Restarting talks with the Palestinians
Encountering peace: I have no walls between me and peace. I cross borders, break down barriers and refuse to allow fear of “the other” to turn into hatred. I have gone beyond the walls and I know that peace is possible!
Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas Photo: Jason Reed / Reuters
Increased North American and European pressure for additional sanctions on Iran,
including the Canadian cancelation of diplomatic relations, are additional
signals to Israel that the international community does not support an Israeli
military attack at this time.
As Israel was bringing its own assessments
that Iran has long crossed the “red lines” of a weapons program and currently
has enough enriched uranium for a nuclear arsenal, not just one bomb, Washington
was letting it be known that it has painted its “red lines” in a different
place. Russia has asserted that there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear
weapons program and while IAEA reports cannot validate one way or another, it
seems that the Israeli attack posture, so heightened over the past weeks, will
be coming down to a lower level of readiness.
It seems the US government
and military have made it more than clear at this time that Israel does not have
a “green light” to attack Iran. The uncertainties of such an attack and its
aftermath are too enormous to the stability of the world to allow for Israel to
launch a military adventure. The experts say that there is still time to prevent
weaponization and harsher sanctions have to be given their chance to
In a few weeks the Israeli political and military establishments
will wind down and the Iranian issue will capture less of the media’s and
public’s attention. The shift of attention will probably drift back to the
economy, the budget crisis, cost of living and the difficulties of governing
during this time of austerity, new taxes and budget cuts.
Of course, the
budget has to be dealt with. If the budget discussions and decision making on
cuts is too divisive or politically explosive we will find ourselves facing new
elections in the coming months. That will do wonders for the economy. But when
we do the “arithmetic,” new elections are far more reasonable than a new
IN REALITY what the political attention should focus on once the
Iran agenda is scaled down is a return to the Palestinian agenda. That is where
Israel’s real existential threat lies. The Palestinian issue is where we can
really have an impact on our fate, and we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission
to move forward. We don’t need to use American weapons; we don’t need
complicated flight plans over other states’ sovereign air space. We have all of
the tools in our very own diplomatic tool box to wage peace on the
We would also find that the entire world is backing us,
except for a few rogue states like Iran. It would be so refreshing to see Israel
greeted once again in international forums as the side with its hand
outstretched in peace to its neighbor.
I am quite sure that an
announcement from the prime minister that Israel was prepared to continue
negotiations from where they left off during Ehud Olmert’s tenure as prime
minister would be met with an immediate positive Palestinian
Does anyone really expect that the Palestinians would come to
the table for less? Would any party come back to negotiations to a place that
was less than the last point in the last round? The distance between the
Olmert-Abbas talks and an agreement is not very far. Both sides will still need
to make significant compromises. The implementation of any agreement would take
place over years, and progress and additional steps would be measured by
achievements, not statements. There are lessons that we have learned from past
mistakes and what was does not have to be what can be.
No, there is no
confidence on either side that there is a genuine partner for
peace. Israel does not believe Mahmoud Abbas and Palestine does not
believe Binyamin Netanyahu. Israelis do not believe Palestinians want peace and
Palestinians do not believe Israelis want peace. I know that both sides want
I spend a lot of time in the West Bank. Yesterday I spent the day
in Hebron. I went in my own car, got lost, asked for directions and got to where
I needed to be. I walked around the city by myself. I was not scared for one
moment. I was greeted by people on the streets. I spoke with them, bought some
of those wonderful late-season Hebron grapes.
It was clear to all that I
was an Israeli and no one attacked me or threatened me. I was not stoned or
lynched. I am in Ramallah at least once a week. I go in my own car, with my
yellow Israeli license plates. I travel around the city freely. The same for
Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin and the villages all over the West Bank.
I had lunch
yesterday in Hebron with a couple of officers from the Palestinian security
force. They were protecting a group of Israelis who spent Shabbat there. Imagine
that, a group of Israelis, not settlers, who spent Shabbat in Hebron – not in
the settlement area of Hebron, but in the Palestinian city of
They prayed in the Cave of the Patriarchs, they were escorted by
a Palestinian guide and protected by Palestinian police. They didn’t come to
attack; they didn’t come to take land or to build a settlement. They came in
peace; they came with respect and the received the same in return.
of them were religious Jews. One of them said to me, “We don’t have to own it,
or have sovereignty over it in order to keep it sacred.” One of the Palestinian
security officials said to me that when he was young he worked in Israel and met
a lot of Israelis. He learned Hebrew and he appreciated the good things in
Israel that he saw. Today, he exclaimed, our young people don’t know Israelis.
They don’t see Israel. They have no contact and the walls that exist between us
are both physical and psychological. He is so right. Those walls have two sides
to them and they prevent contact on both of their sides.
I have no walls
between me and peace. I cross borders, go beyond walls, break down barriers and
refuse to allow fear of “the other” to turn into hatred. I refuse to accept the
constant attitude of pessimism that is so pervasive among most of us today:
there is no partner, they don’t want peace, they hate us, the want to kill us,
they want our land, they don’t recognize us, there is no hope.
all false, myths and spins. I have gone beyond the walls and I know that peace
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center
for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a radio host
on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back
channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.