US Secretary of State John Kerry just spent 24 hours in Israel, trying, yet again, to jump-start negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. When this round of US-brokered negotiations began, the parties agreed to negotiate for nine months and the US expressed confidence that an agreement would be produced at the conclusion of the nine-month period. Nine months later, it is clear that these negotiations have produced nothing. The Palestinians remain as intransigent as ever.
In order to save face, Kerry is trying desperately to get the sides to agree to an extension of the nine-month talking period. Statements have been issued by the Americans that an agreement is imminent. However, statements released by the Palestinians indicate the exact opposite. Palestinian leadership have made statements in recent months that include an insistence upon:
- Total evacuation of all Jews from Judea and Samaria.
- Palestinian refugee return to the State of Israel.
- A return to the pre-67 lines including Jerusalem.
But the most critical refusal on the part of the Palestinians, is their recurring refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This goes to the crux of the issue.
The Palestinians are not interested in a historic compromise that will include two states living side by side with one another where the only issues left to resolve involve borders. On the contrary, the Palestinians believe that Israel should be a Palestinian state where some Jews live — they plan on achieving a majority with the help of their insistence on a right of return. The second state, will be a Palestinian state where no Jews are allowed to reside. And within a few generations, so their plan goes, the Jews will be a beleaguered minority or will be forced to leave.
There is consensus in Israel that the Palestinians are not interested in compromise and that these peace negotiations may well produce legal documents, but they will not produce peace. But the ongoing international pressure on Israel to reach an agreement at any price, has prevented the Israeli public from engaging in an honest discussion about what is good for Israel. Whenever the issue arises, the need to appease the US or Europe in order to prevent further isolation of Israel both economically and diplomatically becomes the predominant argument for further concessions.
In that sense, then, the BDS movement has gained an important victory. While Israel continues to develop and maintain important trade relations with countries all over the world, the threat of boycott and sanctions has convinced Israeli leaders and commentators alike that the peace process is worth investing in and compromising for — at least to a limited degree.
But I would like to suggest a totally different approach. I don’t believe that Israel and the Palestinians can reach a peace agreement in the near future. But we can reach a sort of Modus Vivendi that enables us to live relatively normal lives and enables both Palestinians and Jews living in Judea and Samaria to live safer and more economically enriched lives. They will never recognize our right to this land and we should never recognize their right to this land. But we can recognize the presence of each other and work to create satisfactory conditions to enable each of us to live well. Under Israeli control of course.
This approach enables us to take a more realistic view at the various “deals” that are being made as part of this so-called peace process. Israel agreed to four different Palestinian terrorist releases just to get the Palestinians to the table! The strategy of the Palestinians has been clear from the beginning — extort maximum concessions from Israel while giving nothing in return. The first three prisoner releases went forward and included unrepentant murderers who were released from prison before their sentence had been fully served. Yet, the Palestinians remain as intransigent as ever. This next prisoner release is supposed to include Israeli Arab citizens and, therefore, flies in the face of the very concept of equality before the law, not to mention basic moral concepts of justice.
But Kerry’s recent trip has raised a new prospect — that the US will release Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Israel’s agreement to release even more Palestinian prisoners than originally agreed upon, including some heavy-hitter terrorists. Jonathan Pollard was convicted upon his own admission and as part of a plea bargain for spying on behalf of a US ally. The court repudiated the plea bargain and gave him a life sentence, far in excess of the 10 years given to others for the same crime. After serving 29 years in prison, Pollard deserves to be pardoned. But I am very skeptical of this deal.
In 1998, President Clinton promised to release Pollard in exchange for Israeli concessions under the Wye Agreement. At the last minute, Clinton reneged but it was too late — Netanyahu had already committed to the Israeli concessions, including Hebron!
Peace negotiations between two warring parties will only succeed if both parties want to talk to one another and if they both want peace. Bribing one side or the other to agree to talk will never produce peace. It will only produce a greater appetite on the part of the party benefiting from the bribe. In this case, Israel has nothing to gain and everything to lose if it releases terrorists. This prisoner release is a clear bribe being offered by the US to convince the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. If indeed, Pollard is released, then Israel will have received something in return for the released terrorists, but the Palestinians will not have paid anything for this deal. If, as is more likely, Israel releases terrorists but Pollard is not released, then Israel will have fed the growing appetite of the Palestinians while receiving nothing in return.
Israel needs to assert her right to the entire Land of Israel while offering a real hope to those Arabs living in our midst who desire to live with us in peace. Forget the peace talks — let’s begin the process of living in peace.
Director, Israel Office