Burgs meeting in Ramallah cant hurt peace cause

Though a date has yet to be set, there is no logical reason to justify preventing Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg from going to Ramallah to address the Palestinian Legislative Council. Like chicken soup, it cannot hurt. It might even help to portray Israel as trying every possible way to bring peace and security to our area. And if only one life is saved by preventing another terrorist attack — it is a worthy effort.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has succeeded in isolating Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat diplomatically, politically and physically by uncovering his true face to the international community. Unfortunately, this is the only success Sharon has had in almost a year, since winning the elections. He has brought neither peace nor security to Israel, but rather has deepened the economic and social crisis in our country without any hope for a better and safer future.

Sharon is right in cutting all ties with Arafat, but at the same time he is not offering the Palestinians any incentive for either forcing Arafat to change course or replacing him with a more moderate and credible leadership.

But Sharon, departing from our other hawkish prime ministers, does not give us any direction for the future in any field. He uses the vow of silence as his tool of leadership and diplomacy. This might work in the short run — thanks to the threat of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and the Iranians — but the Americans and the Europeans, and even we Israelis, will soon wake up to reality and ask Sharon for positive answers and solutions.

Sharon could have pre-empted this demand by allowing Burg to go to Ramallah and challenge the Palestinian leadership and public opinion to bring about a true cease-fire, in order to enable the resumption of the peace process. Burg, in accepting the invitation from his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qurei, is not going to negotiate, just to offer the point of view of the vast majority in Israel that wants peace and wants to put an end to violence and suffering on both sides.

Sharon was elected on the promise of bringing peace out of strength. But he has not learned the historical lessons that force alone cannot succeed. It must come with flexibility, compassion and positive incentives. The justified use of force must be accompanied by a political strategy for building a future of peaceful coexistence. In that respect, Sharon has so far failed.

The Labor Party, which justifiably joined Sharon's unity government after the elections, cannot stand by passively on the sidelines and let him direct our future as a one-man show. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer must support Burg's plan.

One might understand why Ben-Eliezer still wants to stay in government, but there is no excuse for Peres still sitting in the Cabinet with no real influence on the decision-making process. He lost his credibility and fighting spirit, while Sharon uses him as a fig leaf to cover his real intentions of doing nothing to enhance the chances of peace. If Peres is not willing to sacrifice his comfortable chair or airline seat, let him at least support Burg, who is willing to take the risk.

The Labor Party must rally behind Burg, because he cannot go to Ramallah against the will of the majority. As the head of the country's legislative branch, he cannot act as a private person. Although the Knesset is an independent body in many aspects, it is not above the executive branch in matters of day-to-day security and diplomatic affairs.

Foreign policy in Israel, as in any other country, is the sole responsibility of the government. No American Speaker of the House would have traveled to Hanoi without authorization from the White House, as no British Speaker could have traveled to Argentina during the Falklands War. Therefore, Burg must try to muster a majority to support his going to Ramallah. He must first of all persuade his party, its Knesset faction and ministerial representation to support the justified cause of doing everything possible to promote peace.

If he fails in this task, he can either just stay in the Knesset or resign and travel to Ramallah in a private capacity, as some politicians and journalists do from time to time. Burg should not abuse the office of the Speaker, which must stay above politics and represent the national spirit and consensus rather than mere partisan views.