Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/4/2011 (3712 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
TEL AVIV -- Israel is celebrating the first day of Passover today with its government and political elites divided as to the next peace moves with the Palestinians.
Added this year to usual pro and con arguments was the "Arab Spring" -- the series of popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt and the growing uncertainties in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.
The question repeatedly being asked is whether this is the time for a new Israeli peace initiative or is it better to wait for the region to stabilize before making concessions that could affect Israel's security for generations to come?
Add to that pressure from Washington, Europe and the entire international community for movement towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Within the divided Israeli government, Defence Minister Ehud Barak is the most persistent advocate for a new Israeli peace move. In public statements and in private briefings, Barak repeatedly warns that a "political tsunami" will occur in September when the Palestinians are expected to seek UN recognition of an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 ceasefire lines.
Barak's strongest opponent is Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. This Russian-born politician, who is consistently striving to become the leader of the Israeli right, claims the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is "too weak" to become a real partner for peace with Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands between these two conflicting positions. On the one hand, he supports the idea that Israel should wait until the situation stabilizes. But at the same time, Netanyahu is under constant American and European pressure "to do something" with the Palestinians. And so, in the last few weeks, emissaries have travelled secretly between Jerusalem, Washington and European capitals exchanging notes and trying to reach an understanding about a future Israeli peace move.
Netanyahu himself said last week he intends to reveal his new plan early next month, just before he is scheduled to address both Houses of Congress in Washington.
Originally, Netanyahu was invited to address the annual conference of AIPAC, the most important Jewish lobby in the U.S.
On such occasions, all Israeli prime ministers also have been invited to meet with the president at the White House. So far, U.S. President Barack Obama has remained silent. Israeli political observers believe Obama is delaying his invitation pending the receipt of Netanyahu's new peace initiative. They are of the opinion, however, that having announced his intention to run for a second term, Obama can hardly afford to rebuff Netanyahu and not meet with him while in Washington.
While Netanyahu's peace initiative is still being defined, some of its elements are being debated in several political and academic forums. Netanyahu does not believe Mahmoud Abbas is capable of reaching a "final peace" with Israel. He is "too weak" for that.
Therefore, Netanyahu is reported to be suggesting a transfer of additional territory in the West Bank to full Palestinian control. Because of the present tensions in Jordan, Syria and Iraq, Netanyahu wants a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley to prevent the infiltration of Iranian elements into the West Bank.
Israel will enhance its economic co-operation with the Palestinian Authority and assist in building the institutions for the future Palestinian state. Despite the security risks, Israel will also remove additional roadblocks in the West Bank to facilitate trade and will release several hundreds of Palestinian prisoners as a personal gesture to Mahmoud Abbas.
Although not yet officially presented, Abbas has already rejected one important element in Netanyahu's plan. In an interview with AFP, the French news agency on Sunday, Abbas said that the Palestinian Authority will collapse should he agree to a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.
Abbas suggested, instead, that a NATO or a multinational force be stationed in the valley for a very short time, and not the 30 or 40 years suggested by Netanyahu.
Samuel Segev is the Winnipeg Free
Press Middle East correspondent.