A chance for lasting peace

Israeli Prime Minister provides spark for revival of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

In a major policy speech this past week, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledged humanitarian and economic incentives if militants freed a captive Israeli soldier and violence ceased. As a ceasefire takes hold in the Gaza Strip, this is the perfect opportunity to revive long-stalled peace efforts between the Palestinians and the Israelis. However, the ceasefire will likely break down if the many Palestinian factions are unable to agree on a unified strategy or if Israel fails to recognize its role in violating the rights of Palestinians.

Already, divisions are rising up within Palestinian leaders in their reactions to Olmert’s speech. Palestinian Authority leaders have responded enthusiastically, stating that talks should resume immediately and unconditionally. But officials from the Hamas party have expressed suspicion of Olmert’s comments and have demanded an immediate end to military action in the West Bank and Gaza. This fraction in unity within Palestinian leadership has plagued the Palestinians for many years, and continues as the leading impediment in their endeavors toward peace with the Israelis. It is also imperative that all violent actions directed toward Israelis halt during this crucial crossroads.

On the other hand, Israel needs to address its responsibility in the direct violation of Palestinian human rights. The Palestinians deserve their freedom, and their rights cannot be granted and taken away by Israel. No excuses can rectify the injustice and oppression of occupation. Also, Israel fails to recognize that Palestinians have turned to violence as a result of Israeli occupation. Until Israel takes responsibility for its actions and contributions to the conflict and stops blaming the conflict solely on the Palestinians, constructive and effective peace negotiations will never take place.

The importance of Olmert’s pledges lies in the context in which they are being made. The last four months have seen a surge of violence in the Gaza Strip, killing more than 300 Palestinians and five Israelis. Considering the high stakes, let’s hope that this can be the base for lasting peace between Israelis and the Palestinians.