By Gal Sitty
The international Quartet for Mideast Peace, comprised of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia has once again called for the immediate and unconditional resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian leadership dismissed this gesture. Israel agreed to the request fully.
In order to better understand this stalemate it is important to take a close look at the facts, as well as some of the myths, surrounding the peace process.
Palestinian preconditions for talks.
- Palestinian leaders insist they will only return to talks if Israeli settlement construction is halted and negotiations are based on the 1949 armistice line, also known as the “Green Line.” Israel and the international community through the Quartet have asked for talks to be started without preconditions. The Palestinian preconditions are important issues that must be addressed. Israel also has its own legitimate concerns which must be discussed. These should all be addressed through direct negotiations. Previous successful peace talks started without preconditions. Setting excessive preconditions may be a way to avoid making peace altogether.
The myth, repeated many times by the Palestinian leadership, that Israeli settlements are the biggest obstacle to peace.
- The Arab-Israeli conflict began decades before Israel laid the first foundations for any settlement. In fact, for most of the history of the conflict Israel did not control the territory where the settlements are being built. Settlements may be counterproductive, but avoiding direct negotiations certainly does not help to advance peace.
The Palestinian leadership’s anti-peace rhetoric.
- In his recent speech to the UN Abbas mentioned the ancient Christian and Muslim connection to the land of Israel but did not mention the over 4,000 year old Jewish connection to the land. The late King Hussein of Jordan, who made peace with Israel in 1994, made no such omission in his speeches. Denying facts as Abbas has done is not a way to advance understanding; on the contrary, it seems to have only negative motives.
Israel has shown its commitment to reaching an agreement with the Palestinians while the Palestinians have repeatedly avoided serious gestures.
- As a goodwill gesture in order to help restart peace talks Netanyahu enacted a ten month settlement construction freeze in 2010. For more than nine months, despite their precondition having been met, the Palestinians still refused to return to negotiations. In the final three weeks of the freeze Palestinians came to talk but they insisted on only discussing continuing the freeze and resisted speaking about any other issues. Netanyahu then tentatively agreed to extend the freeze. The Obama administration advised against it because they believed the Palestinians would continue to talk only about the freeze and avoid other issues. In other words, the Obama administration believed that the Palestinians were not serious about pursuing a bilateral agreement. In 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert put forward a peace plan hailed by the Bush administration as very generous. This initiative was rejected by Abbas even as a basis for negotiations.
The Palestinian’s made up “Right of Return” as a necessary condition for a final status agreement.
- This issue is perhaps the most controversial. The Palestinian leadership has insisted for decades that refugees from Israel’s 1948 war of independence and their descendants be allowed to resettle in Israel. They continue to insist this despite their desire to have an independent Palestinian state, separate from Israel, that can host these refugees. The refugees number in the millions. Israel, a tiny country, would surely be overwhelmed by such an influx of immigrants. The Jewish character of the democratic state of Israel would be threatened, perhaps leading to the end of Israel. Many of the refugees in question are still refugees because their host countries insist on keeping them in refugee camps and deny them citizenship and other basic rights. Many of these refugees likely hold very strong anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic sentiments. Admitting millions of people who likely hate Israel into Israel will almost surely lead to wide scale violence. During Israel’s War of Independence hundreds of thousands of Jews fled as refugees from Arab countries. Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and other countries all had large Jewish populations before they fled under the threat of violence around the period of Israel’s independence. These refugees have never been mentioned in peace talks.
These are just a few of the facts that show Israel’s continued commitment to pursuing a bilateral peace agreement. These facts also highlight the Palestinian leadership’s inability to meaningfully advance peace, an inability that originates with their refusal prepare their people for the sacrifices peace entails. When the Palestinian leadership continues to place unreasonable demands on Israel while telling its people to expect nothing less the prospects for peace dim. In order to move out of the current stalemate the Palestinian leadership must begin to have an honest discussion with its people on what is really required to achieve peace and have a state of their own.
Photo credit: Reuters
Holding two Master's degrees, from Tel Aviv University and the University of Chicago, Gal has focused his career in the public sector working in education reform before joining Act For Israel. Born in Israel but raised in the United States Gal knows firsthand how often Israel is misrepresented abroad. Understanding that Israel's interests must be heard beyond the established pro-Israel community Gal recently led an effort to raise billboards calling for the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The billboards were seen by over two million people, received news coverage in the US and overseas and garnered Congressional recognition.