Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have begun their “proximity talks” with the mediation of former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell. The objective of the talks, as far as Israel is concerned, is to reach a permanent two-state solution whereby a future Palestine will exist alongside Israel with peace and security for both. Peace is necessary because the peoples of the Middle East deserve it. It will bring stability to the region. It will give the Jewish state security as well as internationally recognized borders. Time does not favor us as radicalism continues to spread around the world. The obstacle to peace is not Israel. In the course of the past 15 years, Israel has taken tremendous and painful steps for peace including making substantial and painful territorial concessions, and taking grave security risks.
Over the past year, since the Palestinians walked out on negotiations, Israel unilaterally declared a 10-month moratorium on new construction in the West Bank. We dismantled dozens of checkpoints and roadblocks, facilitating free movement of Palestinians.
The steps we have taken enabled the Palestinians to achieve an amazing 8 percent economic growth in a year of global recession. These and other steps were taken in order to show good faith and convince the Palestinians to resume negotiations.
The constant obstacle to peace is the weakness of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (P.A.) and the violent takeover of the Palestinian Gaza Strip by the Iran-backed Hamas terror organization. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas still refuses to even recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish homeland, not to mention our right to peace, security — and life.
The Palestinian reluctance to recognize Israel as a Jewish state stems from the P.A.’s weakness as well as its ideology. The P.A. hides behind the Arab League and other external players who are only too eager to keep the conflict going by pressuring the Palestinians not to make concessions and not to negotiate as long as there are any settlements.
Past experience shows that settlements were never an obstacle to negotiations — or, indeed, to peace accords. Both Egypt and Jordan negotiated peace agreements with Israel in spite of the settlements. Israel proved it could dismantle settlements and evacuate its citizens during our unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Perhaps more important, the same Palestinian president, Abbas, had no difficulty in negotiating with Israel in the past — while settlement activity was going on.
The P.A.’s habitual addition of new preconditions postpones resumption of negotiation and precludes the creation of necessary trust between the two sides.
In order to reach peace, what is necessary is a negotiation process that is conducted in good faith, in a reciprocal manner and only once both sides recognize each other’s right to exist. It must be agreed that the negotiation process has to lead to a final and permanent agreement.
Negotiations are not a rest area on the road to Israel’s destruction. They must include permanently renouncing Palestinian violence and the complete dismantling of all Palestinian terror organizations. Those organizations only aim at destroying Israel, destabilizing the P.A. and ruining any chance for peace.
Only direct negotiations will create the necessary mutual trust and confidence that are so lacking in our region. Without mutual confidence, there can be no advance in any peace process.
The pressure now directed at Israel is therefore misdirected. It is aimed at the easy target rather than at the necessary target. The international community should mobilize its force and influence around the understanding that resolving our conflict is in the interest of the international community.
Those who seek peace should be telling the Palestinians that just as Israel has abandoned its maximalist notion of a “greater Israel” along the lines of the Biblical Promised Land, so should the Palestinians renounce their maximalist dream of a Palestinian state usurping Israel and destroying it.
Only political and military realism brought Jordan and Egypt to renounce violence and the idea of Israel’s destruction in order to reach peace. Only realism and a courageous Palestinian leadership will lead to direct talks, to the creation of mutual trust and ultimately to true and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Ofer Bavly is the Consul General of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico.