If their dramatic statements at the Aqaba summit are anything to go by, President Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas all have taken a giant step toward Middle East peace.
Skeptical onlookers ask if the parties can back up their brave words with action, but the statements themselves were remarkable.
Abbas, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, boldly called for the end of the intifada, the armed Palestinian uprising that began 32 months ago.
“We will spare no effort, using all our resources, to end the militarization of the intifada, and we will succeed,” he declared at Wednesday’s summit. “The armed intifada must end and we must resort to peaceful means in our quest to end the occupation.”
Abbas has been trying to convince Hamas and Islamic Jihad fundamentalists to declare a temporary cease-fire on attacks against Israelis, even though Israel is demanding — and Abbas has promised — that the groups be disarmed and dismantled.
In his quiet, understated way, Abbas on Wednesday had strong words for the rejectionists.
As “full partners in the international war against terrorism,” he said, the Palestinians “would call upon our partners to prevent financial assistance to those who oppose this position,” code words urging Arab states to stop financing Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
Abbas issued a stern warning to the fundamentalists — “Our national future is at stake and no one will be allowed to jeopardize it” — a statement that could presage a Palestinian civil war.
Abbas also made the strongest possible commitment to stop terror against Israelis “wherever they are,” whether in Israel proper or in West Bank and Gaza Strip settlements. That goes beyond previous Palestinian proposals to limit terror attacks to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a distinction Israel has rejected.
Abbas also promised to end incitement against Israel in Palestinians schools, media and mosques.
Israel’s prime minister was equally outspoken in his commitment to a Palestinian state.
“It is in Israel’s interest not to govern the Palestinians but for the Palestinians to govern themselves in their own state,” Sharon said. “A democratic Palestinian state, fully at peace with Israel, will promote the long-term security and well-being of Israel as a Jewish state.”
That mirrored the classic demographic argument of the Labor Party — that only a two-state solution, soon, can guarantee Israel’s Jewish character.
In his brief address, Sharon made a number of major commitments: to help normalize Palestinian life; improve the Palestinians’ humanitarian situation; not to make unilateral moves that could prejudge the outcome of negotiations, i.e., not to build new settlements; to remove “unauthorized” settlement outposts; and to ensure territorial contiguity in the West Bank for a Palestinian state, presumably by dismantling several bona fide settlements.
For his part, Bush deftly pocketed each side’s commitments, making it clear that the United States intends to oversee the process and apportion public blame if either side shows signs of backtracking.
“These leaders of conscience have made their declaration today in the cause of peace,” Bush declared. “We expect both parties to keep their promises.”
To make sure they do, Bush is sending in a team of monitors who will “state clearly who is fulfilling their responsibilities.”
On the sensitive issue of referring to Israel as a specifically “Jewish state” — which Abbas refused to do — Bush took Israel’s side.
“America is committed, and I am strongly committed, to Israel’s security as a vibrant Jewish state,” Bush said.
Abbas wouldn’t use the phrase because it could imply that Palestinian refugees would be resettled only in the future Palestinian state and would not return to homes they fled more than half a century ago inside Israel proper. Israel considers the Palestinian demand for the “right of return” a veiled refusal to accept Israel’s existence.
Instead, with a rare display of empathy, Abbas made a comparison between Palestinian and Jewish suffering, saying the time had come for both to end.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.