Special to the Washington Jewish Week
On Monday, live on the Internet, the ceremony that ushers in Israel's Independence Day at Jerusalem's Mount Herzl took me back 24 years.
A rookie reporter for the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, I was covering the commemoration ceremony of Zafer al-Masri, the moderate mayor of Nablus, who on March 3, 1986 ‹ my very first day on the job as Ha'aretz's West Bank correspondent ‹ was assassinated by Palestinian radicals.
At some point, booklets were handed out. The title stunned me. It was an Arabic translation of Theodor Herzl's The Jewish State.
The introduction to the book said: "let us examine how Herzl dreamt of a state with institutions and means of existence while living in the heart of Europe, and his dream was realized. ... What about us, we who live here, don't we deserve to dream of a state?"
At the time it was unthinkable for young Palestinian ‹ I later met the young Palestinian intellectual, a former prisoner, who initiated the translation ‹ to urge his people publicly to emulate the success of the Zionist movement. To at least start dreaming.
Look at the West Bank now.
There is a capable Palestinian prime minister in Ramallah, who earlier this month promised that the Palestinians would be state-ready in less than two years. And with a disciplined professional police force, with reformed government institutions, with a recovering economy and with full international backing, he's not dreaming any more.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas have the blessing of the Obama administration to build a state. They should have the full cooperation of the Israeli government. These two leaders are the best Palestinian partners that Israel can realistically hope for.
Most Israelis ‹ and many of their friends overseas ‹ have been conditioned to believe that Israel has no Palestinian partner for peace. Although most Israelis support the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most don't believe that such an agreement with the Palestinians is possible, because they don't believe they can trust the Palestinians.
Israelis have a reason for skepticism. But by dismissing the Palestinians ‹ as do many American Jews ‹ they don't notice the quiet revolution that Abbas and Fayyad are leading in the West Bank.
Examples abound. They go much beyond the West Bank's impressive economic growth rate (8.5 percent in 2009). With the help of U.S. Gen. Keith Dayton, the Palestinian Authority has so far trained 2,600 members of a new, disciplined security force. In a month, that force will grow to 3,100. Not one of them has gotten in trouble with the Israeli authorities over security offenses or with the Palestinian authorities over crime or corruption. Almost 10 percent of the Palestinian police force are women.
Earlier this month, David Cohen, assistant treasury secretary for terrorist financing, praised the P.A. at a talk he gave at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy for taking "important steps to limit Hamas' influence" in the West Bank and Gaza by supervising the Palestinian banking system and charitable contributions.
The Palestinian authority is dealing with incitement, where it matters the most: West Bank mosques. Most West Bank imams are employed by the Palestinian Authority. They are required to follow the moderate talking points from the P.A. in their weekly sermons. Those who sway are sanctioned. The P.A. under Abbas and Fayyad has reformed the court system. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed out last week that Palestinian courts handled 67 percent more cases in 2009 than in 2008.
There has been very little Palestinian violence emanating from the West Bank in the past years. Israeli generals note with satisfaction their cooperation with the Palestinian security forces.
The Gaza Strip, obviously, is a different story. But Israel's understandable refusal to negotiate with Hamas should not deter it from doing anything possible to reach a deal with Abbas and Fayyad, including an immediate, indefinite and comprehensive freeze on settlement activity in the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem. Because it's in Israel's interest, and because Abbas and Fayyad are an opportunity that may never reoccur.
Israel has capable partners in the West Bank. It's time to empower them and immediately negotiate with them in earnest to secure a peace deal that would insure Israel's future as a stable Jewish democracy.
Ori Nir is the spokesperson of Americans for Peace Now.
The original article can be found here.