Intense pressure must be applied to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as well as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But Sharon's policies will not bring security to Israelis or Palestinians; instead, they undermine the possibilities of peace. The recent assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud just prior to U.S. peace mediator Anthony Zinni's visit triggered the expected reaction, a series of retaliatory suicide bombings killing dozens of innocent civilians. Sharon's counterattacks on Arafat's offices and police compounds drive increasing numbers of Palestinians to extremist views.
The only way forward to a secure and just peace for Israelis and Palestinians is to end the military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Israel must withdraw its 400,000 settlers, the soldiers who surround them and dismantle the occupation infrastructure.
Taking this crucial step acknowledges that Israel holds most of the cards and must change course. Sharon demands seven days free from Palestinian violence but offers nothing in return.
What if he were to offer seven days free from the violence of occupation? There would be an immediate end to collective punishment, arbitrary arrests, closure and encirclement of villages and communities. For seven days, Israeli Defense Forces bulldozers would stop demolishing homes. F-16s would be grounded. Settlers and soldiers would stop uprooting trees; women could deliver babies in hospitals again, rather than at military checkpoints where they are detained. For seven days Palestinians would be free to pray in East Jerusalem mosques. Bethlehem could again welcome travelers and worshipers in safety.
Imagine that this respite lasted longer than seven days. Palestinians could gradually reclaim their lives and reconstruct their communities. Hunger, poverty and despair might lessen. Palestinians and Israelis together could dig through the rubble, hurt and anger left from years of occupation and violence to create a new civil society and the conditions necessary to coexist in peace and security.