Israel's difficult overture

It has often been said that the most difficult life experience aside from death is moving. In fact, there is psychological trauma associated with vacating the place one has called home, abandoning the familiar, leaving behind old memories, and venturing out into the unknown to build a new life.

When we make the decision to undertake such a trying endeavor, we do so with the hope of a better future and with our eyes fixed on new possibilities. Israel's disengagement plan - its bold move to evacuate over 8,000 people for the sake of peace - is similar in its difficulty and its purpose, but both the scale and implications are far greater.

The decision to dismantle all 21 settlements in Gaza and four in the West Bank is one of the most painful initiatives that Israel has ever had to implement.

By Wednesday, Israeli families must leave the homes and communities they have built and nurtured, some for more than three decades. The numbers speak for themselves: 100 percent of the Gaza Strip and 300 square miles of the West Bank will be evacuated and handed over to the Palestinians; 5,000 Israeli schoolchildren will need to find new schools; 10,000 people employed in agriculture will need new employment; 38 synagogues will be dismantled; and 48 graves will be uprooted.

Why has Israel chosen to take this historic step? Faced with the decision either to lead or to be led, Israel has decided to lead.

Israel's disengagement plan presents the prospect of a better future for Palestinians and Israelis alike. This plan aims to minimize friction between Israelis and Palestinians, bolster Israel's security, and provide the Palestinians with the chance to design their own future.

Perhaps most important, disengagement presents a key opportunity to move beyond the present impasse and start the process of negotiation. Unfortunately, inaction has been the name of the game for the Palestinians ever since Yasser Arafat slammed the door on the historic concessions Israel offered at Camp David in 2000. Since then, Palestinian leaders have consistently allowed terror to obstruct the path of peace.

The emergence of President Mahmoud Abbas's government offers the Palestinians a chance to break this pattern of missed opportunities.

But for this to happen, Mr. Abbas must demonstrate a true commitment to reform by reining in terrorists and dismantling their organizations, unifying the Palestinian security forces, implementing rule of law, and taking concrete actions to end the incitement to violence taught in Palestinian schools.

Israel's disengagement has the potential to strengthen moderate forces in Palestinian society and encourage the Palestinians to halt the terror offensive, but ultimately the Palestinians and their leaders will also have to make a choice: Do they want to continue destroying or to begin building?

Israel's disengagement shows the world that Israel is genuinely committed to the pursuit of peace - even when that quest calls for tough sacrifices.

The nations of the world have lauded Israel's bold move and are now turning their focus to the Palestinians. The very best decision that Abbas can make for his own people, for peace in the region, and for stability in the world is the choice to fight terrorism.

Embarking on a new course, abandoning old modes of behavior, and making fundamental changes is never an easy task; Israel is experiencing this firsthand.

However, if the Palestinians continue to close their doors to change they will ensure just one thing - that the opportunities and possibilities that lie beyond it will never be realized.

Meir Shlomo is the consul general of Israel to New England.

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