Who’s stopping the peace process?
The breakdown of? Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has predictably resulted in blame laid almost exclusively on Israel. However, events of the last 17 years — since Israeli-Palestinian peace talks began — demonstrate a different story about what has prevented peace.
Since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, the Israeli position on the peace process has constantly progressed and evolved. That has been best enunciated by the generous offers made by Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in 2000 and 2008, respectively. Meeting nearly all of the Palestinian demands, these offers were rejected without further discussion or counteroffer.
The present Israeli government has accepted the principle of a two-states-for-two peoples solution. Israel has contributed to the improvement of the lives of Palestinian to the point where the West Bank’s economic growth is greater than almost anywhere in the world; it has removed more than two-thirds of all security checkpoints and initiated a unilateral moratorium on construction in the settlements.
Furthermore, the first act of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he entered office 21 months ago was to call for negotiations with the Palestinians anywhere, without preconditions and with all issues on the table.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian position during these 17 years has not moved one inch from its maximalist demands. Isn’t it time that the Palestinians are asked directly and openly if they are prepared to make any concessions? Are they prepared to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the Jewish connection to the Western Wall and Temple Mount? Are they prepared to recognize that there are Jewish refugees in Arab states, and that Israel has very real security concerns?
While the world has unfortunately focused on settlement building, it has gone largely unnoticed that Palestinian leaders are retreating from previously accepted positions, especially the need for a two-states-for-two-peoples solution. I witnessed this firsthand when Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad refused to sign a meeting summary that included that terminology.
The Palestinians have been extremely successful at presenting Israel as the obstructionist party, even as they have been engaged in a consistent cycle of evasion and rejectionism that has replicated itself many times over almost two decades.
The cycle begins with the Palestinians looking for any excuse not to arrive at negotiations. They run away from an open and honest process, and yet place the onus on Israel for the breakdown of peace talks.
The Palestinians also threaten to unilaterally declare their own state, and on a number of occasions, they have threatened violence against Israel. They have embarked on a political campaign to assault Israel’s legitimacy, abusing international forums, such as the United Nations, to try to create anti-Israel momentum.
The recent debate over an extended settlement moratorium is a case in point. From its inception, the current Israeli government cleared the way for direct negotiations with no preconditions. Israel imposed a 10-month moratorium; the Palestinians balked and refused to join direct negotiations. When the moratorium expired, the Palestinians demanded an extension of the very same policy that had not been good enough to bring them to the table for over a year.
Moreover, settlements are a red herring. According to previously signed agreements, settlements and borders are a final-status issue. The Palestinians turned them into a precondition for talks.
While the Palestinians and their supporters wail that the settlements are eating up more of the land they claim for their future state, the real figures suggest otherwise. Today, 43 years since Israel gained control of the West Bank, the built-up areas of the settlements constitute less than 1.7% of the total area.
Both sides would like their demands met, but a negotiated solution is the only way the region will achieve the necessary outcome of a peaceful and historic reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. Both sides need to make concessions, and Israel has made many.
For the peace process to move forward and succeed, the international community has to make a historic and brave decision to ignore the pressures of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference in international forums, which provide the rejectionists a prize and push the Palestinians further from the negotiating table. The international community also must reject Palestinian excuses and threats.
There is no substitute for a negotiated solution, and this has to be enunciated strongly to all sides. Pressure should be brought to bear on those who refuse to arrive at the negotiating table, not on those already seated.
Uncritically adopting Palestinian positions prevents peace. The international community should break the Palestinian cycle of evasion and rejectionism.
Danny Ayalon is Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs and the former ambassador to the U.S.