Kerry and Netanyahu 370.
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
The Israel Policy Forum’s April 3 letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
urging him to take steps to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to the two-state
solution has generated a somewhat predictable response. The Jerusalem Post, for
its part, stated in an April 4 editorial (“Peace Letter”), that while
“commendable,” and perhaps well intentioned, the letter failed to acknowledge
how unlikely it is that Israel would be able to negotiate a peace agreement with
this Palestinian leadership.
This criticism misses the mark.
harbor no illusions as to the Palestinian Authority’s shortcomings. But the
question is, what should Israel do in the face of these shortcomings? It is in
answering this narrow question that we and the Post’s editorial board part
The Post’s editorial implies that the appropriate response is for
Israel to sit back and wait. Specifically, after briefly noting our letter’s
“commendable message of hope,” the editorial then devotes most of the remaining
paragraphs to developing the idea that, “if, however, the ‘confidence building
steps’ mentioned [in our letter] include freeing dangerous terrorists, as
demanded by the PA, very few here would agree that the risk is worth taking.” At
no point does the editorial describe alternative steps that Israel could take or
even acknowledge that such alternatives exist.
The editorial’s fixation
on the issue of prisoners, and resulting implication that our letter supports
the release of “dangerous Palestinian terrorists” to the detriment of Israel’s
security, is nothing short of bizarre. Our letter did not make even passing
reference to the issue of prisoners.
By contrast, we explicitly stated
that any steps the US and Israel devise should be “consistent with Israel’s
security needs.” Moreover, there are numerous alternatives to releasing
prisoners that could be employed. The fact that Secretary of State John Kerry
has announced his support for moving forward with economic initiatives is a case
But perhaps the most serious flaw in the editorial is that in
dwelling upon the risk that the hypothetical release of “dangerous” prisoners
poses, the Post completely ignores the very real harm that will result if the
peace process is allowed to stagnate, or even regress, any further.
is a serious oversight. The eventual implementation of the two-state solution is
simply too important to Israel’s long-term security and future as a Jewish and
democratic state for Israel to sit by idly, passively looking on as the
prospects for establishing two states slip away. Instead, Israel should
capitalize on its extraordinary economic, political and military advantages over
the Palestinians to take the lead where the PA falls short.
That is why
our letter called upon Prime Minister Netanyahu to exercise the same sort of
leadership he showed in mending fences with Turkey to rebuild momentum in the
peace process. We believe the most effective way for him to do so would be to
join forces with Secretary of State Kerry – who has evidenced an intense
devotion to helping the parties resolve their conflict – to devise “confidence
building steps” that would reaffirm Israel’s genuine and steadfast commitment to
the two-state solution.
Taking this pro-active approach would not only
offer a chance to reverse the negative trend in Israeli-Palestinian relations,
it would also place the blame for any continued stalemate squarely on the PA’s
The Post’s editorial reasonably charged that PA President
Mahmoud Abbas has failed to take steps to “gradually prepar[e] his people for
peace with Israel” and “creat[e] the atmosphere for a return to negotiations” to
take place. As Israel’s advocates abroad, we urge the Israeli government to do
all it can – without compromising Israel’s security – to ensure that Israel
cannot justly be accused of the same charge.
The writer is chairman and
David A. Halperin executive director of the Israel Policy Forum.