Editorial: Keep talking

The fate of Palestinians and Israelis is linked. Only through dialogue – and a genuine commitment to reconciliation by both sides – can we hope to find a solution.

Netanyahu Abbas 311 AP (photo credit: Associated Press)
Netanyahu Abbas 311 AP
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The indefatigable special US envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell continues to foster hope, but peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians seem to be falling apart.
Disingenuously, the Palestinians are blaming the breakdown on Israel’s refusal to extend its unprecedented 10-month building moratorium in West Bank settlements. This, after the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas deliberately wasted the first nine months of the freeze resisting a resumption of direct talks.
The collapse of peace negotiations would be highly unfortunate; it is in both sides’ best interests to reach a negotiated two-state solution – a just, viable and genuine peace.
Since July 2007, when Hamas violently took control of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has increased cooperation with Israel, especially on security matters. The PA’s new willingness to work with Israel was motivated primarily by the real danger posed by Hamas to PA control over the West Bank. But economic and political stability have been an important side effect.
As noted in an International Crisis Group report released on September 7, a sense of order and personal safety, long elusive on the West Bank, have been restored there thanks to this cooperation and thanks to Palestinian forces trained by US security coordinator in the West Bank Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton.
“Militias no longer roam streets, uniformed security forces are back... Initial steps, long overdue, have been taken to reorganize an unwieldy security sector, where overlapping, unaccountable branches had become fiefdoms of powerful chiefs,” said the Crisis Group report.
The IDF has thus been able to remove checkpoints and roadblocks that restrict the free movement of goods and people.
This marked improvement in stability and security have led to a resurgence of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank. A World Bank report released last month forecast eight percent economic growth for 2010 and noted a 50% rise in tax revenues. “Anecdotal evidence” quoted in the report pointed to a rise in private investment and entrepreneurship in certain sectors.
The situation is so rosy that World Bank analysts concluded on this optimistic note: “If the Palestinian Authority (PA) maintains its current performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future.”
However, both the Crisis Group and the World Bank warn that stability on the West Bank is unsustainable in the long run without a negotiated peace agreement that leads to a two-state solution.
PALESTINIAN DEMANDS for a complete building freeze in Judea and Samaria – and, strikingly, in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem across the Green Line, too – seem to be nothing more than an excuse to derail talks. Neither previous US administrations nor the Palestinians expected Israel, as a condition for talks, to stop building designed to accommodate natural population in existing West Bank settlements.
All sides understood that the building of new homes in existing settlements does not further impair Palestinian access to locations on the West Bank nor does it significantly change the population balance. Substantive progress in face-to-face negotiations, by contrast, offers the potential to determine borders – and by extension to reach agreement on who builds where – in the long term.
The Palestinians understandably want the right to self-determination through political autonomy. But for all the talk of “creating facts on the ground,” PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad cannot unilaterally declare the establishment of a Palestinian state without Israeli cooperation.
Israel also has an interest in the creation of a peaceful Palestinian state that respects the Jewish people’s right to political sovereignty within secure borders. A successful two-state solution would not only bring about a peaceful end to decades of strife, but would also ensure that Israel remains both Jewish and democratic.
The fate of Palestinians and Israelis is linked. Only through dialogue – and a genuine commitment to reconciliation by both sides – can we hope to find a solution.