What is the common denominator between the decision of the Israeli military to invade the West Bank in March 2002, and their decision to invade Gaza this week?

One could certainly find many similarities between “Operation Defensive Shield” that brought the Israeli troupes into Ramallah, Bethlehem and other West Bank cities in 2002 and “Operation Summer Rains” that got the Israeli military this week into Gaza. One of the most important things is not what both operations are trying to tell the Palestinians, but what they are trying to hide. What both have in common is that they are trying to distract the attention of the Israeli population and the world at large from two very important peace offers:

On March 28th 2002, the Arab Summit met in Beirut and declared the following:

“We reaffirm that peace in the Middle East cannot succeed unless it is just and comprehensive… and based on the land for peace principle.

Expectations from

A. Complete withdrawal from the Occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the 4 June 1967 line and the territories still occupied in southern .

B. Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No. 194.

C. Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since 4 June 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.

In return the Arab states will do the following:

Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with , and achieve peace for all states in the region.

Establish normal relations with within the framework of this comprehensive peace.”

On June 27th 2006, the diverse Palestinian parties including Hamas announced reaching an agreement based on the “Prisoners’ Document” calling for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, limiting the resistance within these borders and recognizing the previous accords.

It seems to me that does not fear anything as much as a “peace offer”. The two invasions had therefore the aim of creating such stormy conditions, so that diplomacy can continue only to focus on managing an escalating conflict rather than on seizing the opportunity and momentum for a true peacemaking.

In both contexts, the world was arguing “only if” the Arabs will state their willingness to peace with Israel so clearly; and “only if” the Palestinians will speak with one voice for a two state solution side by side with Israel, then Israel will have no excuses. Yet when the Arab states spoke in clear text and when the Palestinians articulated their goals in a unified manner, there was no one listening because Israel had just created such a massive invasion to keep everyone busy enough so as not to concentrate on the real issue of reaching a comprehensive peace but rather on defusing a waging conflict.

It is thus high time to refocus again by combining the offer presented at the Peace Summit in 2002 and the agreement reached in Gaza this week, which should be brought back into attention and presented on the table. There is a last chance for peace waiving at the horizon, if there is a will by the international community to grab it.