No substitute for dialogue

There is no substitute for substantive dialogue, for compromise and for a negotiated agreement.

Mitchell Netanyahu 311 (photo credit: GPO)
Mitchell Netanyahu 311
(photo credit: GPO)
As expected, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has welcomed the US’s decision to drop its demand for a moratorium on new building in Judea and Samaria as a precondition for direct talks.
This cornerstone of US Mideast policy since President Barack Obama took office in 2009 has done more harm than good by encouraging Palestinian intransigence.
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Now, the abrupt change in policy has created a diplomatic vacuum. In the absence of direct talks, US special Middle East envoy George Mitchell has reverted to shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
The most recent failure to make headway on a negotiated agreement based on a two-state solution has fostered pessimism and with it a plethora of potential alternatives to the old paradigms for peace. All of them attempt to bypass the concept of a mutually negotiated peace. All are doomed to failure precisely for this reason.
Over the weekend, for instance, 26 former EU leaders, some of them until very recently shapers of EU Mideast policy, sent out a seven-page letter calling for the imposition of sanctions on Israel and the issuance of an ultimatum to the effect that, if Israel has not fallen into line by April 2011, the EU will seek an end to the US-brokered peace process in favor of a UN solution that would be imposed on Israel.
On the Palestinian front, a concerted effort has been launched to secure international recognition of a Palestinian state throughout the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Various Latin American countries, including Brazil and Argentina, have already responded in the affirmative.
On the Israeli Right, meanwhile, there are voices, on the one hand, acknowledging that it is morally untenable to rule over the Palestinians but, on the other, opposing any territorial compromise. To solve this conundrum, some central figures in the governing Likud – including Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, former defense minister Moshe Arens and MK Tzipi Hotovely – have advocated annexing the West Bank but not the Gaza Strip, and gradually granting West Bank Palestinians the full rights enjoyed by Arab Israelis. “When people say that the demographic threat necessitates a separation, my reply is that the lesser danger, the lesser evil, is a single state in which there are equal rights for all citizens,” Rivlin said earlier this summer.
FROM THEIR disparate sources, these alternative avenues have one thing in common: They ignore the essential need for a negotiated agreement on the thorniest issues – such as the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the demarcation of territory – that would bring about an internationally recognized end to a century of conflict.
Only through dialogue can we and the Palestinians hope to reach a lasting peace based on mutual respect and recognition. And it is not enough for Israel to be willing to make painful compromises, as it has shown itself to be time and again in recent years. The Palestinians, too, must be forthcoming.
Yet, dismally, in commemoration of the 62nd anniversary of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, passed on December 11, 1948, leading PA figures such as senior adviser Yasser Abed Rabbo and chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat have again chosen to voice extreme positions on the “right of return.”
The official demand is that a purported seven million Palestinian “refugees” – the initial number of a few hundred thousand inflated to risible proportions by the unique expedient of including in the count all the generations of descendants of the original refugees, who are 70% of Palestinians worldwide – be allowed to settle in Israel, a move that if implemented would mean the demise of the Jewish state.
The only conclusion that can be reached when such positions are asserted as official Palestinian policy is that the PA/PLO leadership is not interested in reconciliation, and is not prepared to build an independent state that absorbs its refugees in the way the Jewish state absorbed its hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
A 10-month building freeze all too evidently did not generate a change in the Palestinian stance. And the US apparently concluded that an additional three-month freeze would yield no dramatic shift, either.
However reluctantly, the Israeli consensus has long since come to terms with the imperative for an accommodation with the Palestinians. It can be reached, however, only if and when the Palestinians similarly internalize the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty here, and adopt the necessary compromises.
There is understandable pessimism on all sides regarding the path ahead. But it must be clear to all: There is no substitute for substantive dialogue, for compromise and for a negotiated agreement.