On Monday the Knesset Caucus for Israeli- Arab peace was launched, attended by
about one-third of the Knesset Members and with more than 250 citizen supporters
in the audience.
This caucus of MKs strives to be the largest in the 19th
Knesset based on support of what is believed to be the official position of the
government and the prime minister. Two states for two peoples is the central
theme of Israeli-Palestinian peace that must be supported by regional peace
developments between Israel and as many of its neighbors as possible.
the caucus's launch event the focus of the agenda was the revitalized Arab Peace
Initiative which recently was reratified by the Arab League states. The API was
moved forward recently by the announcement of the Qatari prime minister that the
Arab League views the possibility of territorial swaps between Israel and the
Palestinians as being within the context of their peace initiative.
majority of the MK who spoke at the event emphasized that the State of Israel
has never formally expressed positively that the Arab Peace Initiative could be
a good basis for moving the peace agenda forward. There has never been an
official Israeli response to the initiative, which promises Israel full
recognition and normal relations with all states in the region in addition to
more than 50 states which are members of the Organization of Islamic
The API was first issued in March 2002 and remains on the
agenda of the Arab states since, including after all of the revolutionary
changes that have occurred since then.
The API speaks clearly about
bringing the Israeli-Arab conflict to an end and resolving all of the issues
that are on the agenda through negotiations.
On the morning of the
caucus's launch, Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s interview with The New York Times
was published, in which he called the Palestinian president names and cast him
as a non-partner. Lapid made those derogatory statements without speaking to
President Mahmoud Abbas even once.
Demonstrating a lack of seriousness
and extreme irresponsibility as a leader who sees himself as a future prime
minister, Lapid repeated populist propaganda without bothering to invest the
time to listen directly to what the Palestinian leader has to say for
On the day following elections in Israel, I personally delivered
an invitation to Lapid from Abbas, who offered to meet him privately or
publicly, as Lapid desired. Lapid responded to me that as long as coalition
negotiations were going on he would not meet with Abbas. After those
negotiations were completed and Lapid become finance minister, he received
several invitations from me to meet Abbas, including one I presented to him
face-to-face in the Knesset. But Lapid apparently felt it was easier to simply
tell the New York Times Abbas is not a peace partner.
Lapid’s stance is
not unique. Our prime minister has also refused to meet Abbas and continues to
claim that it is Abbas who is not the partner. One of the most important
statements made at the caucus meeting was by veteran Labor MK and former defense
minister Binyamin Ben- Eliezer, who told the audience that he personally had
offered to over 10 times to bring Abbas to Netanyahu’s official residence on
Balfour Street in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu put off the initiative. I too
delivered at least three times over the past 18 months invitations to Netanyahu
to meet Abbas in secret. Those initiatives were also rejected by
It is so easy for Israel to cast doubt on Palestinian
The new mantra being repeated all over Israeli politics and
media is that Palestinians no longer want a state of their own. Where they come
up with this conclusion is beyond me. It is not the conclusion of negotiations
with Palestinians, nor even discussions with Palestinian leaders.
course the Israelis say the Palestinians have made so many preconditions for
negotiations that it is clear that they don’t want to negotiate.
not true. The Palestinian position is that before they enter into negotiations
with Israel it is essential that Israel fulfills its obligations made within the
parameters of the 2003 road map. Settlement freeze was a primary Israeli
obligation in that document and it was never carried out, not even during the 10
months that Israel claimed to freeze settlement building in the last
Palestinians have a valid point, but nonetheless, I argue
with them that they should come to the negotiations table without any
preconditions of any kind. So should Israel. I know of no conflict in the world
that has been resolved by not talking.
Israelis and Palestinians don’t
believe each other – leaders and lay people alike. They are right; there is no
reason why they should believe each other. But negotiations in conflict
situations rarely take place when the parties trust each other; if they did
there probably wouldn’t be the kind of conflict that requires these kinds of
Israeli-Palestinian negotiations cannot be conducted in
public or by the public. We have chosen leaders to represent us in those
negotiations. It is the job and responsibility of Netanyahu to negotiate with
Abbas. He refused to do it seriously in his last term of office and four years
postponed dealing seriously with the most important issue facing Israel. It will
be inexcusable if he wastes another four years this time.
Netanyahu to be the Israeli prime minister to sit across from the table with the
Palestinians. Netanyahu is smart enough to know the parameters of an
There are risks, but the risks of not doing it are so much
greater for Israel. It is time for Netanyahu and Abbas to put all of the issues
on the table and sit together until they reach an agreement.
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.