If there is any message that the Israeli voters sent last Thursday when they overwhelmingly elected Ehud Barak of the Labor party as their Prime Minister, it is, in the words of columnist Thomas L. Friedman, "get on with it already."
Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, Israel stalled, delayed, hampered and inhibited — if not all together destroyed — the peace process. But under Barak, Israel is committed, at least in principle, to peace.
The day of his election, Barak spoke with Egypt’s President Murabak, Jordan’s King Hussein and the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yassir Arafat, among others, and he has already begun the discussion of withdrawing troops from southern Lebanon. Barak, apparently, is committed to peace.
Nevertheless, there are many issues which will test that commitment.
While Barak appears ready to withdraw from southern Lebanon, a move many in Israel’s army seem to support, the Golan Heights is not such an easy issue.
Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six Day War of 1967. Syria, the only neighboring state with which Israel is still technically at war, demands that Israel return the Golan Heights in exchange for peace. Former Labor party leader Yitzhak Rabin was willing to exchange the land for peace, and Barak apparently will follow in his footsteps, withdrawing from the Golan Heights in proportion to Syria’s willingness to normalize relations with Israel.
If there is any sticking point for Barak, it will be the final status of Jerusalem in any peace treaty with the Palestinian Authority.
Jerusalem was originally an international city in the 1947 United Nations’ partition plan, but the international character of Jerusalem never materialized. The city was divided between Israel and Jordan until the war in 1967, wherein Israel captured all of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Under the latest peace accords with the Palestinian Authority, the final status of Jerusalem was to be determined in a final peace treaty. But that peace treaty was supposed to be finished early this May.
Palestinians want Jerusalem to be the capital of their independent state, but Israel claims full sovereignty over a united Jerusalem. Indeed, Israel has — in violation of international law according to the Fourth Geneva Council — annexed Jerusalem and declared it the capital of the nation of Israel. But the majority of the residents of East Jerusalem are Palestinians — and that is not to mention the number of Palestinian refugees who once lived there or the number of Jewish settlers who recently moved there.
Barak remains committed to Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. No peace plan, however, can be truly comprehensive — and truly fair — until Israel recognizes the Palestinian’s rightful claim to East Jerusalem.
And the international community, especially the United States, must be willing to pressure Israel on Jerusalem. From the Johnson administration to the Bush administration, the United States considered Jerusalem occupied territory, which falls under the scope of United Nation’s security council resolution 242, calling for Israeli withdrawal from occupied land in exchange for peace. However, the Clinton administration has since shifted from this policy, objecting to the use of "occupied territory." This is a tacit approval of the violation of international law.
Some have suggested that in a final peace treaty Jerusalem become an international city, in accordance with the 1947 United Nation’s partition plan. Still others have called for the repartitioning of Jerusalem along the pre-1967 border.
A solution that would seem amenable to the Palestinians is what has been called the condominium solution. Jerusalem would be the joint undivided capital of both Israel and an independent Palestinian state. This proposal, if it were to take place, would not be unprecedented; Chandigarh, for example, is the joint undivided capital of two Indian states.
Solutions that respect the Palestinians will only happen if nations such as the United States pressure Israel. Evengelical Christians have pressured Congress to support Israel unconditionally. Unfortunately, Christians often do not recognize that even if Israel is the fullfillment of all Biblical prophecies, Israel is still not justified in forcing Palestinians to leave their homes (sound like Kosovo?) and illegally annexing West Bank and Gaza strip land. Everyday Palestinians land is confiscated for "security reasons," and the borders of the current state of Israel are expanded.
Only time will tell if Barak is willing to negotiate on the final status of Jerusalem. But whatever the outcome, Barak faces a daunting challenge. He must be willing to make some sacrifices, sacrifices which will not be easy to make. But peace is never easy.
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Title: Peace is never simple | Author: Jon Williford | Section: Opinions | Published Date: 1999-05-26 | Internal ID: 687