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Cautious optimism about Sharm el Sheik
February 11th, 2005
The great American satirist and cynic Ambrose Bierce in his Devils Dictionary defined peace as: In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting. This may not be true all the time and everywhere, but it has seemed to be all too true when it comes to the ever-elusive pursuit of peace in the Middle East.
Yet with all the caveats, the bad precedents and the mistrust; and with all the reasons for pessimism that skeptics and cynics, Hamasniks and Likudniks, have cited and will continue to cite, one has to maintain hope. So we greet with cautious optimism the meeting this week between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordans King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at Sharm el Sheik, Egypt.
And we are not the only ones with this reaction. According to a poll published Tuesday in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, 61 percent of Israelis are very or quite optimistic that there is calm in store while only 37 percent are pessimistic.
What has come out of the meeting is modest and, granted, mostly words and symbolic gestures. Sharon and Abbas shook hands a dramatic step in the background of Sharons refusal to even meet with the late P.A. leader Yasser Arafat. They agreed to a truce and to meet again. Jordan and Egypt agreed to return their ambassadors to Israel after a four-year absence. These may be the kind of small gestures that speak volumes in diplomacy or they may be just empty show.
But such gestures could constitute the first step that, according to the famous Chinese proverb, inaugurates the journey of a thousand miles. Such steps are worth taking in the cause of peace, even if they dont necessarily pan out. In fact, one might argue, doing so is a high Jewish religious imperative, much less a desire from war-weary people; Seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:15).
Of course, this doesnt mean Israel or its friends abroad should be naïve and blind to the possibility that a period of cheating will ensue. Clearly, both sides have much to do and say before any real peace occurs; and opponents on both sides will strive with all their might to block the road.
But as the ancient Jewish philosopher, Philo, said, The beginning of all participation in good things is hope. This might be a good thing for all the skeptics and nay-sayers in our community to ponder. How can peace be achieved unless we make the effort to seek it?
For Israel there is no path that is without pain, said the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in his final speech, on Nov. 4, 1995. But a path of peace is preferable to a path of war.
Or, in the words of the famous opera singer, Beverly Sills, You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you dont try.
May this effort bear good fruit and eventually allow us to say with the prophet Isaiah (48:22), How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings that announces peace.