I’ve refrained from writing these last few months due in part to some health issues but also, and more important, in deference to the fact that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority honored the request from Secretary of State Kerry not to leak what was taking place in their negotiations. This was very encouraging and gave me a feeling of optimism that after so many years, a peace treaty was at hand.
The recent collapse of the talks revealed that my optimism was unwarranted.
In a recent column in the Jerusalem Report, Leslie Susser revealed that in the course of the negotiations, the Palestinians offered the following concessions:
One, final borders that would leave 80 percent of Jewish settlers in the West Bank within Israel’s borders.
Two, a continued IDF presence in the Jordan Valley for a period of five years at which time the IDF would be replaced with American soldiers, not Palestinians.
Three, Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem would be part of Israel.
Four, return of Palestinian refugees from previous wars would be subject to Israel’s approval.
Abbas reminded the Israelis that these points were agreed upon in negotiations with President Shimon Peres in 2011, which Peres confirmed.
Israel refused to negotiate final borders. It refused to accept east Jerusalem as part of a Palestinian state and presented a new demand, that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state. This last demand is somewhat strange. It is self-evident as well as clearly stated in its Declaration of Independence that Israel is a Jewish state. Hence, Menachem Begin never thought of demanding of Anwar Sadat that Egypt recognize Israel as the Jewish state and neither did Rabin make such a demand of King Hussein in negotiating the peace treaty with Jordan. This new demand as well as the refusal to suspend settlement activity for a three-month period undermined the negotiations, leading Kerry to worry out loud that a “unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”
Needless to say, Israel responded sharply, most notably Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who said that Kerry is “obsessive, messianic, and out to win a Nobel Prize.”
In response to Israel’s concerns about security, the United States produced a plan for prevention of arms smuggling and terrorist activity and reiterated the Palestinian concession that 80 percent of settlements remain in Israel. Israel’s response was to award 700 building permits in east Jerusalem, prompting the Palestinians to apply for membership in 15 international conventions and the beginning of negotiations with Hamas. Israel then, claiming the Palestinians violated the negotiations agreement, suspended talks and here we are today.
In the negotiations, there was a pattern of Israel rejecting Palestinian moves. When Abbas said that the “Holocaust was the most heinous crime against humanity in modern history,” Netanyahu, instead of welcoming such a declaration from an Arab leader, said Abbas was “not sincere.” There are those who question Netanyahu’s sincerity in advocating a two-state solution.
It is clear that some members of Israel’s Cabinet believe that the current status quo can continue indefinitely. And in truth, the status quo has many advantages. The economy is growing, terrorism hardly exists, and Israel’s standard of living is among the highest. However, it is unlikely that it can continue over time. Perhaps the greatest danger is losing its financial ($3 billion annually), diplomatic, and military support from the United States, should the policies of the two countries continue to diverge. This vital support is seemingly unappreciated by some of Israel’s leadership (see Ya’alon’s comment about Kerry). This is already happening in the European Union, which, instead of condemning Fatah’s alliance with Hamas as anticipated by Israel (after all, the West has condemned Hamas as a terrorist organization), recognized the unity agreement. So, too, did Russia, China, and India. Even the pope, who during his recent visit visited the grave of Theodor Herzl, seemed to endorse the creation of a Palestinian state.
One reason for the peace that Israel is enjoying is the collaboration between the security services of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Terrorist cells have been infiltrated and members turned over to Israel by the PA. Withdrawal of such cooperation can lead to the terrorism that existed 10 years ago. It can also lead to a third intifada, with all the death and destruction that that implies.
Even with its most steadfast ally, the Jewish people, there may be some ruptures in support for Israel. While established organizations rally behind Israel regardless of its policies, the Pew study revealed that a younger generation takes a more objective look at Israel’s policies. Should they come to the conclusion that Israel is not interested in a peace that would involve concessions, their championing of Israel’s cause would greatly diminished.
And so, for those of us who love Israel, who see it as “the beginning of the flowering of our redemption,” this is a time of great trepidation. Let us hope that, with the support of those who love her, Israel will attain the peace that has eluded her since her creation.