From the Editor: Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui

Dated February 18, 2005

The Sharm el-Sheikh Peace Initiative

Cold, cloudy and drizzly, the Gaza Strip was shrouded in biting cold last Tuesday. But amidst the despair of the wintry morning were faint traces of hope. "It could be the bad weather that withheld people here in Gaza from celebrating, but I can say that expectations and hopes are riding high here, and people are waiting to see good actions on the ground," said Salem Helles, a Palestinian student in Gaza. "We are fed up of hearing good and then bad news over the past few years, and it is time for real positive actions and an end to the Israeli occupation," he added.

At about the same time Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was bathed in sunlight and was the venue of what could turn out to be a landmark Arab-Israeli summit bringing together Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah. The meeting and the ceasefire agreed to between Sharon and Abbas have been described as a 'groundbreaking' event to usher peace in the war-ravaged Middle East. Said Dr Condaleeza Rice, US Secretary of State: "Success is not assured, but America is resolute.

This is the best chance for peace we are likely to see for years to come." Tony Blair described the summit as one "of historic importance" while a spokesman for Kofi Annan felt the pledges "provide an opportunity for the peace process to resume". Not everyone shared the optimism. Newspapers in the Middle East particularly sounded circumspect. "What Sharon obtained in Sharm el-Sheikh yesterday is enough for him ... There is no call for any other gifts," said Abdel Wahhab Badrakhan, deputy editor of the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat. "Arabs jumping to reward him with normalization should at least put him in a probation period," Badrakhan commented in an editorial.

Salah el-Hadja, chief editor of the Tunisian Arabic daily Assarih, observed: "Only Sharon was able to benefit from the summit by appearing as a champion of peace ... If that is the criterion of success for the summit, one can say it succeeded. But the Palestinian cause is still stuck." Qatar's Ash-Sharq daily felt the summit "did not achieve much of what was expected by the Palestinian and Arab public opinion ... as it did not include guarantees for the implementation and commitment" of a ceasefire.

The Daily Star commentator Rami Khouri said: "The bottom line to date is that everything we are witnessing - heartening and welcomed as it is - has been tried before, by these same people, without success." Israeli papers appeared decidedly more optimistic. Top-selling Yediot Aharonot ran a front-page headline declaring "The Intifada Is Over", while its main tabloid rival Maariv struck a more skeptical note: "Maybe This Time". Maybe this time the hardliners on both sides will be successfully kept on a tight leash. Maybe this time peace efforts will be crowned with success. Maybe this time Israel will act with expedition and sincerity to facilitate the creation of a Palestinian state. Maybe this time the Palestinians will "not have fixed mindset about Israeli behavior," as hoped by an analyst.

"After all, there is such a clear example for them to take guidance from Egypt's peace treaty with Israel and the latter's returning of the occupied Sinai territory to Egypt." A sane observation. The spirit of co-existence must prevail in the Palestinian-Israeli parleys if peace efforts are to crystallize, a point we had emphasized in these columns sometime back and repeat here in part in view of its relevance to the current situation. " The multi-dimensional nature of the human tragedy enacted in the Middle East could have hardly been more truthfully spelled out . As the death toll mounts and casualties multiply, there is little to suggest that words like remorse, compunction, empathy or fair play have any meaning in contemporary lexicon.

The resultant suicide-bomber acts staged by hapless Palestinians, including hijab-sporting teen-age youthful girls, is a cause of concern. So are the innocent Israeli civilians gasping for precious life and helplessly scrambling for help. It is a haunting spectacle - on both sides of the religious divide. "Both the Palestinians and the Israelis are experiencing a bloodbath, though of a varying degree. In this swiftly spiraling human catastrophe the question of paramount importance is: Does Islam or Judaism preach violence and should the losses experienced by the adherents of the two Abrahamic faiths be incurred in such a wanton fashion given the fact that both Muslims and Jews have stakes in the region and neither one can succeed in surviving at the expense of the other? A spirit of mutual accommodation must prevail in any strategy or scheme of initiatives chalked out to bring about peace in the region. Israel, with its marked military superiority, is better poised to take the initiative.

It must, as well-known peace negotiator George Mitchell observed, realize that "a military victory is an illusion" and the two parties should "get back to the negotiating table." His message for the Palestinians is equally important: the pool of suicide bombers is not going to achieve the Palestinian objective of an independent state. "A glimmer of hope comes from the majestic portals of the Vatican where the Pope in his Easter address emphasized the paramount importance of coexistence. The Beirut Declaration, offering peace to Tel Aviv in exchange for a complete Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories, is a manifestation of the same spirit. The US could play a pivotal role in mustering support for such peace initiatives.

It has acted nobly in Bosnia and Kosovo and rescued Europe in the two world wars. It alone has the power to bring the Israelis and the Palestinians to the negotiating table to ensure that the two arrive at an arrangement which ensures the well being of both. If memory serves right, it was Charles Dickens, well-known English novelist, who observed: "Let's conserve a livable world. Let's contemplate existence." A sane advise. One that both the Palestinians and the Israelis need to heed today. Conflicts are created and ended by human beings." -


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.