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Give Peace Talks a Chance: Part Two

August 16, 2013 6:30 am 1 comment

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat address reporters on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations at the U.S. Department of State. Photo: State Department.

After recently publishing “Give the Peace Process a Chance” in the Huffington Post and Jerusalem Post, quite a few comments came my way – some highly critical.

They were from the left and right, once again giving me the joy of being the target of both political poles.

The criticism from the left boils down to three main points.

First, “Israel is not interested in peace.”

To which I say, rubbish!

No country anywhere is more interested in peace. Israel’s goal from day one, against the backdrop of relentless persecution of Jews in Europe and across North Africa and the Middle East, has been peaceful coexistence with neighboring states. But it takes two to tango, and, with only a few notable exceptions since 1948, the dance partner has been missing.

Israel is perhaps the only country that, victorious in wars it did not seek, has ceded acquired land in the hope of advancing peace. Witness the treaties with Egypt and Jordan, not to mention the unilateral withdrawals from Gaza and southern Lebanon.

Second, Prime Minister Netanyahu is untrustworthy.


Isn’t he the very same prime minister who, unlike his predecessors, agreed to a ten-month freeze on settlement building as a confidence-building gesture, only to be confronted by a Palestinian leadership that was AWOL?

And didn’t he defy up to 90 percent of the Israeli public who were opposed to releasing Palestinian prisoners with blood on their hands – the blood of Israeli children and Holocaust survivors – by handing over 26 convicted terrorists this week, with another 78 to go?

And didn’t he take this step not at the end of talks with the Palestinians, but rather before they even began, in order to show the degree of his commitment?

Does anyone think this was an easy decision for Netanyahu? If so, think again. Indeed, ask yourself how many other world leaders would act similarly. The answer, I’d say, is few to none.

And third, if Netanyahu were serious, why did he announce new settlement building this week?

Actually, this wasn’t a surprise. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed, the Israeli leader was up front about his intentions. Both the Americans and Palestinians knew about it in advance. And, as Kerry stressed, the move does not change the peace map. The building will take place in areas that all sides know will remain in Israeli hands, should there be a two -state deal.

Sure, the Palestinians are railing against the move in public, but it’s a show for their own constituency. And speaking of constituencies, Palestinian leaders aren’t the only ones with a “street” that needs to be taken into account. Israeli leaders also have to think about domestic politics.

And then there are the vocal critics on the right. Their arguments also boil down to three.

First, I must be “delusional” to think a peace process is even possible.

Does it then mean that Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ya’alon, and the other Israeli leaders involved – not exactly from the left end of the Israeli political spectrum – are also delusional? Have they simply fallen on their heads because they concluded it’s worth exploring, for Israel’s sake, if Palestinian calculations, supported by some key actors in the Arab world, have changed, as the U.S. believes might be the case?

The part I don’t get is what exactly the critics suggest as an alternative.

Is it simply to “hang tough,” as if the status quo were infinitely sustainable? Oh, one critic contended, you’re giving away a “state secret,” namely, that Israel might not endure if things don’t change. Nonsense. This subject has been discussed ad infinitum in Israel. Of course, as a strong, resilient nation, it can endure, but doesn’t Israel owe itself the obligation to leave no stone unturned in seeing if a partner, absent yesterday, might somehow show up today?

Second, the United States cannot be trusted to stand with Israel.

Frankly, if you think Washington can’t be trusted, all bets are off. In truth, Israel has no better friend, irrespective of who sits in the Oval Office. The notion that today’s America will sell Israel down the river is, frankly, quite absurd.

One may or may not be a Democrat – I happen to be non-partisan – but it should be abundantly clear to all but the most jaundiced that the U.S. has, as they say, Israel’s back, even as Israel must always be strong enough to defend itself – by itself.

And third, I am “naïve” to think that if the talks fail because of the Palestinians, the world will blame them, and not the Israelis.

As I wrote in the previous piece, of course there’s a global chorus that will blame Israel no matter what. This goes without saying. They don’t like Israel, period. Many of them don’t want Israel to exist. Their outlook is on automatic pilot, at least where Israel is concerned.

But there are others eminently capable of thinking for themselves and seeing the facts as they are. Bill Clinton could not have been clearer in assigning blame for the failure of Camp David to Arafat. Read My Life, Clinton’s autobiography. The vast majority of the American people have figured it out as well, judging from one poll after another. And even Saudi Prince Bandar, then his country’s ambassador in Washington, publicly pointed the finger of responsibility at Arafat.

Sure, many Europeans have a problem separating fact from fantasy when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they’re not alone.

But the truth is the truth, and we can have no stronger weapon.

So left-wing and right-wing critics aside, there’s a tiny glimmer of hope now.

The peace talks may or may not go anywhere. There is no shortage of reasons why they could well fail. But we should never be fearful of going the extra mile in the hope that maybe, just maybe, something has changed – that, against all the odds, progress can be achieved.

After all, aren’t we commanded to be “seekers of peace”?

This article was originally published by The Jerusalem Post.

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