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The ball is in their court

The 'abertzale' left has to convince ETA that its withdrawal must be final and unilateral

The abertzale (Basque radical separatist) left is demanding that ETA put a final end to its violence. It did this on Tuesday, by endorsing the conclusions of the so-called International Peace Conference, which include this demand. What remains is for ETA to make a clear response. A dynamic pointing to an end to ETA has existed for a year, and it seems more probable now than it did at the end of 2010. A return to violence would be very costly for the abertzale, in votes and in credibility, after months saying that the end of violence was irreversible.

It is irritating that the abertzale always takes such an indirect, sinuous road; but this is bearable if it serves the main objective. A year ago ETA refused to confirm the permanence of its truce without political concessions in exchange. The group of mediator Brian Currin proposed a plan with concessions - which, though certain not to be approved by the government, did give ETA an excuse for accepting a "permanent and verifiable" cease-fire. This enabled the abertzale to bring forward a new political party whose statutes explicitly rejected violence as a political instrument.

The same occurred with the ETA prisoners. Though not directly endorsing the rejection of violence, they did endorse the Gernika Declaration that called on ETA for a "unilateral" (that is, unconditional) ceasefire. Now the conference is making the same demand: once again following the line of least resistance, as part of a proposal that does include a reference to a commitment to be made by the governments of France and Spain. The ambiguous, tortuous text avoids proposing this as a condition for the end of ETA, merely "suggesting" that certain things be done for the sake of "a lasting peace."

Ambiguity may serve to prevent the blockage of complex processes, but it has its risks. In this case, ETA may interpret the text as endorsing its pretension to make its end conditional upon promises that would break the broadly based public and political consensus on two basic issues: that possible measures of grace for the ETA prisoners can only be considered after the final, demonstrable end of ETA, and not as a condition for it; and that there will never be any negotiation on political concessions. The abertzale idea of a "new transition," that is, of beginning again as if nothing had happened, is a childish fantasy.

Whether the conference has been a decisive step or not now depends on the communiqué expected of ETA; on the interpretation it makes of the ambiguities in the text. If it seeks to gain time with a communiqué that indefinitely postpones its dissolution, this will overturn the process attempted by the abertzale, whose job it is now to convince ETA that it must dissolve.

Those who are bewailing the ambiguities should remember that an end to ETA would not exempt us from fighting the fanaticism that subsists in the region, but would enable us to do so without the specter of murder and coercion that has haunted Basque politics for more than three decades.