Restarting talks with the Palestinians

Encountering peace: I have no walls between me and peace. I cross borders, break down barriers and refuse to allow fear of “the other” to turn into hatred. I have gone beyond the walls and I know that peace is possible!

Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas 311 (R) (photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas 311 (R)
(photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)
Increased North American and European pressure for additional sanctions on Iran, including the Canadian cancelation of diplomatic relations, are additional signals to Israel that the international community does not support an Israeli military attack at this time.
As Israel was bringing its own assessments that Iran has long crossed the “red lines” of a weapons program and currently has enough enriched uranium for a nuclear arsenal, not just one bomb, Washington was letting it be known that it has painted its “red lines” in a different place. Russia has asserted that there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program and while IAEA reports cannot validate one way or another, it seems that the Israeli attack posture, so heightened over the past weeks, will be coming down to a lower level of readiness.
It seems the US government and military have made it more than clear at this time that Israel does not have a “green light” to attack Iran. The uncertainties of such an attack and its aftermath are too enormous to the stability of the world to allow for Israel to launch a military adventure. The experts say that there is still time to prevent weaponization and harsher sanctions have to be given their chance to impact.
In a few weeks the Israeli political and military establishments will wind down and the Iranian issue will capture less of the media’s and public’s attention. The shift of attention will probably drift back to the economy, the budget crisis, cost of living and the difficulties of governing during this time of austerity, new taxes and budget cuts.
Of course, the budget has to be dealt with. If the budget discussions and decision making on cuts is too divisive or politically explosive we will find ourselves facing new elections in the coming months. That will do wonders for the economy. But when we do the “arithmetic,” new elections are far more reasonable than a new war.
IN REALITY what the political attention should focus on once the Iran agenda is scaled down is a return to the Palestinian agenda. That is where Israel’s real existential threat lies. The Palestinian issue is where we can really have an impact on our fate, and we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to move forward. We don’t need to use American weapons; we don’t need complicated flight plans over other states’ sovereign air space. We have all of the tools in our very own diplomatic tool box to wage peace on the Palestinians.
We would also find that the entire world is backing us, except for a few rogue states like Iran. It would be so refreshing to see Israel greeted once again in international forums as the side with its hand outstretched in peace to its neighbor.
I am quite sure that an announcement from the prime minister that Israel was prepared to continue negotiations from where they left off during Ehud Olmert’s tenure as prime minister would be met with an immediate positive Palestinian response.
Does anyone really expect that the Palestinians would come to the table for less? Would any party come back to negotiations to a place that was less than the last point in the last round? The distance between the Olmert-Abbas talks and an agreement is not very far. Both sides will still need to make significant compromises. The implementation of any agreement would take place over years, and progress and additional steps would be measured by achievements, not statements. There are lessons that we have learned from past mistakes and what was does not have to be what can be.
No, there is no confidence on either side that there is a genuine partner for peace. Israel does not believe Mahmoud Abbas and Palestine does not believe Binyamin Netanyahu. Israelis do not believe Palestinians want peace and Palestinians do not believe Israelis want peace. I know that both sides want peace.
I spend a lot of time in the West Bank. Yesterday I spent the day in Hebron. I went in my own car, got lost, asked for directions and got to where I needed to be. I walked around the city by myself. I was not scared for one moment. I was greeted by people on the streets. I spoke with them, bought some of those wonderful late-season Hebron grapes.
It was clear to all that I was an Israeli and no one attacked me or threatened me. I was not stoned or lynched. I am in Ramallah at least once a week. I go in my own car, with my yellow Israeli license plates. I travel around the city freely. The same for Bethlehem, Nablus, Jenin and the villages all over the West Bank.
I had lunch yesterday in Hebron with a couple of officers from the Palestinian security force. They were protecting a group of Israelis who spent Shabbat there. Imagine that, a group of Israelis, not settlers, who spent Shabbat in Hebron – not in the settlement area of Hebron, but in the Palestinian city of Hebron.
They prayed in the Cave of the Patriarchs, they were escorted by a Palestinian guide and protected by Palestinian police. They didn’t come to attack; they didn’t come to take land or to build a settlement. They came in peace; they came with respect and the received the same in return.
Most of them were religious Jews. One of them said to me, “We don’t have to own it, or have sovereignty over it in order to keep it sacred.” One of the Palestinian security officials said to me that when he was young he worked in Israel and met a lot of Israelis. He learned Hebrew and he appreciated the good things in Israel that he saw. Today, he exclaimed, our young people don’t know Israelis. They don’t see Israel. They have no contact and the walls that exist between us are both physical and psychological. He is so right. Those walls have two sides to them and they prevent contact on both of their sides.
I have no walls between me and peace. I cross borders, go beyond walls, break down barriers and refuse to allow fear of “the other” to turn into hatred. I refuse to accept the constant attitude of pessimism that is so pervasive among most of us today: there is no partner, they don’t want peace, they hate us, the want to kill us, they want our land, they don’t recognize us, there is no hope.
This is all false, myths and spins. I have gone beyond the walls and I know that peace is possible!
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a radio host on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.