Encountering Peace: The land of promise

Our peoples need leaders who understand that their leadership is not judged by how long they postpone the inevitable, but by how swiftly they resolve the conflict.

President Barack Obama and the US administration are losing patience being forced to deal with the pettiness of Israeli-Palestinian bickering over procedural issues. That is what New York Times award-winning journalist Thomas Friedman tells us. His word of advice: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should give in to the US request for another 60 days of settlement-building moratorium as a small price to pay for the kind of support Israel gets from the US.
Perhaps someone has even reminded Netanyahu that Friedman plays golf with Obama, and usually knows what he’s talking about when giving advice regarding what he wants.
Let’s face it, the settlement-building glitch, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told Mabat, was of American making. The newly inaugurated Obama insisted that Israel freeze all settlement building, to which Abbas responded, “How can anyone expect that I demand less?” This is not to belittle the demand for a settlement freeze; the Palestinians have witnessed negotiations taking place while the territory being discussed has shrunk beyond recognition. Clearly, Israel cannot be serious about negotiating peace while continuing to build on land that will eventually be part of a Palestinian state.
President George W. Bush made the same demand, and even wrote it into the road map, but I guess no one really took him seriously because after the Annapolis summit in November 2007, direct bilateral negotiations went into full force and continued to the end of Ehud Olmert’s premiership. Israel didn’t cease building for even one day.
SO WHERE to now? Either Netanyahu gives in to the American demand/request, or Abbas gives in, or the US could say to both: You have our phone number; call us when you’re serious. For now, Palestinians are examining various unilateral steps. Israel is busy issuing its own threats of unilateral steps in its arsenal. The US administration continues to seek a magic formula to bring the parties back to the table.
I suppose that if Netanyahu and Abbas had any confidence in their ability to reach a real agreement, they would find their own way back to the table. But apparently neither believes an agreement is possible, so why risk their political careers? Peace should be slightly more important to them than to the US president. Why there are no local efforts to move the process forward is bewildering, given that neither Israel nor Palestine has any strategic options for sustainable national existence without peace.
What is to stop Netanyahu from making Abbas an offer he can’t refuse, or vice versa? Perhaps a grand “end-of-conflict-and-claims” offer is too big to hope for – but why can’t Netanyahu present a map to Abbas that shows what areas inside the June 4, 1967 borders Israel is willing to exchange for the settlement blocs it wishes to annex? That would demonstrate a seriousness that couldn’t easily be overlooked.
Or why can’t Abbas present a map which shows those areas the Palestinians are willing for Israel to annex – surely Abbas knows that Ramat Eshkol, French Hill, Gilo, Efrat and other settlement blocs will never be part of a Palestinian state. Why doesn’t he say to Netanyahu: We understand these areas will be part of Israel – what are you willing to give us in exchange? What is to stop Netanyahu from submitting a coherent plan for security coupled with a plan for withdrawing from territories to enable the Palestinian state to be born? Why can’t Abbas tell Netanyahu that when the Palestinian state is established and the occupation ends, and Palestinian national minority rights are guaranteed inside Israel, and there is an agreed resolution to the refugee issue, that Palestine will recognize Israel as the Jewish nation-state? What is to stop Netanyahu from telling Abbas that Israel is prepared to support and sponsor Palestine’s request for membership in the UN within the framework of a full agreement on all the permanent-status issues? Why can’t Netanyahu and Abbas agree that Abbas will call on all the leaders of the Arab League states to come and pray as his guests in the Aksa Mosque? Why can’t both leaders agree that when there is peace, every nation will have its embassy in Jerusalem, which will be united in peace and the capital of both states? THIS IS the Promised Land. This is also the land of promise, inhabited by peoples of great promise.
Both peoples will continue to receive only suffering if they fail to make peace. We are not doing a favor to Obama by agreeing to negotiate. We will not be rewarding the world when we agree to live in peace – in two states for two people. While peace would serve the interests of the world and of the US, the main benefit will be to the people of Israel and Palestine. Neither society will ever reach its real potential without ending the conflict. No Israeli prime minister and no Palestinian president will ever be able to deliver security and prosperity without it.
Our peoples need leaders who understand that their leadership is not judged by how long they can postpone the inevitable, but by how swiftly they can resolve the conflict. Once they do that, Abbas will be able to deliver on his promise of liberty, independence and freedom from occupation.
Netanyahu will be able to deliver on his promise of having Israel counted among the 15 leading nations of the world in economic and social development. Israel and Palestine will be able to excel and become exemplary models of how former enemies can cooperate for their mutual benefit.
The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org), and is in the process of founding the Center for Israeli Progress (http://israeli-progress.org).