A BOSTON GLOBE EDITORIAL
A peace option in Israel
THAT THE CONFLICT between Israelis and Palestinians has become a blind vendetta was demonstrated by the killing Monday of five members of a kibbutz known for defending Palestinian rights. The slaying of children on either side, whether deliberate or defined as collateral damage, ought to be regarded as a sure sign that both peoples need a return to political negotiations and better leadership.
Palestinian elections have been called for Jan. 20 and Israeli elections for Jan. 28. If polls and pundits are to be believed, the needed changes will not come from the ballot box. But where there is genuine democracy, there is always the chance that the voters can choose a new direction and new leaders to help them turn away from a dead end.
Israel's parliamentary system may be unruly, but it does not lack for open debate and free choice. Current Israeli polls indicate that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will turn back a challenge from Benjamin Netanyahu in the Likud Party's primaries on Nov. 28 and the party will increase its share of seats in the Knesset. Sharon would then be able to form a more stable national unity government with Labor and centrist parties without extreme rightist parties.
There is, however, a prospect for qualitative change. The most likely new leader for Labor, Amram Mitzna, the mayor of Haifa and a retired Army general, has said he will propose security policies markedly different from Sharon's. These include renewed negotiations with the Palestinians regardless of whether Yasser Arafat or a successor is their leader, a commitment to dismantle some settlements, and in the event a negotiated resolution is not possible, a unilateral Israeli withdrawal to a provisional line of separation.
The sharper the differences between Mitzna and Sharon - or between another Labor candidate for prime minister and the Likud candidate - the better for all concerned. Mitzna is a practitioner of straight talk. During Israel's war in Lebanon, which was run by Sharon as defense minister, Mitzna resigned as a matter of conscience. He is capable of making a cogent, realistic case to Israelis that their ultimate security requires a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians and that such a peace will require ceding most settlements to a Palestinian state based on borders close to those discussed by the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams at Taba in January 2001.
The Palestinians, who are beset with bitter conflicts between the Islamists of Hamas and Arafat's secular nationalists, may not be able to respond to such an offer. And although close to two-thirds of Israelis tell pollsters they are ready for negotiations leading to a Palestinian state, at present most may not be willing to vote that way. Nevertheless, the best way to preserve the peace option is for politicians to defend it in a democratic electoral campaign.
This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 11/13/2002.