Editorial: Turn crisis into opportunity

Only through dialogue and a commitment to reconciliation can true peace be attained.

Mahmoud Abbas 311 (photo credit: AP/Nasser Nasser)
Mahmoud Abbas 311
(photo credit: AP/Nasser Nasser)
The Americans are making a last-ditch effort to convince Palestinians to halt their plan to ask the UN later this month to recognize a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines. The US – as well as other Western countries such as Italy and Germany, not to mention Israel – would rightly like to see the Palestinians scrap their unilateral push for statehood and replace it with serious dialogue with Israel that leads to a negotiated peace agreement acceptable to both sides. Unfortunately, it appears highly unlikely that Washington’s efforts will succeed.
Palestinians refuse to budge on a number of unacceptable demands that they have made conditions for entering into talks with Israel. Unless these demands are met by Israel, says chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat, there will be no renewal of talks and Palestinians will push forward with their request for a vote in the UN.
A building freeze is one of these preconditions. Construction of new homes in existing settlements to accommodate natural population growth neither impairs Palestinian access to locations in the West Bank nor changes significantly the demographic balance. In contrast, substantive progress in face-to-face negotiations offers the best chance for Israelis and Palestinians to determine borders – and by extension to reach agreement on who builds where. Yet the Palestinians remain intransigent on a freeze, which seems to show that their leadership is more intent on hurting the growth of the Jewish state than on advancing the cause of the Palestinian people for political self-determination in their own sovereign state.
Palestinians are also demanding that the 1967 lines be the starting point for negotiations, conveniently ignoring the fact that in the past 44 years, while the Palestinians and the larger Arab world slowly came around to the realization that Israel could not be defeated militarily and that a peace agreement was the only viable option, a number of “facts on the ground” have been established in the form of large settlement blocs.
Perhaps most disturbing, however, is the Palestinian refusal to give up on the “right of return” for “refugees.”
Just this week Erekat told The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh that “going to the UN won’t cancel the right of return.
“Recognition of a Palestinian state,” said Erekat, “will pave the way for the state to enter international institutions and demand all our legitimate rights, including the right of return.”
The Palestinians’ insistence on the “right of return” explains their refusal to recognize Israel as the sovereign state of the Jewish people. To accept Israel as an exclusively Jewish state implies that Israel has the right to maintain a strong Jewish majority. Exercising the Palestinian “right of return,” in contrast, would result in the influx of millions of “refugees” who, together with Arab Israelis who already make up 20 percent of the population, would seriously endanger, if not overturn, the Jewish majority.
Nevertheless, while the vote in the UN General Assembly – which the Palestinians are expected to win by a wide margin – appears to be unavoidable, there still might be a chance, through a combination of aggressive lobbying and the threat of sanctions against the Palestinians by the US Congress, to make the wording of the UN resolution more favorable to Israeli and US interests. Jewish groups have already launched efforts to this effect, according to JTA’s Ron Kampeas. If a resolution is to be passed recognizing a Palestinian state, it should include recognition of a Jewish state; it should remain purposely vague about borders separating the two states; and it should stipulate that following the passage of the resolution, direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians aimed at bringing about an end to the conflict should be relaunched without any preconditions. A resolution worded this way could actually help advance peace talks and help serve both Israeli and Palestinian goals.
The creation of a Palestinian state is an eminently Israeli interest, provided such a state respects the Jewish people’s right to political sovereignty within secure borders. A successful two-state solution that leads to peace and a complete resolution of all claims would not only end decades of strife, but would also ensure that Israel remains both Jewish and democratic. But only through dialogue and a genuine commitment to reconciliation by both sides can true peace be attained.