(photo credit: AP [file])
International efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian talks are accelerating. Yet given the Palestinian reality, as explained in last week's column, negotiations cannot currently succeed. What is needed, therefore, is not another round of sterile talks, but genuine efforts to tackle the problems that currently preclude any deal.
One such effort involves preparing Palestinians for necessary concessions. For 13 years, Israeli leaders have told their public that any agreement will require sweeping territorial concessions, including in Jerusalem. This has radically altered Israeli public opinion: Most Israelis now favor such concessions, whereas 13 years ago most opposed them.
In contrast, even "moderate" Palestinian leaders like Mahmoud Abbas have told their public for 13 years that any agreement will allow refugees and their descendents to "return" to Israel. Consequently, no Palestinian leader can currently sign a deal that does not allow the "right of return": His public would crucify him. Yet since the "right of return" means liquidating Israel demographically, no Israeli leader could accept it.
Any agreement thus depends on changing Palestinians' opinions on this point. And that begins with finally telling them the truth.
World leaders have repeatedly detailed the concessions they expect from Israel. But with two exceptions (the Clinton proposal of 2000 and George Bush's letter of 2004), they have been silent about what they expect from the Palestinians.
For instance, the EU's official "position on the Middle East peace process" (posted on its Web site) merely proposes "a just, viable, realistic and agreed solution" to the refugee problem. The road map is similarly vague, urging "an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution" for the refugees. The Arab League's Beirut declaration, which the road map declares a "foundation" for any settlement, demands a "just solution â€¦ in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194"; that resolution states that "refugees wishing to return to their homes â€¦ should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date."
None of these preclude Palestinian fantasies about what they deem the only "just" solution: the "right of return." Similarly, while world leaders repeatedly declare their vision of a Palestinian state alongside "Israel," most refuse to use the term "Jewish state," for fear of offending "Arab sensibilities." This, too, encourages Palestinian fantasies of a binational Israel achieved via the "right of return." And until world leaders disabuse them of these fantasies, Palestinians will continue clinging to them.
ANOTHER CRUCIAL step is creating a Palestinian Authority that serves ordinary Palestinians instead of merely those in power - because until this happens, Palestinian leaders will lack credibility to sell any peace agreement to their public. Yet under both Fatah and Hamas, the health system, for instance, received less than one-third the funding allocated to the security services, which each faction packed with its own loyalists.
The EU, as the PA's major donor, has considerable leverage in this regard, yet it has largely refused to use it. For years, it simply transferred funds and let the PA do as it pleased. Since last year, it has specifically channeled its money to Abbas, but still without any strings to ensure that it helps ordinary Palestinians, and not merely his Fatah movement. Yet absent such pressure, Palestinian leaders will always prefer placating the men with guns.
Most important of all, however, is action on Palestinian terror. The one benefit that any deal is supposed to give Israel is peace. Yet despite no fewer than five signed agreements in which the Palestinians pledged to end terror, Israeli casualties have soared since the "peace process" began: In the two and a half years following the 1993 Oslo Accord, Palestinian terrorists killed more Israelis than in the entire preceding decade; over the last six years, they killed more Israelis than during the entire preceding half-century. Israel's mid-2005 evacuation of Gaza resulted in some 1,200 rocket launches at southern Israel from Gaza last year, including dozens since the "cease-fire" began in November; this compares to about 300 at Israel and the Gaza settlements combined in 2004.
Many Israelis are thus reluctant to make further territorial concessions, which would bring their largest cities into Palestinian rocket range, without solid proof that the PA can and will deliver on peace. Yet instead of backing this demand, the international community (Bush occasionally excepted) has consistently pressured Israel to keep making concessions despite the terror. That has convinced the Palestinians that terror is no impediment to statehood.
On its own turf, the EU acts very differently. Just this month, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero ended a peace process with ETA and publicly apologized for his "clear mistake" in trusting it, after ETA broke a nine-month truce with an attack that killed two people - far fewer than the 1,126 Israelis killed in almost daily Palestinian attacks since 2000.
Similarly, the Northern Ireland peace process was suspended in 2002 even though the IRA had maintained a truce since 1998, merely because it engaged in acts that could be preludes to terror: collecting intelligence on potential targets, raising funds via criminal activity and training recruits in weapons use. The talks resumed only last year, after the IRA verifiably decommissioned its arms.
If the world wants Israel to allow a Palestinian state within shooting range of its largest cities, it must adopt a similar approach toward the Palestinians: Just as Israel proved its willingness and ability to evacuate settlements through the disengagement, the PA must prove its willingness and ability to end anti-Israel terror by maintaining a real truce for an extended period - and until it does, Israel will not be pressured for further concessions. That approach eventually persuaded the IRA to give up its arms, and it might eventually persuade the PA to halt terror. But as long as the world tolerates Palestinian terror, the PA will have no incentive to crack down. And Israel will refuse to endanger its citizens through additional concessions.
The steps outlined above are clearly long-term processes; they will not produce an agreement overnight. However, they might lay the groundwork for an agreement down the road. And that seems preferable to yet more empty talk - which will never produce any agreement at all.