(April 30) - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak may have jumped the gun a bit with his announcement that a Palestinian-Israeli cease-fire had been agreed upon, but there are signs the diplomatic landscape has shifted in a positive direction.
According to Mubarak, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated in a letter to him that talks could resume four weeks after a cease-fire had taken place. A government spokesman denied that Israel has discussed a time period, while Army Radio reports that Israel has stipulated that two or three months would be necessary to test the stability of a cease-fire before talks resume.
Finally, opposition leader Yossi Sarid (Meretz), following his meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, insists there will be no cease-fire unless Israel agrees to a freeze, not just on new settlements, but on natural growth of existing towns in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.
After sifting through these conflicting reports following Foreign Minister Shimon Peres's mission yesterday to Egypt and Jordan, Israel's insistence that there must be a cease-fire first and negotiations later seems to be gaining ground. Once this principle is established, negotiating over the length of the testing period is understandable, but the Palestinian attempt to tack on conditions to the cease-fire should be soundly rejected.
It should be obvious that Israel cannot agree to any conditions to a cease-fire, because to do so would be rewarding the Palestinian resort to violence even before the resumption of negotiations. The whole point of the last election was the complete rejection of negotiating under fire, which is one way of rewarding violence. If there is something worse than negotiating under fire, it is making concessions under fire. Nor should the principle of not rewarding violence evaporate once a cease-fire is in place; it must guide the negotiations that follow.
It is not clear why there should be any disagreement on this from those claiming to be a "peace camp" outside the government. It is not particularly helpful that Yossi Sarid, Yossi Beilin, and others have met with Arafat while the government has been correctly urging the White House to boycott him. But even if such meetings are by some stretch of the imagination acceptable, does Sarid really have to support Arafat's conditions for a cease-fire? Instead of backing Arafat's calls for a settlement freeze, why can't Sarid differentiate between his own support for a settlement freeze and the need not to reward Arafat's offensive? The peace camp's inability to learn from its own mistakes is stunning.
The previous government, following the advice and using the services of Sarid and Beilin, decided to ignore the principle of not rewarding violence. The result was more violence, a hardening of Palestinian positions, and the landslide rejection of this path by the people of Israel.
Given his camp's resounding defeat and the fact that Israelis are still being gunned down in their cars and bombarded with mortars, it should not be too much to expect a modicum of humility and responsibility from opposition leader Sarid.
The strategy of rewarding violence falls into the category of "been there, done that." Sarid cannot claim that his way was not tried - it was. The alternative approach is to recognize that an unlimited Israeli willingness to compromise its principles does not lead to peace, but to unending conflict.
Now that the Palestinians have already been offered the moon, it is obviously much more difficult to enter negotiations based on offering them less. But receiving less is exactly the price the Palestinians must pay for insisting through force, not just on a state of their own, but on denying a Jewish state through the "right of return." The tragedy of the peace camp is that years of believing that Israeli intransigence was the obstacle to peace has made its leaders blind to the need to confront Palestinian intransigence. The only way to cut the vicious cycle of increasing Israeli flexibility leading to greater Palestinian intransigence is to be less flexible. There are no guarantees that being more resolute will work quickly, but the sooner the rest of the peace camp joins this new path to peace, the sooner it will bear fruit.