ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIAN Authority are about to open a new chapter in their
relationship. In September, the question of the political independence of the
Palestinian state and its membership in the family of nations will come up for a
vote at the General Assembly of the UN. The vote is expected to pass with
overwhelming international support.
This initiative is diametrically
opposed to Israel’s demand for “direct negotiations without preconditions” as
the sole path for the establishment of the future Palestinian
Indeed, this diplomatic initiative reflects the Palestinians’
utter loss of political trust in the current Israeli government, despite Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declarations of commitment to the principle of
“two states for two people,” which he presented at Bar- Ilan University several
months after taking office and then reiterated recently in his speech to the US
Congress during his last visit to Washington, D.C.
It is no wonder that
the Palestinian initiative is politically unnerving to Jerusalem.
results of the impending vote at the General Assembly are not in doubt. The real
question is: What will happen the next day? Some anticipate that the Palestinian
people will fall into despair when the sun shines on a new day in New York and
they reach the harsh recognition that for them, nothing has
According to this problematic scenario, riots and protests like
those in Tahrir Square will break out. The Palestinian security forces will fail
in their efforts to contain the unrest and to prevent confrontations with the
IDF and settlers. The protesters will overtake the blockades and converge – even
if their intentions are initially nonviolent – on IDF checkpoints and isolated
Jewish settlements. In this volatile situation, according to the worst-case
scenario, control over the outcome is in the hands of some unknown individual
who just might open fire. And once lives are lost, we can be sure that the last
vestiges of discipline and restraint among the demonstrators will
And so, it is also no wonder that the scenario of a third
intifada looms threateningly over us. Add to that the possibility of unrest
among the Israeli Arabs, the penetrability of the southern border and the
continued violence emanating from the Gaza strip – and it is clear why the
Israeli public feels such qualms over any change in the political or security
status quo that is brought about by violence rather than through orchestrated
negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas
does not want violence. Should violence break out, he will use all the political
and security tools at his disposal to curb it. However, without proper
preparations, the Israeli public might also lose any remaining trust in his
ability to maintain stability in the region that Ramallah has tried so carefully
to nurture over the past two years. We Israelis need now direct channels of
communication with the Palestinian leadership, through which we can deliver our
concerns and receive explanations of their intentions.
And so we have
chosen to write an open letter to the Palestinian leadership:
To: The Chairman of the PLO and the President of the Palestinian Authority
Dear Mr. President, In several weeks time, the
Palestinians will be granted worldwide public support for the establishment of
an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
This development is a
credit to your efforts to turn your political vision into reality. We,
peace-seeking Israelis, commend your initiative and extend our hope that the
Palestinian dream of political independence will soon be realized.
have done much to prepare your people for this momentous development. Prime
Minister Salam Fayyad has devoted all of his energy and skill to creating the
governmental infrastructure necessary for the declaration of independence. The
UN published a report expressing international recognition of the fact that the
Palestinian Authority is indeed ready and able to lead an independent state. The
Palestinian economy shows impressive signs of growth; a new town, Rawabi, is
being built in the mountains north of Ramallah.
The Palestinian security
forces have undergone extensive training and empowerment – and even the Israeli
heads of security have recognized this welcome achievement. You initiated a
process of internal reconciliation between the main forces that dictate the
Palestinian agenda – Fatah and Hamas. We are aware of the difficulties involved
in these internal negotiations, but we are also aware that the process has not
collapsed and is continuing.
And most significantly, despite the
political tension, there has hardly been any terrorist activity against Israel.
We acknowledge your efforts towards this end.
It is important that you
know that we, Israelis, are also inevitably to be impacted by the significant
diplomatic process that you have initiated. We are in a strange predicament,
since our government in Jerusalem has not responded with any initiative of its
own to the situation unfolding in front of our eyes. We are concerned about the
future – and not only about the possibility that the day after the UN vote,
violence against us will reignite.
We are also concerned that the
Palestinian people will interpret that vote as a declaration of independence
that is not predicated on negotiations. But since negotiations are the only way
to bring about a substantive change in our relationships, we will thus be left
without a formal end to the conflict. It is therefore important to us that you
specifically articulate your commitment to peace in your speeches leading up to
and during the convening of the General Assembly, as well as in the text of the
UN resolution expected to be approved in September.
Several months ago,
you gave an interview to “The New York Times.” It was clear that your aides had
not warned you about the significance of the messages you articulated to the
The interview was distressing and triggered doubts about
the very possibility of peace in the Middle East. It is incumbent upon you to
prepare carefully and to consider how your words will be understood by us, the
We recognize, of course, that as a politician and a statesman
standing at this critical historical junction, you must address different
constituencies in your own nation and in the region, and we know that talking to
us is a particularly complex challenge. But it is crucial, since without us it
will be very difficult for you to realize your vision. It is we the public, much
more than our current government, who will largely determine the chances that
the vision of Palestinian independence will actually come to
Following is a list of “talking points” that we, peace-seeking
Israelis, hope to see in your political statements before and during the
September convening of the General Assembly: • The UN initiative is not intended
to serve as a substitute for direct negotiations, but rather as a complement to
them. Please make an explicit commitment to direct negotiations leading to a
peace agreement as a precursor to the actual establishment of the State of
• The Palestinian leadership intends to implement its vision
of independence through negotiations with Israel in accordance with the
guidelines set out by US Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, with the 1967
borders as a basis for negotiations and land exchanges.
• Recognition of
the State of Palestine requires recognition of the State of Israel within the
borders that will be delineated in direct negotiations between the
• While the Palestinians have a spiritual and national bond with
the Greater Land of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River,
so, too, the Israelis have a spiritual and national bond with the entire Greater
Land of Israel, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
while the land remains spiritually and nationally whole, it will be politically
divided among two neighboring sovereign nation states coexisting in peace and
• While the Palestinians have a spiritual and national bond
with all of Jerusalem, so, too, the Israelis have a spiritual and national bond
with all of Jerusalem.
Therefore, Jerusalem must be politically divided
according to the Clinton parameters, serving as capitals for both Israel and
Palestine, yet remain one united municipal entity, with a joint municipal
leadership that is committed to the welfare of all of its citizens, equally. The
holy sites will enjoy special status, allowing the adherents of all three
religions access and opportunity to perform their religious rituals in dignity
and in security, according to their beliefs.
• The Right of Return is a
constituting concept for the Palestinian national movement.
right can only be implemented through an agreement to be reached in negotiations
and in a manner that will not threaten the identity or stability of Israel
within its agreed-upon borders.
• The Palestinians seek to establish a
state that will give voice to their national aspirations alongside Israel and
not in Israel’s stead. We implore you – invite Israel and the international
community to strive towards a mutually acceptable agreement that takes into
account all of the justified aspirations of both sides, to be reached in direct
• The peace agreement will be the sole determining
document, marking the diplomatic and legal end of the political conflict between
the two peoples and an end to their mutual demands.
• At this time,
please call on all sides to view this document as the genesis of a process of
reconciliation between the Palestinian people and the Jewish people.
reconciliation should aim at bringing succor to the individual, communal and
national pain that has resulted from the ongoing bloody conflict between us. It
will require enduring political and educational efforts to ease the hostility
and fear between us and our mutual ignorance about each other.
Israeli-Palestinian agreement will serve as a call to the Arab states to
normalize their relations with Israel, so that all the peoples of the region may
benefit from this long-awaited peace.
Mr. President: We have no doubt
that these diplomatic messages, articulated in your public addresses in both
Arabic and English, will be listened to carefully in Jerusalem and throughout
all of Israel. At the same time, the Jewish world, especially in the US, will
also be particularly attuned to your words. Yes, the Jewish world cares about
Israel, but they, and we, care also about the fate of all the peoples who live
within the region.
We conclude with hopes for success. •
Ilan Baruch, is
a former peace negotiator and retired ambassador to South Africa.