February 09, 2005

Who First? 

You probably heard that just yesterday Palestine* leader Mahmoud and Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared a truce after years of bloody conflict. Both sides promised to abstain from the use of force, and Israel agreed to some other conditions:

"To our Palestinian neighbours, I would like to promise that we have a genuine intention for you to live in independence. We do not want to control your lives," he said.

Mr Sharon also said the two sides had agreed on transferring "certain Palestinian areas" from Israeli to Palestinian control.

Under the arrangement, Israel will withdraw its troops from Jericho and four West Bank towns within three weeks, Palestinian negotiator Hassan Abu Libdeh said later.

Agreement was also reached on the release of Palestinian prisoners, officials from both sides said. A batch of 500 would be freed soon, with another 400 to follow later, they said.
This is not the first "hystorical agreement" between Israeli and Palestinians: another was signed in 1993 (the Oslo Accord) but it failed spectacularly - because in 2000 Arafat refused to accept the golden Israeli proposal of a Palestinian state on 98% of the West Bank and Gaza.

Will this time be different? I find it very hard to trust Abbas: he already cast himself as a new Arafat, and called Isreal "the Zionist Enemy". Will he have the will and the power to respect and enforce the truce - when Hamas and the Islamic Jihad declared clearly that they not are not bound by the agreement? I don't know now, and before we know people will die, sadly.

But Israel has to trust someone on the palestinian side, unless they want to resolve the issue with another large-scale war to drive the Palestinians away. But such a war would not be a very good idea, in my opinion: it can easily escalate to a regional conflict, and now the Egyptian army (just to name one) is much stronger than in 1973. In the worst case, I could imagine France opely giving military aid to the Arab side.
The Israeli leaders have to trust someone, and reach an agreement overcoming the concerns about the sincerity of their counterpart. But mistakes will be deadly.

There is another aspect of this agreement, anyway: it's born out of politics and force, after the Israelis basically won the Oslo War (a name that quite a few Israelis use instead of Second Intifada): the Palestinians did not gain one square kilomenter of territory; instead, they are in worse conditions than before, and many high-profile terrorists are dead or captured. Maybe, just maybe, Mahmoud abbas came to the pragmatic realization that his side will obtain nothing (except sorrow) from the use of violence, and it's thus time to work for a real peace process. Only time will tell, but what will be the toll?

* I know, there is not such a state as Palestine. But let's keep writing simple, OK?


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