The Palestinian Authority’s announcement that a reconciliation agreement between
Fatah and Hamas had been signed in Cairo prompted an immediate response from the
government. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued the following statement:
“The Palestinian Authority must choose between peace with Israel and peace with
Hamas. There cannot be peace with both since Hamas aims to destroy Israel
and says so openly.”
Indeed, the prime minister made clear and
unequivocal Israel’s negative reaction to the dramatic development. But
that is insufficient. It does not help the public understand how the government
will face the looming challenge in September, when a majority of member states
at the UN General Assembly will likely support the establishment of a
Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with its capital in
Netanyahu’s statement also gives no hint of whether he will
use his upcoming speech before Congress to introduce a new diplomatic
initiative. Most importantly, no one – in Israel or the world – has any idea how
the Israeli leadership plans to alleviate the danger of the country becoming a
NOW WOULD be the right time for the prime minister to
convene a special session in the Knesset and give the following speech:
“Respected Knesset, citizens of Israel,
“The direction in which the Palestinian
Authority is heading does not bode well. Certainly, the Fatah- Hamas agreement
has only been initialed at this stage and many obstacles still exist on the path
to its implementation.
But the possibility that the parties will overcome
the difficulties they face cannot be ruled out. The practical implication of
this internal reconciliation is that it paves the way for new, general elections
in Judea, Samaria and Gaza in approximately a year. These elections would
determine which direction the Palestinians will take: toward a diplomatic
settlement based on a historic compromise with Israel, or the renewal of a
violent struggle against us for years to come.
“Within the Israeli
public, there are those who hope the moderate Palestinian leadership will
disappear. There are even some in my government, and in my coalition, who
believe that the more Hamas fanatics are strengthened, the more international
pressure on Israel to make generous concessions to the Palestinians decreases.
This approach is short-sighted. Our desire to end the conflict with our
neighbors is not because of the entreaties of our friends in Washington, Paris
or Bonn, but rather, because we understand that peace serves Israel’s long-term
interests. For this reason, the possibility of religious zealots, motivated by
hatred, ruling eternally over millions of Palestinians living next door to us
brings me no pleasure. Quite the reverse: This is a scenario filled with
dangers, and my government must act to ensure that it does not come to
“The only means by which we can constructively impact developments
is to help improve the chances that the extremist side suffers defeat in the
Palestinian elections. This outcome is possible only if the pragmatic camp, led
by Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad, can convince its people that negotiations
with Israel will be more productive than terrorism.
“Over the past two
years, I have tried to resume direct talks with the Palestinian leadership. In
the “Bar- Ilan speech” I delivered in June 2009, I adopted the principle of two
states for two peoples. In November 2009, I initiated a 10-month settlement
construction freeze. We also worked to improve the welfare of Palestinians by
removing checkpoints in Judea and Samaria and by encouraging economic
“Unfortunately we didn’t see any reciprocal gestures from the
other side. The Palestinian Authority is now focusing its efforts not on
dialogue with us, but on promoting a unilateral resolution at the UN General
Assembly in September. While such a decision would likely place Israel in an
embarrassing position of isolation, it would do nothing concrete to promote the
Palestinian goal of statehood. The realization of the two-state vision is
possible only through direct negotiations and reciprocal and painful
“I have concluded that the time is ripe to take even bolder
steps than those we have taken over the past two years. Time is not on our side.
I want to restore Palestinian confidence in the advantages of resuming
negotiations. I cannot accede to the demand to renew a settlement construction
freeze in Judea and Samaria. We are already acting with great restraint in this
field, and as I have already made clear, we cannot place further impositions on
the settlers. In any case, the fate of each and every community will be
determined in accordance with future agreements, and we must now focus on
achieving an overall accord.
“I am aware that the composition of the
current coalition has created skepticism over its commitment to the diplomatic
process. Furthermore, I am aware that many around the world, among them friends
of Israel, harbor grave doubts over my willingness to be as flexible as is
necessary to ensure the success of any negotiations.
“Therefore, I have
decided to take a step that, although it constitutes a political risk for me,
has the capacity to bolster confidence in my honest intentions to negotiate an
end to this conflict.
“I want to immediately start negotiations with the
head of the opposition regarding Kadima’s inclusion in the government. For this
purpose, I am prepared to start over and reopen discussions on the government’s
founding principles. An explicit provision allowing this, indeed, was included
in the coalition agreements that underpin the current government. If talks do
lead to the formation of a new government, I will ask Tzipi Livni, as deputy
prime minister, to oversee negotiations with the Palestinians, and use all her
skills and extensive experience to advance the diplomatic process. I am
convinced that the two of us, along with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, can agree
among ourselves on the goals of negotiations with the Palestinians, holding firm
to Israel’s overall national and security interests.
proceed well, we will all benefit, and our region will be able to place all its
disagreements behind it.
“If the Palestinians prove incapable of making
the difficult compromises without which an agreement cannot be reached, the
citizens of Israel will know with absolute certainty that we, the leaders
representing a wall-to-wall consensus, did everything we could to achieve true
“I understand that this initiative may provoke tension and perhaps
even create schisms within my government. The coalition is more stable
than ever, and from a parliamentary standpoint there is no need to expand it.
Nevertheless, I believe that the sense of national duty among my government
partners will prevail over partisan considerations.
“At a time when the
Arab world surrounding us is experiencing major upheaval, whose implications we
cannot yet predict; at a time when the world is finding it difficult to deter
Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons; at a time when the Palestinians have set aside
bitter rivalries, and are showing maturity and wisdom, we, the country’s
leaders, must summon the courage to rise above fleeting interests and find the
common denominator that unites us.
“This is my message, and I expect the
opposition to show responsibility and accept my invitation.”The writer
is a former Kadima minister.