Magazine article The Christian Century

Desperate Drive for Peace

Magazine article The Christian Century

Desperate Drive for Peace

Article excerpt

ISRAEL'S FOREIGN MINISTER Shimon Peres recently described his role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as like that of a bus driver whose eyes are fixed on the road ahead and who refuses to wait for the passengers behind him to reach a consensus on the route. That rather breezy metaphor suggests that Peres is gambling that he still has time to implement a peace settlement with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. If he doesn't, there is almost no chance that he and his Labor coalition will remain in power after Israel's 1996 general elections.

The bus Peres is driving is not on a highway, however, and there are no signs telling him what is ahead. Since the Oslo accords were signed in Washington almost two years ago, Peres has been driving across a desert, with sand dunes blocking him at every turn.

Providing the most dangerous obstacles are the two groups responsible for much of the violence that plagues Israel and the Palestine National Authority in Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas, the Islamic organization which rejects the peace accords and favors an Islamic state in all of Palestine, continues to wage a war of terrorism, using young Palestinians as suicide bombers. These acts are designed to undermine Arafat's leadership, bring down the Israeli Labor government and derail the peace process.

Meanwhile, among the Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, many of whom are driven by the belief that the area they call Judea and Samaria belongs to them through an edict from God, are fanatics who continue a campaign of violence against Palestinians. Ironically, these settlers are allied with Hamas in their determination to block the peace process.

The Likud coalition, which controlled Israeli policies throughout the 1980s, represents yet another major obstacle to the peace process. Its leaders insist that Israel is giving away far too much land and autonomy to the Palestinians. They promise voters that if returned to power they will reverse the current process and offer only limited autonomy to their rebellious neighbors--a move that, to most observers, seems dangerous and futile. It was precisely this harsh stance that proved so unsuccessful during Likud's reign and led to the uprising known as the Intifada--which in turn forced Arafat and Israeli's Labor coalition to sign the oslo accords.

While Likud is Peres's major political obstacle in the peace process, there is an equally threatening force represented by Palestinian leaders who believe the Oslo accords were a betrayal of the Intifada. Reached in secret between Arafat and Israeli leaders, the Oslo agreement calls for Israel to turn over control of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestine National Authority, but the definition of that control is largely determined by Israel.

In an interview with an Egyptian journal, Edward Said, a Palestinian-American scholar and politician and a harsh critic of Arafat, recalls "the truth of Rosa Luxembourg's statement that you cannot impose your own political solution on another people against their will." He points to an agreement reached by the Palestine Liberation Organization in Algiers in the mid '80s which called for the two-state solution for the region--Israel and an independent Palestine. Said feels that Arafat failed to "carry out the struggle for what we agreed upon in Algiers." The Oslo agreement creating the Self-Rule Authority will not lead to a "state," Said insists, and he questions what future is possible for such a limited authority. …

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