The indefatigable special US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell continues
to foster hope, but peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians seem to be
Disingenuously, the Palestinians are blaming the breakdown
on Israel’s refusal to extend its unprecedented 10-month building moratorium in
West Bank settlements. This, after the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Abbas deliberately wasted the first nine months of the freeze resisting a
resumption of direct talks.
The collapse of peace negotiations would be
highly unfortunate; it is in both sides’ best interests to reach a negotiated
two-state solution – a just, viable and genuine peace.
Since July 2007,
when Hamas violently took control of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority
in the West Bank has increased cooperation with Israel, especially on security
matters. The PA’s new willingness to work with Israel was motivated primarily by
the real danger posed by Hamas to PA control over the West Bank. But economic
and political stability have been an important side effect.
As noted in
an International Crisis Group report released on September 7, a sense of order
and personal safety, long elusive on the West Bank, have been restored there
thanks to this cooperation and thanks to Palestinian forces trained by US
security coordinator in the West Bank Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton.
longer roam streets, uniformed security forces are back... Initial steps, long
overdue, have been taken to reorganize an unwieldy security sector, where
overlapping, unaccountable branches had become fiefdoms of powerful chiefs,”
said the Crisis Group report.
The IDF has thus been able to remove
checkpoints and roadblocks that restrict the free movement of goods and
This marked improvement in stability and security have led to a
resurgence of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank. A World Bank report
released last month forecast eight percent economic growth for 2010 and noted a
50% rise in tax revenues. “Anecdotal evidence” quoted in the report pointed to a
rise in private investment and entrepreneurship in certain sectors.
situation is so rosy that World Bank analysts concluded on this optimistic note:
“If the Palestinian Authority (PA) maintains its current performance in
institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well-positioned for
the establishment of a state at any point in the near future.”
both the Crisis Group and the World Bank warn that stability on the West Bank is
unsustainable in the long run without a negotiated peace agreement that leads to
a two-state solution.
PALESTINIAN DEMANDS for a complete building freeze
in Judea and Samaria – and, strikingly, in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem
across the Green Line, too – seem to be nothing more than an excuse to derail
talks. Neither previous US administrations nor the Palestinians expected Israel,
as a condition for talks, to stop building designed to accommodate natural
population in existing West Bank settlements.
All sides understood that
the building of new homes in existing settlements does not further impair
Palestinian access to locations on the West Bank nor does it significantly
change the population balance. Substantive progress in face-to-face
negotiations, by contrast, offers the potential to determine borders – and by
extension to reach agreement on who builds where – in the long term.
Palestinians understandably want the right to self-determination through
political autonomy. But for all the talk of “creating facts on the ground,” PA
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad cannot unilaterally declare the establishment of a
Palestinian state without Israeli cooperation.
Israel also has an
interest in the creation of a peaceful Palestinian state that respects the
Jewish people’s right to political sovereignty within secure borders. A
successful two-state solution would not only bring about a peaceful end to
decades of strife, but would also ensure that Israel remains both Jewish and
The fate of Palestinians and Israelis is linked. Only through
dialogue – and a genuine commitment to reconciliation by both sides – can we
hope to find a solution.