‘No agreement with the Palestinians will be reached in our lifetime,” newspaper headlines this week quoted Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stating publicly.
At best, this statement could be perceived as very radical, or in the worst-case scenario, as a moment of rare candor. But aside from Ya’alon’s political orientation, was this really an extremist statement that is disconnected from reality? Just a few months ago, newspaper headlines announced that the Israelis and Palestinians were heading back to the negotiating table.
The air was once again filled with optimism. US Secretary of State John Kerry flouted his success to President Barack Obama and to the entire world. Even Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu furnished one of his famous smirks and called this last step a political achievement.
Mahmoud Abbas was able to buy time (with which he did nothing), while all the while presenting himself to his people as a true leader working toward peace. Israeli and Palestinians alike actually hoped for a few months that we might actually be making strides toward peace.
But was there ever any true basis for optimism? I’ve written before that we should learn from our mistakes.
The negotiations didn’t truly begin without preconditions (Israel released prisoners). And both Israel and the Palestinians have redlines they are not willing to cross. Israel is not willing to give up settlements, which is a deal breaker for the Palestinians.
The Palestinians claim that Jerusalem is their capital and at the same time Israel says that under no circumstances will Jerusalem be divided. The Palestinians demand that the Jordan Valley be demilitarized of Israeli forces, whereas Israel insists that IDF troops remain. The Palestinians demand that refugees be allowed to return to land they abandoned in 1948, but Israel refuses, agreeing only to allow them to live in the future Palestinian state.
Israel is demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, but the Palestinians refuse to do so, agreeing only to recognize the State of Israel.
Another extremely important issue that has not yet been brought up for discussion is how the very complicated future Palestinian state is planning on being run by two separate organizations. Fatah will continue to function as a shoddily run military organization, and Hamas – the murderous terrorist organization – will continue to run the state of Gaza.
The only concrete action that has taken place during all these months of discussion was Israel’s release of Palestinian terrorists. Nothing else.
At least the Israeli government carried out its commitment – the Palestinians made no concessions whatsoever.
The only thing the Palestinians did was to repeatedly make statements condemning Israel.
Kerry claimed that to achieve progress, both sides would need to make difficult and courageous concessions.
He didn’t say out loud that in the end only Israel would be expected to follow through with its commitments. Israel was being asked to give up on its demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Israel was the one being asked to give up on its demand to station soldiers along its eastern border.
The list goes on and on.
We’ve been in this situation a few times already. In 2010, American plans to renew political negotiations failed because the two sides failed to reach a consensus. And prior to this, the Americans and the Europeans made a number of attempts to jumpstart the peace process, but to no avail. Once an intifada broke out, and another time there was a terrible suicide bombing. All the other times failed due to lack of motivation on both sides.
I can honestly say that there has not been one moment over the past few years when either side was seriously motivated to reach a solution.
Due to the makeup of his government and his standing in the Likud central committee, Netanyahu is not currently capable of convincing his cabinet to make any kinds of concessions whatsoever.
And PA President Mahmoud Abbas is not capable of giving his people what they want with respect to refugees and Jerusalem. He knows that anything less will be deemed a complete failure. Everyone knows that no agreement will be reached at the present time, so we should take advantage of this lull to accomplish other things.
The most important thing is to maintain the status quo and not let the situation escalate. Everyone is thinking these thoughts, but Ya’alon is the only one who uttered them out loud.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.