Only days ahead of President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian
Authority, its nature is still unclear.
Will it be reconciliatory or
confrontational? Will it be a working visit or a ceremonial one? And most
importantly, will it focus on Iran or on the Palestinian issue? Whatever the
answers to these questions, there is no doubt that the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict will be discussed during the presidential visits to Jerusalem and
And President Obama has to decide which approach to adopt, on
which path to march.
As surprising as it might sound, an American effort
to renew the stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is the
easy way, the beaten path. It is the obvious policy, the path of least
It might even technically succeed.
long ago that it welcomes direct negotiations without any preconditions, and the
Palestinians – if pressed – might drop their demand of an a priori moratorium on
construction in the Jewish communities. What has failed for the past 30 months
may be ripe for success now.
The problem is that the negotiations are
doomed to failure, to be yet another exercise in futility. No agreement can or
will be reached because there is no point in the geopolitical space where
Israel’s and the Palestinians’ minimal demands on most of the crucial issues
The two-state formula is a mirage, a fata morgana – the closer
you get to it, the more you realize that it is no more than hot air. The
formulas proposed in Oslo, Camp David, Geneva, Annapolis and all the other
locations across the globe, which dealt with Jerusalem, refugees, sovereignty,
territorial swaps, settlements, national statehood, security, Israeli Arabs and
a myriad of additional issues, created no more than an illusion of a potential
solution to the conflict. It is neither coincidence nor bad luck that they were
never adopted. There is always some pretext or explanation for why each round
failed. The truth is that failure is inevitable.
Some see the process as
the aim, that as long as negotiations are going on – danger is averted. That,
however, is a very shortsighted strategy. Raising expectations that cannot be
fulfilled ultimately ends in frustration. And frustration gives rise to
violence. Ask President Clinton.
He went to Gaza with the promise of a
Palestinian state and convened the Camp David summit to keep the process going.
And although he had the best of intentions, the result was the deadly second
President Obama can choose the road less traveled, the one that
can make all the difference. Significant improvements on the ground that will
tangibly benefit the lives of millions of Palestinians and Israelis are what are
most urgently needed.
Let’s launch an ambitious and comprehensive program
to dramatically improve human rights in this beleaguered area
First and foremost is the right to live unthreatened. Bullets,
Molotov cocktails and rocks belong to a language that should disappear. No
Israeli or Palestinian child or adult should have to live in fear of
And while both the Israeli and Palestinian education systems bear
responsibility in that regard, the heaviest burden to act lies on the shoulders
of the Israeli security forces. They must not evade that
But enabling life is not enough.
Human rights also
mean a dignified life. If security prevails, an active effort to lift
restrictions on freedom of movement and activity should begin immediately. The
ultimate goal should and could be the dismantling of the security barriers
Israel was forced to erect after the vicious terrorist attacks of the early
The right to proper housing should be addressed too, despite the
opposition of the Palestinian establishment itself. The refugee camps should be
completely renovated, making living conditions acceptable.
years after their creation, the great-grandchildren of the original dwellers are
entitled to proper housing. And no one, Israeli or Palestinian, should have to
live under the constant threat of eviction.
Regarding political rights,
while the existence of an autonomous national authority does not address all the
expectations and aspirations of the Palestinians, it is the most that can be
achieved right now. The PA should be strengthened.
President Obama can
choose the well-trodden path, and bring no benefit to the area. Or take the less
glamorous but far more effective one and succeed in changing
This is the challenge facing him as Air Force One makes its way
to Ben-Gurion Airport.
The author is former chairman of the Council of
Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria.