Over to you, Mr. Abbas

PA president should come under pressure to compromise – and to take positions that give his people, and ours, the opportunity for genuine reconciliation.

Mahmoud Abbas 311 (photo credit: MUHAMMED MUHEISEN ( AP))
Mahmoud Abbas 311
(photo credit: MUHAMMED MUHEISEN ( AP))
The Israeli government is moving toward accepting the Obama administration’s request to renew the building freeze in Judea and Samaria for another three months.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s support for the measure and Shas’s willingness to abstain in a vote would likely yield an approval of the plan in the appropriate cabinet forum.
This is a necessary step, not principally because the US has sought the extension in return for a package of security incentives, various unspecified understandings relating to Iran and to Israel’s nuclear policies, and fighter jets worth $3 billion. One would have liked to believe that the central elements of this package, though far from negligible, would in any case have been deemed to meet the mutual interests of Israel and the US.
Nor is the key issue here Washington’s apparent commitment to use its Security Council veto to block attempts by the Palestinians in that forum to declare an autonomous state on the West Bank. It would be difficult to envision America, under any foreseeable circumstances, encouraging a unilateral process that would leave all core issues of dispute unresolved.
The significance of Israeli acceptance of another freeze would lie in Israel’s demonstrable renewed commitment to a negotiated peace that best serves its interests – this despite Israelis’ skepticism over the intentions of the Palestinian leadership.
A new freeze would also be critically facilitated by Washington’s specific caveat that it not extend to construction in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, the unnecessary focus of such much US-Israel friction these past few months.
THE FUTURE of a viable Jewish and democratic state depends on reaching an accommodation with the Palestinians.
A renewed freeze – with the administration presumably this time bent on ensuring Palestinian presence at the peace table, firmly deterring the unilateralist route – reopens at least a narrow path forward.
Though there is some dispute among demographers on the matter, nearly all estimates suggest that Jews do not significantly outnumber non-Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and that the equation is unlikely to shift in the direction of the Jews over coming decades.
Most countries with similar demographic balances are either binational, have broken apart peaceably or have descended into severe civil discord leading to war and ethnic cleansing. Belgium, with a 60-percent Flemish and 30% Walloon population, is binational. Since 1993, Czechoslovakia (54% Czech and 31%) has split into two. Post-1992 Bosnia (44% Bosnian Muslim and 31% Serb) was ripped apart in bloody warfare. And in all of these countries, cultural differences were much less pronounced than those between Jews and Palestinians. Delineating secure borders – between Israel and a Palestinian autonomy that recognizes Israel as the sovereign state of the Jewish people, while providing Palestinians with the right to self-determination – is the only viable solution to the conflict.
True, Netanyahu got nowhere adhering to the previous, unprecedented 10-month freeze, while placing immense strain on his right-wing coalition. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was self-evidently content to squander the first nine of those 10 months, while the US bickered with Israel over the government’s refusal to extend the freeze to consensus neighborhoods like Ramat Shlomo.
And it is particularly troubling that President Barack Obama, unlike his predecessor, has refrained from expressing understanding for “the new realities on the ground” – and specifically Israel’s need to maintain settlement blocs in any future agreement.
Nevertheless, as Netanyahu has made clear, Israel’s interest lies in seeking an accommodation if one can be found, putting an end to interminable conflict. Last year, indeed, he declared his commitment to the two-state vision that was explicit to the revival of Jewish sovereignty 62 years ago.
Netanyahu is rightly concerned by the possibility that the West Bank will turn into a second “Hamastan.” Rocket and missile fire lobbed into a narrow-waisted Israel from the hilltops of Judea and Samaria would constitute an existential danger that has not been sufficiently addressed in previous peace proposals. Hence the prime minister’s insistence on Israeli military control along the Jordan border.
THE US aim is apparently to reach substantive understandings on border demarcation in the three months of a renewed freeze. This seems a highly improbable ambition, given that Abbas did not seize upon a peace offer from former prime minister Ehud Olmert that Netanyahu is most unlikely to better or even repeat. It is also highly problematic to focus on only some of the core issues, when all will need to be resolved.
But with Israel on board, in step rather than in friction with Washington and led moreover by a relatively popular government, it is Abbas who should come under pressure to compromise – and to take positions that give his people, and ours, the opportunity for genuine reconciliation and a secure future.