It happens every thirty years, always in November. Despite meticulous preparations and inevitable predictability, the event is clouded by much suspense and uncertainty. In the end, however, it always takes place in the same month, as if history had been waiting for the right page on the calendar to open a new, better, chapter in Israel’s journey.
November 1917. The Balfour Declaration was issued along with a commitment to establish a Jewish national home in the land of Israel. Thirty years went by. November 1947. The UN approved the Partition Plan of Palestine, which paved the way for the establishment of the State of Israel. Another 30 years passed by. November 1977. The President of Egypt, the largest and most important Arab state, visited Israel for the first time and delivered a message of peace.
And now, after another 30 years, we are approaching November 2007, the date set for an international conference aimed at outlining an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. It is again a chance to make history and stand by the standards set by Chaim Weitzman, David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin, each in his own November.
Now, it is Ehud Olmert’s turn. Seizing the opportunity is not up to him alone, but he must do everything in his power to ensure that it is not missed. Not often do the pieces of the international puzzle fit together as now: the leader of the greatest superpower is willing to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the leader of the Palestinian Authority is ready for a dramatic compromise, and a solid majority of both the Israeli public and the Knesset supports peace negotiations.
Ironically, the source of hope is the weakness of Bush, Abbas and Olmert. The U.S. President, after seven years of continuous failure in the region—from the fiasco in Iraq to attempts to democratize Palestine—is determined to salvage a part of his legacy. He is up for a late start, but perhaps not too late.
Abbas has already announced that this is his last term as the President of the PA. After years of struggle, both internal and external, he aims at securing independence and freedom for his people before he steps down. He also acknowledges that no Palestinian leader would be willing to compromise politically as much as he does, in his weakness.
The Israeli Prime Minister understands that only a dramatic act can draw him out of the negative footnote reserved for him in the Prime Ministers’ chronicles. Peace is more popular than Olmert is, and only a substantial progress in this direction could rescue him from his current political abyss.
These three leaders have almost nothing to lose, and we all have much to gain.
Olmert should not wait. His pre-elections campaign calling for significant withdrawals from the West Bank is to his credit. As opposed to his predecessors, he does not need to make a profound political change. It would be sufficient if he lives up to his promises: end the occupation and guarantee a Jewish majority in Israel.
Prior to November, Olmert and Abbas should present to both peoples a detailed memorandum of understanding that sketches a solution. Additionally, the two leaders ought to agree on the stages of the implementation process and its enforcement mechanism. Such a plan would serve as the best way to handle the extremists who wish to turn us back on our heels.
Indeed, an agreement is bound to bring about opposition. It always will. However, most of the public won’t really mind how much the border diverges from the route of the separation barrier (92% of the West Bank territories already fall east of the present route); how many unsettled territories are handed over in return for the annexation of a few settlements; and in which neighborhoods of East Jerusalem Israel cedes its sovereignty.
Olmert neither needs a new vision, nor a new plan, nor a new partner. He needs courage. That is it. The same courage that made Weitzman, Ben-Gurion and Begin accomplish the Jewish people’s greatest achievements in the past 100 years.