Earlier in the week, I participated in “Breaking the Impasse,” an event held in
Jordan under the auspices of the World Economic Forum. It was attended by some
300 Israeli and Palestinian leaders of commerce and industry who represent over
25 percent of the GDP of Israel and the Palestinian areas. Some of the most
prominent Israeli business personalities were present.
The concept was
the initiative and brainchild of Israeli hi-tech guru Yossi Vardi, who persuaded
a number of like-minded giants of industry and commerce to join him. He was
supported by his Palestinian friend, Munib Masri, chairman of the powerful
Padico oil and gas group, who encouraged major Palestinian business leaders to
participate in an effort to promote the two-state approach as a means of ending
the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The stated objective was not to analyze
the past or to propose specific terms, but to leverage politicians to move
forward. The Israelis made every effort to depoliticize the
It was indeed an edifying experience to meet numerous
Palestinians who seem genuinely enthusiastic about developing friendly relations
with Israel and committed to ending the conflict.
Were Palestinians of
this caliber directing policy or even having a significant input into the
political process, a settlement could probably be achieved in a matter of
Alas, however, the expressions of goodwill and desire to live in
peace displayed at the gathering represented a far cry from the reality on the
There is indeed a broad Israeli consensus which agrees to painful
compromises provided security is ensured and there is a genuine Palestinian
However, the Palestinian Authority is a dictatorial regime
and even were its constituents not imbued with hatred of Israel – as is the case
– their attitudes would have little impact on political
The Israelis endeavored to instill a positive atmosphere
into the event, avoiding any negative references to the past such as the Arab
military aggression, the rejection of previous generous offers by Israeli prime
ministers, anti-Semitic incitement and ongoing terror. The organizers sought to
relate to both parties as though they were national entities merely engaged in a
dispute over land-related issues.
Yet when PA President Mahmoud Abbas
addressed the gathering, he launched into a vitriolic diatribe.
having refused for years to engage in direct negotiations, he accused Israel of
exclusive responsibility for the impasse. He even had the gall to deny that his
administration engaged in incitement. He demanded the release of prisoners,
referred to the Saudi peace plan in the context of the 1949 armistice lines and
canvassed for the return of the Palestinian refugees, which he knows no Israeli
government would ever accept.
Abbas was adamant that unless Israel
accepted all his demands, there would be no progress. He explicitly rejected
temporary borders, interim agreements or plans to economically enhance the
living conditions of the Palestinians prior to a settlement.
culminated his confrontationist remarks by fantasizing about a future democratic
Palestinian state in which the rights of women and freedom of worship for all
religions would be guaranteed.
Speaking immediately after Abbas’s tirade,
President Shimon Peres nevertheless nonchalantly addressed the PA leader as “my
dear friend,” a man of peace and a genuine partner. But he then scrapped his
prepared address and pleaded with Abbas to return to the negotiating table.
Earlier in the day, Peres had endorsed the 1949 armistice lines with swaps as
the basis for a settlement, despite being aware that the government and the
majority of the people oppose this.
The last speaker, US Secretary of
State John Kerry, called on Palestinians and Israelis to move swiftly to
implement the two-state solution. The climax of his speech was the unveiling of
a bizarre economic plan to be coordinated by the Quartet’s special envoy, Tony
Blair, in which the private sector would invest $4 billion in the Palestinian
Kerry predicted that this would increase the Palestinian GDP by
more than 50%, reduce unemployment over a three-year period from 21% to 8%,
increase wages by 40% and triple tourism. He failed to explain how this
revolutionary economic transformation – which he insisted was no fantasy – could
The Palestinians have since stated that “bribes” from
Kerry would not lead them to compromise goals such as obtaining the right of
return to Israel for Arab refugees and their descendants.
formula for peace epitomized the flight from reality which prevailed throughout
the event and left me wondering how senior leaders of commerce and industry
could engage in delusions so completely out of sync with the reality surrounding
When Abbas rants and concedes nothing, they convince themselves
that his views are motivated by his need to placate his domestic constituency
and should therefore not be taken seriously. They naively insist that Abbas is
inherently a genuine partner and will deliver.
None of the participants
even once referred to Hamas, the genocidal terrorist group which adamantly
reiterates its determination to wipe Israel off the map and with which Abbas
repeatedly proclaims he intends to merge.
Also unmentioned was the
devastating regional slide toward barbarism in Syria and the strengthening power
of fanatical Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood which not only creates
volatility on the borders but makes dictators like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and
possibly even Syria’s evil Bashar Assad appear relatively benign.
environment, our business leaders should ask themselves whether they are
entitled to gamble children’s lives by relying on a corrupt, anti-Semitic
Palestinian leadership. They should be reminded of the outcome in Gaza when we
unilaterally traded land for “peace.”
Yet, this in no way detracts from
the kudos that Yossi Vardi and his team deserve for having invested so much
time, effort and resources into creating such an initiative. It is precisely in
this troubling environment that we need such meetings with friendly and
enlightened Palestinians in order to resist the temptation to abandon the idea
of a two-state solution.
Despite all the recent debates over demography,
annexation of the disputed territories would lead to the absorption of masses of
Arabs as Israeli citizens.
This would not merely create unbearable
tensions but could extinguish the vision of the Zionist founders by transforming
Israel into a binational state.
We must hold firm and despite setbacks,
remain steadfast in our long-term commitment toward a two-state solution. We
must continue awaiting the era when new Palestinian leaders will emerge, willing
to respect our security concerns and coexist with us. And “Breaking the Impasse”
must encourage us to continue striving to fulfill the dream in which Jews and
Arabs live peacefully side by side in a region in which social and economic
collaboration leads to major progress in our quality of life.
meantime, our president should not condemn or accuse of cynicism those who
refuse to repeat his mantras about peace which have no bearing on reality. If we
are to maintain our sovereignty, we must face the fact that unless Mahmoud Abbas
and his associates dramatically change their approach and display a willingness
to engage in reciprocity and genuine compromises, they are not peace partners
and we are dangerously deluding ourselves if we place any trust in
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