I got a letter today from a friend who has a senior position in one of Israel’s
important ministries. He used to work with me. He has spent years in the IDF and
was one of the people in charge of security cooperation with the Palestinian
Authority. He wrote that he continues to admire my dedication to peace with the
Palestinians, and that he has no doubt my reasons for continuing to believe and
work for peace stem from my commitment to the State of Israel and the Jewish
people. But, he wondered, when will I finally come to understand that we have no
partner on the other side?
No partner. I hear those two words every day from so
many people, Israelis and Palestinians! We all want peace, but who can we make
peace with? The other side breached its obligations, took unilateral steps that
have made Oslo null and void and continue to incite against us, against peace,
and support violence.
They don’t even recognize our basic right to exist.
Just listen to what they say and look at what they do. They prove, every
day that they don’t really want peace. Sure they tell the international
community that they do, but listen to what they say to their own
It never ceases to amaze me. The same words, the same thoughts
the same feelings – like a mirror image – on both sides of the conflict.
Objectively speaking, Israel and Palestine continue to demonstrate that both
sides are right. Israel has no partner for peace and Palestine has no partner
for peace. Neither side seems willing to take the steps that are necessary to
prove that there is a real partner for on the other side. Both sides continue to
miss opportunities to change this dynamic. Both sides seem to go out of their
way to convince the other side that there really is no
Partnership doesn’t come naturally and it doesn’t exist when
only one side wants it. Partnership has to be created and nurtured and built on
Israelis and Palestinians are not partners because we have
both experienced a peace process that failed. The failure is owned by both sides
and both sides are responsible for the consequences of that failure. Five
agreements were signed by the two sides and all were breached in significant
ways. Since those breaches were not dealt with in real time and repaired they
became the foundations for the continued failure of the process.
replaced diplomacy and as more people were killed, more property destroyed, new
generations of youngster grew up into culture of fear, suspicion and hatred. Now
there are almost no contacts across the conflict lines and growing numbers who
have no desire to have contacts on the other side.
The parties came back
from Camp David in July 2000 more dedicated to blaming the other side for the
failure not to reach an agreement than to taking responsibility for sticking it
out at the table and finding solutions. Strangely, between Camp David and Taba
in January 2001 the negotiators 52 more times, without the fanfare of
presidential summits, and finally made it to another peace summit. But by the
time Taba came around in January 2001, the Israeli government was run by a
minority coalition and Yasser Arafat had let loose the tiger of violence of the
second intifada and refused to control it until he, too, lost the ability to
stop it. The Taba negotiations produced real progress but they were held too
close to elections to be legitimate, and then Ariel Sharon won a landslide
victory and the peace process ended.
Sharon refused to negotiate, even
after the international community forced Arafat to appoint a prime minister,
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian architect of Oslo, to be in charge. At the Sharm
e-Sheikh summit in February 2005 Abbas tried to convince Sharon that he as prime
minister would bring an end to the intifada: “We have agreed with Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon to stop all acts of violence against Israelis and Palestinians....
The calm that our land will experience starting today is the start of a new era,
a start for peace and hope. It is the beginning of peace and hope.
we have announced today... is also an important step representing a new chance
for the peace process to regain momentum and to get back on track, so that the
Palestinian and Israeli peoples might regain hope in the possibility of
From that day on renewed security cooperation began,
and the path to the calm that we have known over the past years under the Abbas
Nonetheless, Sharon decided on unilateral disengagement
from Gaza and refused to negotiate with Abbas. The Hamas electoral victory of
January 2006 was the child of unilateralism and Arafat’s
Arafat died, Abbas became president, Salam Fayyad was
appointed prime minister. Israel built the separation barrier, continued to
build settlements, and yet terrorism was defeated. The Israeli security forces
and the determination of Abbas and Fayyad together earn the success of security
in the West Bank.
The Israeli demand for Palestinian recognition of
Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people was born in Annapolis in 2007 by
a new demand by Tzipi Livni. In September 1993 Arafat wrote to Rabin that “The
PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.”
In 1993 that statement was sufficient to launch a peace process. In 2007, after
the second intifada, it was no longer enough for Israel.
The refusal of
the Palestinians to recognize the legitimate right of the Jewish people to a
state of the own added substance to the Israeli claim there is no partner for
peace. But Palestinians answered that recognition of Israel as the Jewish nation
state would deny the one million Palestinian citizens of Israel their birthright
in their own state. They also said that such recognition would remove their
right to put the issue of refugees on the negotiating table.
issues contribute to the lack of belief that there is a partner. Jerusalem, for
instance. The Palestinians claim that Israel is forcing Palestinians to move out
of their neighborhoods and is replacing them with Jews. This is happening in
Silwan and in Sheikh Jarah. Palestinians complain that Israel denies Muslims the
right to pray freely at Al Aqsa Mosque.
Israelis hold fast to the
statements made by Palestinian leaders, including Arafat, that Jews have no
connection to Jerusalem. Arafat once said that the Jewish Temple was never in
Jerusalem. Jews will never forgive him for that.
Education and incitement
is another area that both sides latch on to to prove the “no partner” assertion.
It is no real challenge to find evidence of incitement on both sides – rabbis,
sheikhs, politicians and the media all make generous contributions to spreading
hate. Regarding education, Israel’s textbooks are better than Palestinian in
terms of teaching something positive about the other side, but both sides suffer
greatly from the crime of omission.
The serious challenge is not in
proving the lack of partners but in changing the course of history and taking
steps to create the partnership that is necessary to make peace. It is possible
to build partnership.
The basic desire for real peace is genuine on both
sides, despite what most Israelis and Palestinians think. I travel on both sides
of the conflict and I hear both peoples speak their truths.Gershon
Baskin is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and
Information, a columnist for
The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator
of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.