For nearly two decades, there have been peace processes in the Middle East but no peace. In recent visits to the region including Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory we have heard a consistent message: people want peace, but are sceptical about the process and have little faith in the international community to deliver.
Two years after the 2008 Gaza conflict, there is now an opportunity to reassess the entire approach to the negotiations. The US effort to secure from Israel another partial freeze on settlement building as a way of resuming direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders has failed.
We urge a renewed effort, firmly based in international law and respect for human rights, that first aims to define boundaries between Israel and a new Palestinian state and address security issues.
Without such focus, we will see the possibility of a two-state solution slipping even further away.
This approach sets challenges for Israelis and Palestinians, for their regional neighbours, for the international community, especially the US government, and for each of us as concerned global citizens.
Applying international law and human rights principles means that the occupation must end, and the focus of negotiations should be on the boundaries of a future Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem.
Such an accord could entail, if agreed, a one-to-one land swap to allow for minor adjustments. Initial negotiations should also aim at security arrangements in which both Israelis and Palestinians have confidence.
Israeli settlement activity must stop throughout the occupied territories, which include East Jerusalem. These settlements are illegal under international law. So, too, is the inhumane blockade of Gaza. It must be lifted fully, except for armaments. The demolition and seizure of Palestinian houses must also end.
In ensuring the rights of all are respected, we call on leaders and citizens to ensure that Israel’s right to exist is not denied. Incitement and calls for the destruction of Israel must not be tolerated.
The upholding of human rights and the rule of law also places demands on the Palestinian authorities of the West Bank and Gaza. They must end all human rights violations against political critics and rivals.
Across the region, we believe that the Arab Peace Initiative should serve as the basis for normalisation of relations between Israel and the Arab world.
It is clear, of course, that Israelis and Palestinians must ultimately agree to a solution, but they cannot do it alone.
The international community must help them reach that agreement through fair and robust mediation and by reconfirming prior agreements, UN Security Council resolutions, the Geneva Conventions, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all of which are being violated.
Nor can we, as citizens, leave such a vital issue to our governments. Each of us has to keep up the pressure on our own political leaders to show the importance we attach to achieving peace in the Middle East.
As Elders, we will continue to do all we can to persuade governments around the world to apply a rights-based approach to this terrible conflict and to turn the focus of initial negotiations to border and security issues.
We have already given our support to nonviolent protest and creative civil action for peace. We will continue to do so, both morally and in person, whenever we can.
This is too important an issue to be left to politicians alone.
Without a strategy that can deliver a peace agreement based on a two-state solution, Palestinians will continue to live under Israeli occupation, millions of Palestinian refugees will continue to live without hope and Israel’s survival and security remain under threat. If there is no real progress, more violence is the likely outcome.
The world has lived far too long with this conflict.
The obstacles to peace are daunting. But one of the advantages of observing public events over many years is that we have seen how apparently irreconcilable divisions can be bridged with courage, commitment and humanity. We desperately need to see these qualities now.
Former US president Jimmy Carter and Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu are members of The Elders: www.theElders.org. They contributed this article to The Jordan Times.
29 December 2010