Mara Rudman
Middle East Progress (Opinion)
March 7, 2008 - 6:42pm

Too depressingly familiar. Eight young people killed, along with the gunman who ended their lives. Many more injured.

As is the intent of such extremists, he took aim not only at innocent civilians, but also at the heart of future security and hope for Israelis and Palestinians: a negotiated two-state resolution to their conflict. Ensuring that he not achieve this broader objective will require a renewed commitment by all involved, including the United States.

This latest gunman shares the goals of the Hamas Al-Qassem Brigades and Islamic Jihad militias firing rockets at Sderot and Ashkelon, the suicide bombers at the Dolphinarium, Baruch Goldstein in Hebron, and Yigal Amir, assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Yet, it was Rabin who said: "We shall fight terrorism as if there is no peace process, and pursue the peace process as if there is no terrorism."

The two ends must be pursued simultaneously, and with equal intensity, and often even in the same space. This applies to the United States as much as to the Israelis, the Palestinians and all the other actors in the region.

Carrying out such a dual-track approach requires courage, smarts, wisdom and willingness to withstand a good deal of political pressure—and more; all of which the late Prime Minister Rabin embodied.

For Israelis and Palestinians, this means that President Abbas agreed to continue negotiations, not allowing the Hamas rockets and resulting Israeli response to permanently sidetrack talks, despite popular protests. It is the reason that Israel’s Foreign Ministry immediately issued a statement in the wake of the latest attack that peace talks would continue, as it condemned the attack. President Abbas also denounced the attack. (As might be expected, the Hamas leadership celebrated it.)

The United States should draw lessons from such action by Palestinian and Israeli leadership. We rightly need to be alongside the political leadership, as we were here, urging them to move forward with negotiations, while condemning the death and injury of innocents. Such efforts require a sustained presence and cannot rely simply on Secretary Rice’s occasional or coincidental presence in the region.

The United States can apply the lesson elsewhere as well. When we are dealing with a Syria or an Iran, we also must be capable of thinking in at least dual-track terms: each is a country with which we must address a long list of significant differences. And yet we also share some common interests and concerns. Certainly we should have sufficiently adept diplomats to find a basis for discussion even with such tough adversaries—we cannot wait for every state to transform before we start to interact. In fact, our interaction can become a catalyst for changing behaviors.

In the case of Saudi Arabia or Egypt, we need to work in real partnership to pursue successfully regional peace and stability, and yet, just as we should be doing with Israelis and Palestinians, as with any real friends, we must be able to speak directly and frankly about where reform and growth is needed to ensure future regional stability and ongoing partnership. In turn, we must recognize that such honest dialogue works in both directions. That means, on occasion, we will be on the receiving end.

Whether with friends or adversaries, geopolitics is not so different from human relations: when we go into reactionary punishment mode initially it may feel satisfying but ultimately such reaction allows the extremist who provoked the behavior to win. By halting our participation, taking us out of the conversation, stopping the negotiation, they have achieved precisely the end they sought. And they fill the open space left by our absence.

As countries, and as individuals, we will be tested regularly by those who seek to destroy our will and commitment to achieving a better, more secure future. Those with clear vision see that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a critical component for such an outcome in a more secure and stable Middle East. We must maintain the persistence to stay in the game when things go bad—as they did yesterday in Jerusalem—and keep our eyes on that better horizon, and the route to getting there, not allowing the bad guys to move the goal posts yet again.


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