During the past few weeks several important countries including Canada, the
United States and France have held their Independence Day parties at their
respective ambassadors’ residences in Israel for Israelis, in Jerusalem for
Israelis and Palestinians and in Ramallah for Palestinians. Thousands of Israeli
and Palestinian guests attended the various celebration parties.
of the diplomatic community is heading home for summer vacation and many of them
have spent their last days before leaving trying to assess the Israeli-
Palestinian political realities in order to report back to their
During this period I have had many conversations with
ambassadors, consul-generals, and political and economic officers from various
The general consensus is that everyone is waiting to see the
outcome of the Kerry efforts to launch new Israeli- Palestinian
Kerry is back in the region, expecting to close gaps and to
hear positive responses from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Very few of the diplomats are
All agree that Kerry must be given a fair chance and be
supported in word and in deed.
Everyone wants him to succeed, but they
all asked me what will happen if he does not. There is a growing sense of
frustration among the diplomats regarding the freeze in any kind of peace
process, reflecting the frustration they understand exists back at home in their
Unlike in the past when most of the frustration was directed
solely at the Israeli side for its lack of flexibility, now the frustration is
directed at both sides. Netanyahu and Abbas are both seen as being stubborn.
Almost every diplomat I spoke to voiced their lack of ability to understand how
the Israeli and Palestinian leaders seem (to them) to be acting against their
own national interests. Almost all of them asked me what can be done.
response to them, I think, surprised them.
They all wanted to know what
could be done to influence public opinion. Most of their attention was placed on
influencing Israeli public opinion. Mostly coming from democracies, their logic
tells them that if the public demanded their leaders advance peace, the leaders
would have to listen and act accordingly.
The diplomats see almost no
public outcry in Israel or Palestine for political action toward peace. There
are no mass demonstrations, there is no rage from “the people” about the lack of
negotiations. There is no public pressure.
In fact, it appears that the
public is completely complacent, apathetic, non-political and even blind to the
unfolding potential disaster (for both sides) that they foresee. The diplomats
are bewildered by the total absence of demand for action at a time that seems to
them to be a window of opportunity against the perceived fading chance of
THE EUROPEAN diplomats told me that there is no way to prevent the
European decision to label settlement products.
The decision has been
made and there is no turning back, as long as the political freeze remains. In
the eyes of Europe, continued Israeli settlement building is a direct affront
against the chances of making peace.
Settlements are also in
contravention of international law, as understood in Europe.
Europeans are no longer willing to suffice with impotent statements against
settlements; they have turned up the heat and are now talking about taking
The recent publication of EU guidelines on no support for
projects beyond the Green Line is a clear indication of European political
intentions and decisions. However, when it comes to boycotts of Israeli
products, there is a firm negative position.
The EU and its 28 member
states are not willing to even talk about boycotts right now, but the issue is
not off the map forever. For now, it is not part of the discussion, but it could
be. They asked me what kind of pressure could help.
On both issues –
creating public opinion from the ground up and on pressure on the Israeli
government, my responses surprised them. I don’t believe that it is possible to
create a wave of public opinion in Israel or on the Palestinian side that will
make the governments act differently than they are currently acting.
publics will not demonstrate for peace not because they don’t want peace – they
do (on both sides) – but because they don’t believe peace is possible. And if
you don’t believe that something is possible, you don’t go to the streets to
demand it. I told them that in my assessment, if there were an agreement, the
public support for the agreement is there.
The majority of Israelis and
Palestinians will support their governments if they do reach an agreement
That is what all public opinion research in Israel and
Palestine shows us. Given our current reality, it is waste of time and resources
to try to get the public to come out and demonstrate for peace.
pressure on Netanyahu, I expressed the opinion that there is a need to influence
both leaders – Netanyahu and Abbas. In fact, it seems that while Netanyahu may
have demonstrated more flexibility than in the past, Abbas, it appears, is
hardening his positions. Both sides need to be convinced to get to the
Even those who express that negotiations are destined to
fail, I say that negotiations have a dynamic of their own and it is impossible
to predict their outcome once they commence, if both sides are sincere in their
claims that they really want to reach peace.
The best way to influence
Netanyahu and Abbas is not through pressure and threats but by clearly
presenting the potential benefits that both sides can gain for their people by
moving forwards toward peace. Threats, I believe, knowing the Israeli and
Palestinian mentalities, will be counter-productive.
I suggested that the
leaders of the more Israel-friendly countries in Europe should come to Netanyahu
with a small group of their top business people and clearly state how willing
they would be to make significant investments in the Israeli economy if Israel
were at peace with its Palestinian neighbors, while pointing out that at the
moment they have no intention of making such investments and are even
considering withdrawing or limiting whatever investments they may already have
(because Israel is becoming increasingly unpopular among European
The same can be done with President Abbas by Palestinefriendly
countries. Both sides would respond much more favorably to those kinds of
incentives than the threats that are thrown around so loosely.
possible and negotiations between Netanyahu and Abbas are the best way to get
there. The only way we will get into serious negotiations, and that those
negotiations will succeed, is by convincing the two leaders. The fate of
possible peace, the fate of both peoples is in the hands of two men. Binyamin
Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas bear tremendous responsibility, more than any two
other people in the world regarding the future of the people of Israel and
They must be convinced to live up to opportunity.The
writer 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.
book, Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel, has been published by Kinneret
Zmora Bitan in Hebrew.
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