Who will be slapped with the blame if, or when, efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry to keep alive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are officially pronounced a failure? From Israel’s perspective it is clearly the Palestinians.
It was they who stubbornly refused to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, a recognition that could easily have been interpreted by the Palestinians in a minimalistic fashion as simple acknowledgment of a Jewish majority within in the 1949 armistice lines coupled with a commitment not to flood Israel with Palestinian refugees who would endanger this Jewish majority. But the Palestinians refused.
In part this refusal is tied to Palestinians’ unwillingness to recognize the Jewish people’s historical roots in the Land of Israel. High-ranking members of the Palestinian Authority claim, for instance, that there never was a Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
And before the negotiations were officially declared to be over, the Palestinians applied to join 15 international conventions and treaties, launching the first stage of its new international diplomatic offensive on the Jewish state.
For the Palestinians, meanwhile, clearly it was Israel who scuttled the talks. By demanding recognition of its Jewishness, Israel was in essence asking Palestinians to abandon or modify their narrative of Palestinian historical ties to the land. And Israel demanded to keep Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley for an indefinite time, a condition that would, from Palestinians’ perspective, perpetuate the “occupation.”
The American position on who was to blame was unclear. In his testimony to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Kerry seemed to imply that it was Israel.
“Unfortunately, the [Palestinian security] prisoners weren’t released on the Saturday they were supposed to be released,” he said. “And so day went by, day two went by, day three went by, and then in the afternoon when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem. And poof! That was sort of the moment.”
Jerusalem began to call it the “poof speech” and Kerry was attacked for placing the blame for the deadlock on Israel. Then Washington seemed to backtrack. Ahead of Kerry’s meeting in Washington with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday, Kerry’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters that the US secretary of state was “frankly surprised by the coverage of his comments.
He doesn’t believe that one side deserves blame over the other.” Psaki went on to say that “both sides have taken unhelpful steps.”
We agree with Psaki. While Palestinians have been intransigent on the recognition issue, Israel has not done enough to create an atmosphere conducive to making peace.
Nevertheless, engaging in a blame game is not helpful.
Clearly, both sides could do more to foster a more positive environment for talks.
Palestinian incitement, glorification of terrorists and rejection of the Jewish people’s roots in this land must all stop if there is to be any chance for peace. Being a declarative change, the price Palestinians would have to pay for it would be minimal.
Israel, meanwhile, can do more to improve the daily lives of Palestinians. Checkpoints, the West Bank security barrier and callousness or ignorance among many members of our government to the needs of Palestinians prevent policy change. Construction of more efficient roads and highways, sewage treatment plants and even the completion of the new Palestinian town of Rawabi have all been delayed in part due to a lack of Israeli cooperation.
A two-state solution is clearly not in the offing any time soon. But the fates of Israelis and Palestinians are tied together even if both sides would prefer otherwise.
Engaging in a blame game postpones the inevitable day when the two sides sit down and truly begin thinking about how best to live together and to create a modus vivendi, imperfect though it might be, that is an improvement on the present state of affairs in which mutual accusations trump substance.