A Strong Start, Not an End

The end of the Camp David summit does not mean the end of Middle East peacemaking. Wise leaders on both the Israeli and Palestinian side, as well as the majority of their people, know that there's no alternative to the search for peace.

That search didn't dead-end at Camp David. In fact, significant progress was made. Compromise positions were reportedly found on difficult issues, such as the return of Palestinian refugees and final borders of a Palestinian state.

The most difficult issue of all, Jerusalem, didn't yield to compromise. Indeed, on both sides of the conflict that word has been forbidden when it comes to the Holy City. Israel has often reiterated its right to an "eternal, undivided capital." The Palestinian Authority sticks to its right to complete sovereignty over East Jerusalem and the establishment of its capital there.

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The middle path between these positions proved too narrow to walk this time around. Some kind of partial sovereignty, with control over most of day-to-day life, was not enough for Palestinian negotiators. On the other hand, it would have been far too much for the domestic critics of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

It appears Yasser Arafat was not ready to budge from a very literal interpretation of the United Nations land-for-peace resolutions of 1967 and 1973 regarding Jerusalem. Was he just as adamant that every Israeli settlement on land formerly belonging to Jordan must be returned to Arab sovereignty? Not likely, or the talks would have ended much sooner.

Why the extreme difficulty with Jerusalem? Because matters of identity, culture, and religious symbolism permeate its tawny stones. But are these matters more important than peace and the well-being of future generations on both sides?

Sharing the Holy City is a practical necessity. Three world religions have deep roots there, and access to holy sites must be unfettered for all. Arabs and Israelis already live and work together there. Jerusalem's Palestinian population is a fact of life for Israel. It has to be accommodated.

Speculation is rife about a rekindling of violence in the wake of the lapsed talks. But both sides, and the United States as mediator, have made it clear that the process has recessed, not collapsed. Certainly, there's ample reason to keep the negotiations going: The parties know each other much better than they did two weeks ago. The goals of a recognized country for Palestinians and firmly grounded peace for Israelis are tantalizingly close. A deal by Sept. 13, when Arafat says he'll declare statehood, is not out of the question.

For some, it may seem easier to fall back into the pit of strife and war, but it's not. The hard work of climbing out, for good, must continue.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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