Opinion: Palestinians Should be Engaged Honestly
There is a narrative that has been gaining adherents in America, that it is within Israel’s control to make peace with the Palestinians. If only it were so. The story says that the issue is territorial, and the “occupation” and/or settlements are the root cause of the conflict. Unfortunately it is the Palestinians who need to be confronted with a reality check.
The same people, who feel that Israel can magically create peace by itself, also feel that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a man Israel can trust and is a partner for peace.
Yet of great concern to Israeli and American leaders who are paying attention is that Abbas has been heard to say things that represent the antithesis to peace. In August 2011 he said, “Don’t order us to recognize a Jewish state… we won’t accept it.” And on Dream 2 TV (Egypt), Oct. 23, 2011, he said, “I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I will never recognize the Jewishness of the state or a Jewish state.” Or in reference to the terrorist organization Hamas, he said in March 2013, “I don’t see much difference between their (Hamas) policy and ours. In this case, there is no need to label them as a terrorist organization.”
In January 2013, Abbas mentioned a full rogues gallery of terrorists and anti-Semites when he said, “We pledge to continue on the path of the martyr brother Abu Ammar (Yasser Arafat)… [and] remember the pioneers—the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Al-Husseini.” The Mufti of Jerusalem is the same Palestinian leader who tried to work closely with Hitler because he wanted to bring the Holocaust to the Middle East.
With attitudes and speeches from Palestinian leaders like this, it is no wonder that Israel remains skeptical about peace. In a 2012 poll jointly conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion and American Pollster Stanley Greenberg, 61 percent of Arab-Palestinians do not accept two states for two peoples and 72 percent of Arab-Palestinians reject any Jewish connection to Israel and to Jerusalem.
Now in his 9th year of a four-year term, it is also of great concern that Abbas is mistrusted and despised by many of his own people because of the endemic corruption and siphoning off of millions in funds targeted for the Palestinian people, just like Arafat did. He would lose an election today, and if Israel withdrew from Area A, many are concerned that Hamas would likely take over, just as they did in Gaza in January of 2006.
What is needed now is an honest talk with the Palestinians.
The premise that the conflict can be resolved if only Israel pushes harder for peace and offers more land neglects to assign responsibility to the Palestinians. This line of reasoning completely ignores the historical record of Arab rejectionism of a two-state solution in 1949, 1967, 2000 and 2007. It ignores Israel’s two unilateral withdrawals from Arab land, in 2000 from Lebanon and 2005 from Gaza, leading to tens of thousands of missiles aimed at Israeli civilians during the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead, and Operation Pillar of Defense just this past November.
When Secretary of State John Kerry next speaks to the Palestinians, he should ideally be honest with them about their role and responsibility for the conflict and for a future of peace, if there is to be any.
If peace is the goal, then keeping facts in context is essential. Israeli settlements comprise less than 1.7 percent of West Bank land. With the security fence, approximately 7 percent of the land is built on by Israel. We also must remember that the West Bank, or Judea and Samaria, is ancient Israel. Yet Israel has shown a complete willingness, time and again, to give almost all of the West Bank away to the Palestinians for a true, secure peace.
The U.S., as the world’s leading power, should go to Ramallah and say, “Commit to peace by recognizing Israel as a Jewish State, acknowledge that there will be no right of return, and stop launching rockets into Israel.”
That is the way to set the stage for real progress and a realistic peace. Some tough love is in order, as platitudes and moral equivalence only beget false illusions and more violence.
I wish this were only up to Israel to change the relationship and the future with the Palestinians, and its Arab neighbors. It is now time to speak honestly with the Palestinians if peace has any chance of taking root.
Eric R. Mandel, MD, is the co-chair of the StandWithUs – New York office.