Continuing the conflict

In the old days, the theme of continuing conflict was stated bluntly in the no peace, no recognition, no negotiations approach. Today, opponents of the peace process take a more subtle approach.

Hamas terrorists 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas terrorists 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The failure to understand the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict results from not understanding the language of Palestinian leaders when they talk about Israel.
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This comes to mind because of the widely quoted comment by Khaled Mashaal - the leader of Hamas’ political bureau in Damascus - the day after the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation signing that Hamas is ready to live with a two-state solution. On the face of it, this could be seen as a first step toward meeting the criteria of the Quartet for recognition of Hamas. In fact, it is nothing of the sort, because it doesn’t speak to the core issue: Do the Palestinians finally accept Israel as an independent, sovereign Jewish state?
It is no accident that in 2000, when former prime minister Ehud Barak made a significant offer to the Palestinians for peace and the creation of a Palestinian state, he insisted in return that the Palestinians sign a document stating that in exchange this would mean an end to the conflict and an end to all demands. Barak understood that an agreement for a Palestinian state was not a move toward peace unless the Palestinians accepted that this was it, that it could not be used as a stepping stone toward further undermining Israel.
Mashaal made clear that an end to conflict, an end to future demands was not in the cards. He said that Hamas would stick to principle, meaning that Israel has no right to exist and that whatever territory and whatever kind of state would be obtained through negotiations would be just a stage in the conflict.
All parties interested or allegedly interested in peace and stability, whether the US, the European Union, or the United Nations, need to avoid and reject any approach that feeds the decades-old Palestinian theme that the conflict is never-ending, that agreements and peace speak to the tactical, short-term but not the strategic goal of eliminating the Jewish state.
In the old days, the theme of continuing conflict was stated bluntly in the no peace, no recognition, no negotiations approach. Since then, we have seen three more subtle versions. One is the idea of negotiating an agreement for a two-state solution without agreeing to the end of conflict. Mashaal’s statement was the most recent manifestation of this.
Second is keeping alive the demand for the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees. There is a reason why Israeli prime ministers on both the left and the right have said bluntly that this scuttles any chance for successful negotiations. For Israel to sign any agreement with the Palestinians that entails the “right of return” ensures the conflict would go on, that the Palestinians would be in a constant mode of subverting the Jewish state. In other words, continuing the war against Israel by other means and preventing even the possibility of true reconciliation between the Israeli and Palestinian people.
The third and newest approach is the bringing to the UN a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. The one sure outcome of such a step is that the conflict would continue and the Palestinians would be no closer toward making the necessary leap of accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish state. The already existing tendency in the Palestinian camp, even among many of the more moderate elements, of seeing the situation as a zero-sum game would be reinforced.
Wherever and whenever international bodies or governments lend support to any of these three approaches, they are guaranteeing that the Palestinians will continue to live with their illusions that eventually, if they persist, Israel as a Jewish state will disappear.
In the final analysis, everything else in this complicated conflict is resolvable if that leap is taken. If it is not taken and, indeed, messages are sent suggesting that it's not the priority to take that leap, then we are ensuring that more pain and suffering will lie in the future for both long-suffering peoples.
The writer is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and the author of, most recently, Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype.