The hard work called peace

Peacemaking is dangerous work. As Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the Middle East, US credibility as a powerful force in the world was as vulnerable as Yasser Arafat imprisoned in his compound in Ramallah.

Making peace is so much harder than making war. The military campaign to oust the Taliban and Al Qaeda from Afghanistan asked of Americans little more than huge amounts of money and technical prowess. The United States has plenty of both.

But risking ignominious defeat, which is so likely if the US commits to peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians, takes real courage.

Earlier this month, the Bush administration finally did come to grips with one key element of peacemaking: that talks have to begin before the killing stops.

Serious progress toward a reallocation of future powers, lands, and resources is essential. That, too, takes courage.

Everyone will have to set aside some part of what they have been fighting for – including the two most sacred and deeply contentious goals: a united Jerusalem serving as Israel's capital and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their family's ancestral lands.

It is not enough to try to get talks started, though that is risky work. Other aspects of peacemaking are just as hard.

Israelis and Americans will have to find the courage to admit that those who carry out the almost daily Palestinian bombing raids are doing the work that war demands.

Success in war depends on out- injuring the enemy, regardless of the costs and sacrifices to your own side. Palestinians are delivering weapons effectively, and if their targets are "civilians," so, too, are many Israeli targets.

It is hypocrisy for those who wage war nowadays to rail against civilian casualties. Since World War II, the vast majority of war's victims have been civilian. In the 1980s in Afghanistan, Soviet troops and CIA-backed mujahideen killed 50,000 warriors on both sides. Civilian casualties reached well over 1 million.

The word "terrorist" will have to be dropped from US diplomatic rhetoric, replaced by that ordinary and much more respectful word "enemy."

Probably the most important step of all can only materialize from inside the inner leadership councils of the warring communities. The political power will have to shift into the hands of people who believe deeply that peace is absolutely essential. In 1995, an Israeli settler fanatic assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin – the last Israeli leader fully to believe this.

Ever since, each prime minister has promised Israel a version of a phony armed peace, a local cold war. But as the US learned in making peace with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev from 1988 to 1991, cold war and true peace are in no sense the same.

Among Palestinians, Mr. Arafat's commitment to peace has vacillated enormously, while Hamas never did accept the agreements made at Oslo. "Spoilers" have extraordinary power to reinflame a war. Only an unshakeable devotion to peace in the local leadership can turn them back.

Does US intervention promise a way out? Recent history tells us "no." A lucky confluence of mediator and region can help, but George Mitchell, the miracle worker in Ireland, failed in Israel and Palestine. Money has poured into both Palestine and Israel. Little resulted from that.

The end of apartheid in South Africa offers some clues. The government stopped describing Nelson Mandela as a "terrorist" and set him free to build a movement for peace. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard testimonies from 22,000 people about their suffering, and South African whites were forced to recognize the brutalities done in their name.

In the Middle East this year, millions of Arabs have seen Israeli brutalities with their own eyes on satellite TV. Their desire for revenge is hot.

Colin Powell returned from the Middle East empty-handed. Perhaps, because he never had the most important mandate of all: to remind Israelis and Palestinians of another key component of South Africa's path to peace. As Desmond Tutu showed us, those who must live side by side after a war cannot have peace without honest forgiveness for the brutal suffering of the war they are trying to end.

• Helena Meyer-Knapp is a professor of political studies at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and author of the forthcoming book 'Dangerous Peace-Making.'

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