the hole in which he is sunk.

 

All three leaders have almost nothing to lose and we all have a lot to gain.

 

Olmert must not wait. He has to his credit the statements he made before he was elected, in which pledged a withdrawal from Judea and Samaria. Unlike his predecessor, he does not have to swing to the left; he simply needs to keep his promise to end the occupation and ensure a Jewish majority in Israel.

 

Olmert and Abbas have until November to reach a detailed agreement of understandings, which will present the clear outline of the solution to both peoples. It is up to the two of them to agree on the stages of its implementation and the means of supervising this implementation. This is the best answer to the extremists, who want to take us backwards.

 

There will opposition to the agreement, there always is, but the majority of the public really does not care by how much the border will move from the trajectory of the separation fence (which anyway leaves 92 percent of the territories to the east of it), or which unpopulated areas will be transferred to the Palestinians in return for the settlement blocs, and over which Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem Israel will cede its sovereignty.

 

Olmert does not need a new vision, new plan or new partner. He needs courage. That's all. The same courage that allowed Weizmann, Ben-Gurion and Begin to achieve the greatest accomplishments of the Jewish people over the last 100 years.

 

The writer is the director-general of the Geneva Initiative

 

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