Nadav Tamir, Senior Advisor for Governmental and International Affairs
As One Leader Passes Another is Elected - How Will These Events Effect Worldwide Peace?
The joy of President-elect Biden’s victory and the sadness after the death of Dr. Saeb Erekat are not only a question of emotions. There are lessons to be learned. Biden's victory symbolizes the necessity of hope in advancing a political and diplomatic agenda, while Erekat's death reminds us of the urgency in doing so, which is no less important.
I had the honor of getting to know both Biden and Erekat, due to their close ties with President Peres with whom I worked for many years as a political adviser. Biden and Erekat each reflect in their own way one of Peres’ most significant personal and political traits - The belief that a person can shape his or her own tomorrow. The belief that the positive element in the human psyche can be the dominant element. The belief that there is no fundamental difference between people who share a concrete commitment to dialogue, to being a partner for peace.
Biden will replace a president who represents the exact opposite of this outlook (which is portrayed as naïve). President Trump is cynical, mocks the truth and is devoid of analytical ability and judgment. He is a friend and admirer of dictators. For Trump, the international arena is a field of competition, not a space for shared interests. Biden will work to restore the status of international institutions, of values and of human brotherhood.
For decades, Erekat worked against the prevailing Palestinian sentiment, which believed that there is no Israeli partner now or in the future. He suffered severe criticism and was accused of collaborating with the Israelis. But his belief in a future of compromise and peace with Israel grew out of an optimistic perception that the future could be better and that human beings can make this reality.
Biden's election should teach us not to despair even if populist nationalists appear to have a tight grip on power and have a sizeable supportive public. Many Israelis have indeed lost hope that a peace settlement with the Palestinians can be achieved. Many have lost hope because they were convinced that there is no partner on the Palestinian side or that there is little public appetite on the Israeli side. Biden's victory proves that anything is possible and that what we need is determination and leadership.
Erekat's death shows that we do not have the luxury of waiting until the time is ripe on our side or the Palestinian side. If we wait for a political change here or there, or for the Biden administration to take office, to secure Congressional approval of nominations in key positions and only after to formulate a strategy, we may no longer have Palestinian leaders like Erekat and Abu Mazen (Mahmud Abbas) in place - Leaders who believe in peace, in a two-state solution and who do not think it is possible to achieve a Palestinian state through violence.
If we wait too long, we may find that instead of negotiating partners we will be left with fanatical extremist supporters of terrorism, and/ or those who despair of a two-state solution and believe that over time a binational state can translate a demographic majority into internationally-supported sovereignty.
Contrary to popular belief, we have plenty of cards in our favor to promote a two-state solution with the support of the US government. We have a supportive region, which despite the attempt to spin the Abraham Accords as if the Palestinian cause is no longer relevant, still sees the two-state solution as the preferred and only solution. The Arab Peace Initiative remains on the table, even if normalization with some countries began before reaching an agreement. There is a high probability that these countries and especially Saudi Arabia, will demand from Washington that the vision of the Arab Peace Initiative is implemented, as a part of the welcome normalization.
If Shimon Peres were alive today, he would be talking to his friend President-elect Biden and reminding him how no one believed that his vision of a new Middle East could come true and here it is, coming true gradually before our eyes. But if we do not advance towards an agreement with the Palestinians, this new Middle East will explode in our face. The death of the ultimate diplomat Erekat must remind us that hope is not enough, there must also be a sense of urgency.
In his book "Shimon Peres: An Insider’s Account of the Man and the Struggle for a New Middle East”, Peres' close adviser Avi Gil, wrote a sentence he heard from Peres:
“I don’t consider myself an expert in Arabs,” he used to say, “but I understand
people, and the Arabs are people like everyone else.”
A humanist like Biden, unlike his bigoted predecessor, understands this and so we have a great opportunity ahead of us. But there is not much time and as Peres once said: “History is like a galloping horse, if you don’t jump upon it, you will be left behind”.
Nadav Tamir is The Peres Center's senior advisor for governmental and international affairs and former personal adviser of Shimon Peres for diplomatic affairs.