Palestinian stance has peace talks on uneven ground

St. Petersburg Times – Thursday September 9, 2010

Consul General Ofer Bavly

As the prime minister of Israel relaunched direct talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, I was reflecting about the unique opportunity we in the Middle East face, along with the inherent risks. The very fact of talking face to face for the first time after the Palestinians walked out on negotiations a year and a half ago is certainly auspicious.

The presence of President Barack Obama was crucial, as was that of Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak. The support of the international community, especially moderate Arab leaders, will be important as we move forward. However, ceremonies, speeches, summits and even agreements are worthless unless there is real content, true understanding and implementation to serve as the basis and foundation of peace.

Israeli society has made a profound shift over the course of the past decade or two. From a view that there can be no compromise or agreement with the Palestinians, it is now at a point where the vast majority of Israelis have come to accept the two-state solution as the viable route for the future of Israel and the Palestinians.

Israelis, driven by realism and led by a series of leaders who have prepared our public opinion for compromise and coexistence, realize that true peace requires paying a price. Security requires compromise with our neighbors. The educational system reflects our collective desire for, and belief in, true peace. Our children, the future of our country, are raised with the ideal of coexistence and the need to share the land with the Palestinians.

Sadly, I do not see a parallel and commensurate shift on the other side of the table, yet. I do not hear Palestinian leaders calling on their people to accept Israel as the Jewish homeland. I do not see them educating the next generation for peaceful coexistence. When the Palestinian Authority dedicates streets and town squares to suicide bombers (“martyrs” in their language), the signal sent to their people is clear: Killing Israelis brings honor and prestige. Dying in a suicide bombing is an ideal to be aspired to.

When the Palestinians continue to educate their children in the belief that only violence, rather than dialogue, will bring them independence, there can be no hope of a true peace between our peoples. We may sign a pact or a treaty, but as long as there is incitement to hatred of Israel, such a treaty will be written on ice.

This fundamental asymmetry needs to be redressed. It will take a great deal of courage from President Abbas to lead a shift in Palestinian public opinion. He will have to stand up to the radicals in his camp and start educating his youth to coexistence and acceptance.

Israel is determined to reach a peaceful, permanent agreement with our Palestinian neighbors. We are ready to pay a price and have proven it in the past. We have recently dismantled hundreds of roadblocks in the West Bank, we have incentivized the Palestinian economy and we have implemented an unprecedented moratorium on construction in the West Bank.

It is now time for the international community to demand a similar commitment from the Palestinians. Without the same level of determination on their part, the Washington Summit will go down in history as just another missed opportunity.

Ofer Bavly is consul general of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico.

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