Michael Oren (author of a great book on the 1967 Six Day War, and a more recent one on America in the Middle East throughout its history) has an excellent piece in today’s New York Times about the ongoing peace efforts in Annapolis.
Oren correctly argues that peace is not made by bureaucrats (Israel’s Olmert, the Palestinian’s Abu Mazen), elevated to positions of leadership not by their own inner strength and resolve but by the sheer historical weight of their mentors (Sharon and Arafat, respectively). There is little hope that Olmert and Abu Mazen can bring peace, safety, and security to their people before each reigns in the more radical elements of his people (the ultra Orthodox settlers for Israel and the terrorist Hamas for the Palestinians).
That said, the Israeli population is in many ways closer to peace than they’ve ever been. Olmert’s Kadima party was elected with the stated intention to continue removing Israeli settlements from within the 1948 British mandate, a policy advocated by no prior Israeli government. A majority of Israelis are legitimately ready for the kinds of serious concessions (leaving Gaza and most of the West Bank forever, significant settlement withdrawals, land swaps, reparations, shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, dismantling the security fence).
The Palestinians are a sadder story. They rejected Abu Mazen’s Fatah party in favor of Hamas, whose stance on peace and reconciliation brings them back to before 1993 when Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization did not recognize Israel’s existence. It’s ironic that in once sense Abu Mazen has more legitimacy then any prior Palestinians leader to actually make peace with Israel, since he seems to legitimately advocate for it. On the other hand, he cannot even claim to represent a majority of his people, let alone control the more radical elements of his society that want to murder ever Jew between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
The best hope that will come out of Annapolis is what the Palestinian people will do when the next election arrives. They have now seen the effects of electing a recognized terrorist group to its leadership, and seen yet another opportunity for an end to the conflict squandered. They have also seen the next generation of real Palestinian leaders (Abu Mazen, perennial negotiator Saeb Erakat) who have begun to dismantle Arafat’s kleptocracy of lies and doublespeak.
For once, it appears the Palestinians are moving closer to a real “partner” for peace that Israel found in Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Jordan’s King Hussein. Hopefully, they will get there before it is too late to begin implementing a workable solution.