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Deciding peace

Can a peace process be created as the result of a political decision? If so, is the absence of a peace process the direct outcome of the lack of a political directive to build it? Did the Oslo process fail as a result of a lack of commitment to translating agreements into real terms, and of decisions to implement them on the policy level?

Imagine what would happen if Ariel Sharon directed the government and the military to invest maximum efforts in achieving peace. Imagine if Sharon demanded concrete plans from each ministry to create a peace process in each of their purviews. What if the prime minister personally oversaw a full-fledged program of coordination between the civilian ministries and the security apparatuses with the PA?

Imagine, further, that while the Defense Ministry continued to plan for the worst-case scenarios and guard against external threats, a Peacemaking Ministry was charged with advancing, coordinating and initiating governmental efforts toward peace. This ministry would also work with nongovernmental efforts to build cooperation with the Palestinian side.

How long would it take to turn the course of events? Imagine if all the genius and energies in the State of Israel were directed at making peace. The work of the best minds, the most creative thinkers and the financial resources necessary would be viewed as a direct investment in the immediate future, returning the highest profits any investments have ever paid. Imagine the impact on the immediate improvement of life for Israelis, the Palestinians and the region.

The private sector would launch joint ventures that would also be bridges of peace. Israel would utilize all its resources available to encourage these investments including tax incentives, risk insurance and the use of the best technologies to facilitate the efficient movement of people and goods across borders.

The peace directive would also include social and economic planning. Economic benefits would come through the need to develop the physical infrastructure of normal, peaceful relations. The planning process would deliberately work to ensure that the fruits of peace were felt by all citizens, Palestinians and Israelis, as soon as possible.

Direct involvement and investment from the private sector in such an initiative would be crucial. Support for these efforts from the European Union, the United States and other potential sources of aid would be included, though the initiatives would not be conditional or dependent on outside financial aid. There is enough capital in the world available that could be attracted to concrete investments if the environment were appropriate.

The Foreign Ministry would be directed to launch an international campaign to gather support for the government's new approach. Rather than waging propaganda battles across the globe, our diplomats could engage foreign governments and media in support of our new peace policies.

PALESTINIAN civil society and politicians would respond with skepticism which would be warranted. It would take time for Palestinians to judge whether or not the new plans and actions were real. Israel would have to take some initial risks in order for this program to succeed. Third-party involvement would be crucial, especially in the early stages.

The direct participation of Egypt and Jordan, for example, would be most helpful and would strengthen the existing peace accords with them. The Quartet would also be a useful body to advance the directives. Imagine a meeting of the principals of the Quartet held in Jerusalem where Israel would announce a Declaration of Intent to make full peace with the Palestinians.

Such a declaration would be a formal undertaking of the Israeli government, in an international arena, followed by parallel declarations by the Palestinians and the Quartet to do everything possible to make this succeed.

As part of the new policy Israel would withdraw from all Palestinian cities within a four-week period. Checkpoints in the West Bank would be removed. As the security situation continued to improve, Israel would freeze the construction of the separation barrier.

The Palestinians, for their part, would work swiftly to restore full law and order to the territories under their control. An international conference would be planned and convened within three months of the launch of the program to regather donor assistance for the Palestinian territories.

A major Israeli-Palestinian-international effort would be launched and coordinated by the Peacemaking Ministry and a similar body on the Palestinian side to develop a culture of peace. This effort, focusing on the media and education, would create a work plan to translate the peace directive into a new reality visible to all in a very short time-frame. The highest priority and financial resources would be provided for this effort.

IS THIS vision a naive dream? Perhaps, but one cannot deny the possibility of it becoming reality. Even though most Israelis and Palestinians don't believe peace is on the horizon, a majority still hope for peace based on the two-state solution. The missing element to transform this initiative into reality is leadership with the vision to lead the region into a new future.

It takes great statesmen to make decisions that seem from the outset so unlikely to succeed. It takes great courage and imagination to overcome fatalism and turn the course of events in such a dramatic way. There have been very few leaders who have created, almost overnight, a new and promising future for their people and for the world. South Africa's Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk are examples of such leaders.

Are Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas up to the task? Probably not, but as long as both of them are in power the prospect should not be dismissed. The proposed peace initiative need not be bilateral. There is no real possibility for conditionality of immediate reciprocity and mutuality. This will come as the initiative gathers steam.

The initiative should be launched by Israel, and advanced with such determination that it would be impossible to withstand the dynamic changes on the ground. It is a policy revolution that requires the kind of determination Sharon has demonstrated before.

There is, in our political arena, perhaps no one but Sharon who has the standing and determination to implement this plan. The challenge is there, the decision is his to make, history will be the judge.

The writer is the Israeli CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. This article can also be read at

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