In early November, before Hamas’ recent terror campaign and the UN vote on “Palestine,” former president Ehud Olmert delivered a speech at Columbia University in New York. He argued that the failure to achieve peace with the Palestinians was the biggest threat to Israel’s security. (The Iranian threat, he said, would be taken care of by the international community).
According to Olmert, a peace agreement is in reach, and the only thing standing in the way is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Why? Because Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is the perfect partner for peace. In fact, Olmert said that if he would have served longer as prime minister, he and Abbas would have reached a deal by now. However, unfortunately for Israel, Mr. Olmert’s peace partner is an imaginary one.
To begin with, Abbas does not speak for the Palestinian people. After returning home from the United Nations, Abbas promised to create a unity government with Hamas. Why was this his top priority after achieving such a “victory” in New York? Because Abbas knows that Hamas is more popular among Palestinians and that his government won’t be legitimate without them.
Olmert’s logic then becomes a conundrum: If Abbas can’t achieve a unity government, he can’t speak on behalf of the Palestinian people. But if he does achieve a unity government, he is no partner for peace. After all, how can Abbas support peace when Hamas recently recommitted itself to Israel’s destruction?
Olmert had no answer for this in New York and presumably doesn’t have one – unless he wants Israel to negotiate with Hamas. Needless to say, negotiating with a government committed to Israel’s annihilation is sheer insanity.
Even if Hamas were to remove the reference to Israel’s destruction in its charter, it wouldn’t change a thing. It would just be a cunning ploy to encourage the international community to embrace it as a legitimate organization.
Regardless, Hamas is still unwilling to make this symbolic move, despite the enormous benefits it would reap from doing so. That is how deep its hatred runs for Israel. As former prime minister Golda Meir famously said, “peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”Sadly when it comes to Hamas, that day isn’t even in the foreseeable future. And yet this is the group that Abbas wants to join with.
Even putting the Hamas issue aside, it’s still far from clear that Abbas actually wants peace. As Olmert himself pointed out, no prime minister in Israel’s history ever offered more than Olmert offered to Abbas in 2008.Olmert’s historic proposal included a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and the return of pre-1967 lands to a new Palestinian state. Still, Abbas walked away – just as his predecessor Yasser Arafat walked away from then-prime minister Ehud Barak’s offer in 2000, and just as every Palestinian leader has walked away from Israeli offers, no matter how generous they were.
For Palestinian leaders, nothing is ever enough. Israel gives and gives, yet the Palestinians only ask for more. Autonomy in the West Bank? More. Complete control of the Gaza Strip? More. A Palestinian state, side by side with Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital? More.
Israel has given and given. And what has it received in return aside from calls for “more?” Terror attacks and missiles targeting Israeli civilians, nonstop efforts to delegitimize Israel and cast it as a racist and terrorist state, and endless pledges for Israel’s total destruction.
It seems that the Palestinian strategy for peace is this: Force the Israelis to give up land for “peace,” then use terror attacks and international pressure to force them to give up more. Repeat until Israel is no longer recognizable or defendable. This being the case, how can Israel be expected to trust in Abbas that he doesn’t share Hamas’ view on Israel’s right to exist?
Peace must be based on more than promises. It must be based on actions. Although Abbas has helped create a functional government in the West Bank, this is no proof of a desire for peace. It is only proof of a desire for a Palestinian state.
Olmert and his ilk may have good intentions but sadly, this is their downfall. Their desire for peace has blinded them to the realities of the situation. The reason that there is no peace has been oft-repeated: There simply is no partner for it. There will never be peace until all Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist publicly, and perhaps even more important, privately.
This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post.