down with arafat and sharon!!!

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    Enough of war, enough of bloodshed. Enough

    Israelis and Palestinians are ready to do a peace deal - what a pity their leaders are not

    Jonathan Freedland
    Saturday September 13, 2003
    The Guardian

    In a week of grim anniversaries, today's should stand out as a rare light in the dark. It was on September 13 1993 that Bill Clinton stood on the White House lawn, held out his big, bear arms and pushed Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat into one of the most memorable handshakes of modern times. They were there to sign the Oslo accords, heading down a road that most of the watching world believed would finally end the century-long conflict between Jews and Arabs over the land they both claim. Rabin, the weary soldier turned peacemaker, caught the mood when he declared: "Enough of war, enough of bloodshed. Enough."
    No one looks back at that moment now except with regret. Among both Israelis and Palestinians, Oslo has become a byword for disaster: the beginning of a series of missteps that led to the bitter, bloody violence of today. A decade that began with a peace accord has ended with this week's burial of a 20-year-old Israeli girl on what was meant to be her wedding day. Ten years ago Israeli leaders Rabin and Shimon Peres were seen squabbling over who was to shake Arafat's hand. Their successors today, Ariel Sharon and his defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, argue instead over whether to dump Arafat in another country - or kill him.

    No wonder both sides are weighed down with depression. That much was clear at this week's Middle East editors' dialogue, a meeting of 10 Israeli and Palestinian journalists hosted jointly by the Guardian and the Portland Trust. These shapers of public opinion, sharp-eyed, eloquent observers of their own nations, couldn't even allow themselves the bleak optimism of believing they had reached rock bottom. Few thought they had. Instead they are bracing themselves for what could be a murderous few weeks.

    One Israeli editor relayed the view he had picked up from a cabinet minister back home: that this conflict will last for another hundred years at least. There will be pauses and lulls, but the killing will go on, deep into the 22nd century.

    A Palestinian journalist, Nasser Laham, of the independent station Bethlehem TV, spoke with heartbreak of what is happening in his own society. He described running into a friend at the local barbershop: the young man was being groomed as if for his wedding day, shaven and freshly coiffed. "He looked so clean; he looked beautiful." The next day word came that his friend had become the latest suicide bomber. And Laham knows hundreds like him, queuing up to claim their own place in paradise, ready to end their own lives in order to take those of the enemy.

    Yet somehow everything is not lost. Israelis and Palestinians know that, even after the coming conflagration, their fundamental underlying problem will not have gone away. More cafes and buses will be bombed, Arafat may be dead or exiled to Devil's Island - but still the basic question will remain: how are these two peoples to share one land? And the stubbornness of that question means the two sides will, eventually, have to reach some arrangement - no matter how much hurt they inflict on each other before they get there.

    The 10 editors seemed to know that too. That's why, even though Abu Mazen's government fell last week - a major story in their patch - the Palestinian journalists came to London anyway. And that's why, even when the mobile phones went off in a chorus to bring the dread news of Tuesday's double bombing, the Israelis did not head for the airport and for home. Instead both sides stayed to talk - aware perhaps that, despite all the pain, there is no other way.

    There are other crumbs of hope. Most Israelis and Palestinians show a remarkable degree of agreement, even consensus, on what will be the ultimate solution to their conflict. Polls show majorities on both sides acknowledge that the eventual deal will be a partition of the land into two states, one for Israelis, one for Palestinians, more or less on the lines of the 1967 borders. The editors reflected that degree of una nimity: of the 10, only one believed that the battle between the two peoples was incapable of resolution.

    The problem is that neither is ready to take the other's word for it. Palestinians note the opinion polls that show Israelis are ready to give up the West Bank and Gaza, but set more store by the notorious "facts on the ground" that say otherwise: Jewish settlements on, and now a "security fence" scything its way into, territory that should belong to the future Palestinian state.

    Israelis voice similar scepticism. If Palestinians are sincere about a two-state solution, then why are they attacking not just settlers but civilians in Israel proper? Their goal must surely be to drive Jews out of not only the future Palestine but the Jewish state itself. And why won't Palestinians promise loud and clear that, once they get their own state, that will be the end of their claim on Israel? What kind of two-state deal is it if they demand a right of return to their own Palestinian state - and to the Jewish one as well?

    S uch distrust is not, on its own, insurmountable. If our jury of editors had been locked in a room for a week, I'm sure they could have thrashed out an agreement that both sides could live with. But even if they did, Israelis and Palestinians would face one more obstacle.

    No matter what accord the two peoples might grudgingly agree to, it would take leadership to drive it through. Israel and Palestine's tragedy is that while the peoples themselves now know what has to be done, their leaders refuse to do the job. As the Israeli novelist and peacenik Amos Oz likes to put it, the patients are ready for their operation - the trouble is, the surgeons are cowards.

    This leaves only two possible solutions. The men and women of Ramallah and Tel Aviv might have to sit tight and wait for new leadership. Given Sharon's support among Israelis and Arafat's grip on Palestinians, that could be a long wait. Or both nations could look to the outside world.

    That's what our editors were doing. For all the bleakness of their mood, their spirits were lifted by a session with the prime minister around the cabinet table in Downing Street. Whatever his domestic woes, Tony Blair is now perhaps the mostadmired world leader; he is, unusually, trusted by both Israelis and Palestinians. So when he urged them to "raise the banner" of peace, to believe that peace is possible - he had seen it in Northern Ireland - they listened.

    Blair promised international help - once there was a basic level of security, an end to terror and a rebuilding of trust between the two sides. But those things may never come without international help. Britain, the US and others cannot wait for progress before they step in. There will be no progress until they do. If the evidence I saw this week is anything to go by, these two nations are ready to do a deal - but they cannot do it themselves. The world has to act - and it must not wait another 10 years to do it.

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