On Thursday morning, 2 September 2010, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will relaunch direct negotiations in Washington.

 Behind the Headlines: The resumption of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians

 

U.S. President Obama at the White House with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Photo: Reuters)

On Thursday morning, 2 September 2010, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will relaunch direct negotiations in Washington, in the presence of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Israel welcomes the United States’ invitation to resume direct talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA), without pre-conditions, having called for direct negotiations since the formation of the current government a year and a half ago.

Components of peace

Israel approaches these negotiations with great hope, in a belief that a workable peace agreement can indeed be achieved.  From Israel’s perspective, such an agreement should address three basic principles: security, recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and a complete end to the conflict.
 
Security: Israel needs concrete security arrangements on the ground, in order to prevent rocket-launchings from the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) towards the center of the country, as occurred after Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip (over 10,000 rockets have been fired at Israel). It is essential to prevent pro-Iranian elements from penetrating the region. That would create a direct threat on Israel’s center, including its airfields, strategic facilities, and the residents of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities. For these and other security reasons, it is vital that any future Palestinian state be demilitarized, and that the peace agreement  include an Israeli presence on the Palestinian state’s eastern border.

Recognition: For Israel, it is essential that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s legitimacy as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Israelis will be asking themselves what sort of peace is being offered if their neighbors still consider them an illegitimate part of the region.

Conflict-Resolution: The peace settlement should resolve the conflict in all its aspects. Implicit in the recognition of Israel is the end of the conflict and the solution to the refugee problem outside of Israel’s borders.

Steps to support peacemaking

Israel remains deeply committed to peace and aspires to achieve a stable, sustainable agreement that will ensure peace, security and prosperity for both peoples. The present government is sincere in its intentions to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians and has demonstrated its commitment to peace by taking significant steps towards the Palestinians, such as:

  • Accepting the principle of two states for two peoples;
  • Removing hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the West Bank (Judea and Samaria);
  • Providing incentives to the Palestinian economy, which is growing in the West Bank at the amazing rate of 9% a year;
  • Affording assistance to the Palestinian security forces;
  • Instituting the unprecedented 10-month moratorium on new construction in Judea and Samaria.

Although Israel realizes that obtaining peace between Israel and the Palestinians will be a difficult task, it remains an achievable goal.

However, Israel needs a courageous partner on the Palestinian side in order to reach a peace agreement. Peace requires a bold Palestinian partner who will stand before his people and declare that, in order to reach a peace agreement, each side must make painful compromises. He must also publically strengthen and legitimize a Palestinian aspiration for a peaceful end of the conflict, a domestic solution to the refugee problem, and recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. President Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan demonstrated this brave leadership in their day. Israel hopes that President Abbas will walk in their footsteps.

Israel feels that peace cannot be achieved while engaging in ideological warfare. The time is ripe for the Palestinian leadership to decide whether it sees itself as Israel’s opponent or as its partner for peace. Despite the steps Israel has taken for peace, the Palestinian Authority has initiated an international delegitimization campaign against it that includes an attempt to prevent Israel’s accession to the OECD and support of the Goldstone Report that attacked Israel’s right to self-defense and accused it of war crimes. Israel has witnessed the initiation of a cultural, academic and economic boycott and the submission of personal lawsuits against Israeli political and military leaders, all with the support of the PA. Incitement in the school curriculum, religious structures and the media has continued, as has the glorification of murderers and suicide bombers.

Israel calls upon its Palestinian partners to stop their campaign of anti-Israeli incitement and delegitimization, and to instead, educate their people towards peace. Among the steps that can be taken to improve the atmosphere, the PA can cease to ignore the existence of the State of Israel in their textbooks and school curricula, stop promoting the veneration of terrorists who murdered innocent Israeli civilians,  end  preaching the mass return of Palestinian refugees to Israeli cities, remove all antisemitic expressions in the media and in the educational and religious institutions – in short, Palestinian leaders can begin to educate their people towards peace, not hatred, as Israel already does.

The enemies of peace

The enemies of peace – headed by Iran and supported by Syria, Hamas, Hizbullah and others – are striving to sabotage the peace process. They target innocent civilians, smuggle and stockpile weapons, engage in provocations and encourage terrorism. They also trample the human rights of their own citizens. They are not Israel’s enemies only – they are the enemies of all moderate forces in the region that aspire to peace. A peace agreement would be a clear victory of the moderates over the extremists. These talks present a unique opportunity for the Arab world to support the efforts to reach a genuine peace agreement with Israel that will grant all of the peoples of the region a new future.

Israeli and Palestinian construction in the territories

Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority continues to use the issue of Israeli construction in the West Bank as a device to redirect attention away from the true matters of peace.

The 10-month moratorium imposed in November 2009 on new Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria was not part of the negotiations, but rather, a one-time move on the part of the Israeli government meant to demonstrate the seriousness of its desire for peace and to lead to a resumption of the negotiating process.

While Palestinian rejection of any Jewish construction is common knowledge, a lesser known fact is that while building for Jews was halted, Palestinian construction was accelerated. An example of the PA’s duplicity in this matter can be found in the new Palestinian city of Rawabi which is located between Ramallah and Nablus. There, Palestinians are building thousands of apartments, while at the same time, demanding that all construction be frozen in Jewish communities – even in those they know will be part of Israel in any future agreement. This double standard indicates that, for the Palestinians, the settlement issue is more a rhetorical stalling tactic than an ‘intractable obstacle to negotiations’ as they claim. Israel, for its part, remains committed to the principle that was agreed upon long ago – that the settlement question will be fully addressed as one of the core issues in the negotiations on the permanent agreement.

Conclusion

Israel is serious in its intentions to hold meaningful and successful talks, in the expectation that true peace can be reached. However, a serious and brave partner is needed to advance these talks. It is Israel’s desire that such a partner indeed exists. Israel is neither demanding preconditions nor threatening to walk out if its demands aren’t met. It is hoped that the Palestinian leadership, Israel natural partner in peacemaking, will behave in a similar manner, and that, as a result, the re-launched direct talks will advance the achievement of a lasting peace between the two peoples.