Dear Mr. Abbas

An open letter to Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the PLO and the President of the Palestinian Authority.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Chip East)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Chip East)
ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIAN Authority are about to open a new chapter in their relationship. In September, the question of the political independence of the Palestinian state and its membership in the family of nations will come up for a vote at the General Assembly of the UN. The vote is expected to pass with overwhelming international support.
This initiative is diametrically opposed to Israel’s demand for “direct negotiations without preconditions” as the sole path for the establishment of the future Palestinian state.
Indeed, this diplomatic initiative reflects the Palestinians’ utter loss of political trust in the current Israeli government, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declarations of commitment to the principle of “two states for two people,” which he presented at Bar- Ilan University several months after taking office and then reiterated recently in his speech to the US Congress during his last visit to Washington, D.C.
It is no wonder that the Palestinian initiative is politically unnerving to Jerusalem.
The results of the impending vote at the General Assembly are not in doubt. The real question is: What will happen the next day? Some anticipate that the Palestinian people will fall into despair when the sun shines on a new day in New York and they reach the harsh recognition that for them, nothing has changed.
According to this problematic scenario, riots and protests like those in Tahrir Square will break out. The Palestinian security forces will fail in their efforts to contain the unrest and to prevent confrontations with the IDF and settlers. The protesters will overtake the blockades and converge – even if their intentions are initially nonviolent – on IDF checkpoints and isolated Jewish settlements. In this volatile situation, according to the worst-case scenario, control over the outcome is in the hands of some unknown individual who just might open fire. And once lives are lost, we can be sure that the last vestiges of discipline and restraint among the demonstrators will disappear.
And so, it is also no wonder that the scenario of a third intifada looms threateningly over us. Add to that the possibility of unrest among the Israeli Arabs, the penetrability of the southern border and the continued violence emanating from the Gaza strip – and it is clear why the Israeli public feels such qualms over any change in the political or security status quo that is brought about by violence rather than through orchestrated negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas does not want violence. Should violence break out, he will use all the political and security tools at his disposal to curb it. However, without proper preparations, the Israeli public might also lose any remaining trust in his ability to maintain stability in the region that Ramallah has tried so carefully to nurture over the past two years. We Israelis need now direct channels of communication with the Palestinian leadership, through which we can deliver our concerns and receive explanations of their intentions.
And so we have chosen to write an open letter to the Palestinian leadership:

September, 2011
To: The Chairman of the PLO and the President of the Palestinian Authority
From: Peace-Seeking Israelis
Dear Mr. President, In several weeks time, the Palestinians will be granted worldwide public support for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.
This development is a credit to your efforts to turn your political vision into reality. We, peace-seeking Israelis, commend your initiative and extend our hope that the Palestinian dream of political independence will soon be realized.
You have done much to prepare your people for this momentous development. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has devoted all of his energy and skill to creating the governmental infrastructure necessary for the declaration of independence. The UN published a report expressing international recognition of the fact that the Palestinian Authority is indeed ready and able to lead an independent state. The Palestinian economy shows impressive signs of growth; a new town, Rawabi, is being built in the mountains north of Ramallah.
The Palestinian security forces have undergone extensive training and empowerment – and even the Israeli heads of security have recognized this welcome achievement. You initiated a process of internal reconciliation between the main forces that dictate the Palestinian agenda – Fatah and Hamas. We are aware of the difficulties involved in these internal negotiations, but we are also aware that the process has not collapsed and is continuing.
And most significantly, despite the political tension, there has hardly been any terrorist activity against Israel. We acknowledge your efforts towards this end.
It is important that you know that we, Israelis, are also inevitably to be impacted by the significant diplomatic process that you have initiated. We are in a strange predicament, since our government in Jerusalem has not responded with any initiative of its own to the situation unfolding in front of our eyes. We are concerned about the future – and not only about the possibility that the day after the UN vote, violence against us will reignite.
We are also concerned that the Palestinian people will interpret that vote as a declaration of independence that is not predicated on negotiations. But since negotiations are the only way to bring about a substantive change in our relationships, we will thus be left without a formal end to the conflict. It is therefore important to us that you specifically articulate your commitment to peace in your speeches leading up to and during the convening of the General Assembly, as well as in the text of the UN resolution expected to be approved in September.
Several months ago, you gave an interview to “The New York Times.” It was clear that your aides had not warned you about the significance of the messages you articulated to the Israeli public.
The interview was distressing and triggered doubts about the very possibility of peace in the Middle East. It is incumbent upon you to prepare carefully and to consider how your words will be understood by us, the Israelis.
We recognize, of course, that as a politician and a statesman standing at this critical historical junction, you must address different constituencies in your own nation and in the region, and we know that talking to us is a particularly complex challenge. But it is crucial, since without us it will be very difficult for you to realize your vision. It is we the public, much more than our current government, who will largely determine the chances that the vision of Palestinian independence will actually come to fruition.
Following is a list of “talking points” that we, peace-seeking Israelis, hope to see in your political statements before and during the September convening of the General Assembly: • The UN initiative is not intended to serve as a substitute for direct negotiations, but rather as a complement to them. Please make an explicit commitment to direct negotiations leading to a peace agreement as a precursor to the actual establishment of the State of Palestine.
• The Palestinian leadership intends to implement its vision of independence through negotiations with Israel in accordance with the guidelines set out by US Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, with the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations and land exchanges.
• Recognition of the State of Palestine requires recognition of the State of Israel within the borders that will be delineated in direct negotiations between the parties.
• While the Palestinians have a spiritual and national bond with the Greater Land of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, so, too, the Israelis have a spiritual and national bond with the entire Greater Land of Israel, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
Thus, while the land remains spiritually and nationally whole, it will be politically divided among two neighboring sovereign nation states coexisting in peace and security.
• While the Palestinians have a spiritual and national bond with all of Jerusalem, so, too, the Israelis have a spiritual and national bond with all of Jerusalem.
Therefore, Jerusalem must be politically divided according to the Clinton parameters, serving as capitals for both Israel and Palestine, yet remain one united municipal entity, with a joint municipal leadership that is committed to the welfare of all of its citizens, equally. The holy sites will enjoy special status, allowing the adherents of all three religions access and opportunity to perform their religious rituals in dignity and in security, according to their beliefs.
• The Right of Return is a constituting concept for the Palestinian national movement.
But this right can only be implemented through an agreement to be reached in negotiations and in a manner that will not threaten the identity or stability of Israel within its agreed-upon borders.
• The Palestinians seek to establish a state that will give voice to their national aspirations alongside Israel and not in Israel’s stead. We implore you – invite Israel and the international community to strive towards a mutually acceptable agreement that takes into account all of the justified aspirations of both sides, to be reached in direct negotiations.
• The peace agreement will be the sole determining document, marking the diplomatic and legal end of the political conflict between the two peoples and an end to their mutual demands.
• At this time, please call on all sides to view this document as the genesis of a process of reconciliation between the Palestinian people and the Jewish people.
Such reconciliation should aim at bringing succor to the individual, communal and national pain that has resulted from the ongoing bloody conflict between us. It will require enduring political and educational efforts to ease the hostility and fear between us and our mutual ignorance about each other.
• The Israeli-Palestinian agreement will serve as a call to the Arab states to normalize their relations with Israel, so that all the peoples of the region may benefit from this long-awaited peace.
Mr. President: We have no doubt that these diplomatic messages, articulated in your public addresses in both Arabic and English, will be listened to carefully in Jerusalem and throughout all of Israel. At the same time, the Jewish world, especially in the US, will also be particularly attuned to your words. Yes, the Jewish world cares about Israel, but they, and we, care also about the fate of all the peoples who live within the region.
We conclude with hopes for success. •

Ilan Baruch, is a former peace negotiator and retired ambassador to South Africa.