Angola's lessons on peace

Peace broke out recently, and hardly anyone noticed. Amid the reports of ever-worsening violence in the Middle East, the story of a cease-fire in Angola's civil war seems to have been judged as largely unnewsworthy.

Angola's conflict had raged with few pauses since the country gained independence in 1975. One group, the MPLA, took over the government early on with Soviet backing. Because it was continually challenged by the UNITA rebel movement, which was aided by South Africa and the United States, the MPLA never extended its control over the entire country. Even after the cold war ended and both sides lost their patrons, the fighting continued. Hundreds of thousands died, and millions were driven from their homes.

That began to change rapidly on Feb. 22 when government troops ambushed and killed Jonas Savimbi, the UNITA leader. By the end of March, a peace agreement had been worked out and signed, and the United Nations special envoy to Angola described both sides as "completely happy" with the accord.

Despite the fact that peace deals in 1975, 1991, and 1994 fell apart, optimism remains strong, this one will succeed.

Some experts on conflict resolution hold that, in longstanding disputes, a breakthrough that achieves peace is rarely possible without a change in leadership on one side or the other. Angola's experience might prompt one to ask, who is the Savimbi of the Middle East – the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, or the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon? This is not a suggestion that either should meet an untimely end. It is posing the question as to whether peace will ever be possible with both still in power.

For Israel and Palestine to find peace, both countries will have to be able to live behind secure borders, free to develop their national identities. For that to begin to happen, the Palestinians, and other Arab nations, will have to give Israel security, and Israel will have to give the Palestinians hope.

Palestinian aspirations for a viable country will require Israel to relinquish the vast majority of their settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Like a general preparing for the last war, however, Mr. Sharon argues the settlements are needed for defense. But the most significant threat to Israel is no longer the possibility of invasion by its neighbors; it is the suicide bombers in their midst. In the not-too-distant future it will be weapons of mass destruction from afar. And what will happen if the former obtain the latter?

The Palestinians, on the other hand, have to accept that only a small fraction of them will be able to have the right to return to Israel to live.

That, plus an end to the terrorism, would help make Israel's future secure. That will require Mr. Arafat to stop assuming Israel can be forced to negotiate. Regardless of whatever public statements he may make, Arafat incites and uses terrorism in the belief that it will improve his bargaining position to the point where he can achieve his aims without having to make a bargain.

So is Sharon or Arafat the Savimbi of the Middle East – a leader who is, in effect, a key stumbling block to peace? Clearly each thinks the other is. Neither has any faith that the other is willing to end the fighting and begin a process of compromise and negotiation that will lead to lasting peace. Both leaders have told their people they don't have to make territorial or other compromises and that they can have all that and Jerusalem, too.

Until they are willing to educate their people about the reality of what is required for peace, they both are obstacles to peace. But unlike Savimbi, if one or both of them were not on the scene, their replacements would probably not be much better. Both the leaders and those they lead have to decide that the answer to violence is not more violence.

• Ambassador Dennis Jett is dean of the International Center at the University of Florida.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Angola's lessons on peace
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today