The most unrealistic campaign promise

During my first year as a member of Knesset, I was invited to meet with “moderate” Palestinian leaders.

March 18, 2019 20:44
4 minute read.
Mourners stand around the bodies of Ehud Fogel, 36, his wife Ruth, 35, and their children

Mourners stand around the bodies of Ehud Fogel, 36, his wife Ruth, 35, and their children 11-year-old Yoav, 4-year-old Elad, and 3-month-old Hadas during their funeral in Jerusalem March 13th, 2011. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)


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Campaigns are traditionally filled with promises, as parties pledge many things to voters who are then left to determine what they believe to be true, or even realistic.

There is one promise being made by some parties that I can confidently declare as unrealistic.

During my first year as a member of Knesset, I was invited to meet with “moderate” Palestinian leaders.

These were not actual peace negotiations, but a gathering held away from Israel for a few days in a relaxed, comfortable setting, to give new Knesset members and Palestinian ministers the chance to get to know one another and speak openly and candidly.

I learned a lot from these meetings, and after learning about the living conditions their leaders don’t seek to change, felt bad for the innocent Palestinians who suffer from inadequate basic services and lack hope for a better life. 

But the most important lesson I learned came on the last day. I approached the man often referred to as “the most moderate” Palestinian leader. I asked him to please tell me the bottom line.

What would it take for the Palestinians to come to a final-status agreement with Israel?

He first made me promise that I would never quote him by name, which I agreed to, and then he answered:
“We would require that Israel withdraw from the 1967 lines – completely. No major settlement blocs for Israel, and of course, dividing Jerusalem. We would require a right of return for at least 100,000 Palestinians. And we would require all Palestinian prisoners to be freed from Israeli jails.”

I was stunned.

Let us remember, in all the negotiations with the Palestinians, it has been a given that the major settlement blocs of Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim and Ariel would remain in Israel, and that the Palestinians would be given land swaps to make up for that “lost” land. A right of return for 100,000 Palestinians has never been on the table.

But I decided to focus on his last “condition,” the release of all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. I asked if he meant to include the murderers of the Fogel family, the ones who entered the Itamar settlement on a Friday night, broke into the family’s home, and butchered parents and their children while they slept in their beds.

“Of course,” he said.

I ASKED HIM if he understood that even the Meretz Party, the most left-wing Jewish party in the Knesset, would never agree to that. I also pointed out that there have been a few Jews who have killed innocent Palestinians, and Israel has prosecuted and incarcerated them.

It would never cross my mind to release them from Israeli jail in the construct of an agreement with the Palestinians. How could he suggest that these barbaric murderers of the Fogel family, and hundreds of other terrorists who killed innocent Israelis, be released from jail simply because there is an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians?

“Because they are freedom fighters,” he replied, “and at the end of a conflict all prisoners of war must be returned.”

I told him that Israel would never agree to that. And then he said the key words, “So, we won’t have a deal.”

This was the most “moderate” Palestinian leader, making it clear that the demands from the Palestinian side mean that they will never agree to a deal with Israel. All their calls for negotiations and two states side by side are essentially a farce.

I recently came across a video clip in which Golda Meir asks the obvious question regarding calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. “People say to us, ‘Go back to the borders of 1967 and then there will be peace,’” she says. “We were in the borders of ’67 in May and June of 1967.

Why was there war? And immediately after the war we said, ‘Let us sit down and negotiate peace.’ They didn’t do it. The quarrel with the Arabs is not a quarrel for a piece of land.  It’s not for territory. It’s not for anything concrete. They just refuse to believe that we have the right to exist at all.”

This was confirmed to me in my conversation with this Palestinian leader.

As we approach elections, I feel the need to warn readers to be wary of any party that blames Israeli leaders for not doing enough to resolve the conflict, and suggests that they will lead Israel to an agreement with the Palestinians based on the two-state model.

They may mean well, but it is clear to me this vision is not attainable because of the Palestinian leadership, and that trying to make it happen will only hurt Israel. And those who indicate that they will initiate unilateral withdrawals are simply playing into the hands of the patient Palestinians, who will continue their anti-Israel efforts regardless of disengagements or other actions which make us think we are solving this centuries-old conflict.

The time has come for new ideas and proposals regarding how to manage this complex conflict, while also taking steps to improve the quality of life for Palestinians living in Palestinian areas. And I look forward to assessing any new initiatives from parties bold enough to acknowledge the truths revealed to me by this “most moderate” Palestinian leader.
The writer served as a member of the 19th Knesset. 

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