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Who will take the first step?

Middle East Times Editorial, 08.04.08

Throughout the 60 years of percolating Arab-Israeli conflict both sides have found it easier to declare war – or as the case may be, to wage war without bothering to declare it – rather than to declare peace.
Yet recently, amid renewed fears of the possibility that Israel and Syria could resort to open warfare, fears heightened by the unprecedented military exercises carried out by Israel along its northern frontier, both countries have continued to make statements that they seek peace and not war.
It's all very well to talk about peace. Both the Arabs and Israelis have filled volumes upon volumes with talk of peace. The real challenge however comes when it is time to act. And so far neither side has been bold enough to take a really courageous step in the direction of peace. What they have done instead is to take half measures rather than go the full Monty.
It seems at times as if the word "peace" is a dirty word in the Middle East, not to be mentioned, let alone explored. Yet peace has managed to sneak in, despite the forces opposing it. But when it did come, it crept in through the back door, rather like an illicit lover, instead of being welcomed through the main entrance and in the great pomp and circumstance it merits.
To date, only three countries of the 22 member states of the Arab League have established diplomatic relations with the State of Israel: Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania. But again, those are discreet, often strained relations.
The exchange of tourism many Israelis had hoped would result from a peace treaty with their Arab neighbors failed to materialize. A few plane loads of adventurous Israelis descended upon Egypt and Jordan to tepid receptions. A series of terrorist attacks on Egyptian resorts frequented by Israeli tourists frightened what could have been a lucrative source of revenue for the Egyptians. Traffic in the other direction – Egyptians and Jordanians visiting Israel never materialized.
A few other Arab countries, such as Morocco and Bahrain, have established discreet commercial links with the Jewish state while other countries continue to ignore the very existence of Israel; and Syria remains the only country of the former so-called frontline states (the Arab countries bordering Israel) still in a state of belligerency with the Jewish state.
The bold step now would be for Israel and the Arab countries advocating peace to go the extra step. The Saudi peace initiative, initially unveiled at the Beirut Arab League summit several years ago and since adopted by the 22-member body as the Arab peace initiative, was reiterated at the Damascus Arab summit last week. But again, it was done so in the vaguest of terms. Both sides remain wary of each other, and suspicious of the others' motives.
The Arab peace initiative offers Israel full recognition by all 22 members of the League of Arabs States in exchange for the return of the Arab land captured by Israel in the June 1967 war. Accepting the offer and moving forward requires great courage. The question now remains to see who will have the courage needed to declare peace?