Ophir Paz-Pines
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
December 20, 2009 - 1:00am

The peace train between Israel and the Palestinians has been derailed for some time. World leaders are at a loss and have perhaps given up altogether; both sides in the conflict are busy explaining why the other is the real peace "refuser," while real negotiations over a peace agreement are replaced by endless internal discussions.

Israel is struggling over the question of freezing settlements, while Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu keeps changing positions in an attempt to please all those around him, Defense Minister Ehud Barak is trying to enforce the freeze and Minister without Portfolio Bennie Begin talks about the settlement population growing by about ten thousand during the 10-month freeze period. This is an absurd situation.

The Palestinian Authority, for its part, is busy with questions of leadership, confrontation with Hamas and the nature of the Palestinian struggle, while dangerously toying with violence and one-sided acts.

It appears that these are two parallel lines that will never meet. This situation leads to despair and disbelief in the possibility of moving toward peace arrangements, and serves the anti-peace camps on both sides who support the deadlock and remain undeterred by deterioration to violence. In this scenario, the whole Middle East is hostage to one Palestinian terrorist who undertakes an attack or a Jewish terrorist who burns a mosque. This is the little-man's era in which the leaders allow extremists on the ground to dictate the agenda.

HOW DO we get the peace train back on track? How do we restore the hope of peace and the faith in a partner on the other side? Now more than ever, the region needs President Barack Obama to initiate a new peace plan. Such a plan would replace George W. Bush's road map, which can no longer serve as a basis for renewed talks. Obama must gather support from the Quartet and receive the backing of moderate Arab nations, and then attempt to reach an agreement with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Obama's plan should include banning violence and fighting terror, mutual recognition and a decision that all disputable issues, including the topics of Jerusalem and refugees, would be up for negotiation. The plan should include timetables and a clear working schedule, which would commence immediately after it's approved by the Knesset and the PA. It should end in a permanent agreement of two states for two nations within two years.

History will not forgive those who did not take advantage of the current relative calm - that has not existed for decades - to promote peace, and instead contributed to a dangerous deterioration which would sabotage any chance for peace and will lead, God forbid, to another wave of violence, or to diplomatic moves which would intensify the existing rift.

Obama, who recently received the Nobel Peace Prize, has a golden opportunity to undertake an act of inspiring leadership which will justify the public's trust and expectations. Only a new pragmatic peace initiative can save us from endless treading and time-wasting. Only a new peace program can bring both sides to the negotiating table, prevent the resignation of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and stop the destructive political deadlock.

This historical opportunity must not be missed, as no one knows when another will come our way.

The writer is a Labor MK and a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.


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