Encountering Peace: Have I got news for you

"If this wasn’t so serious, I might even laugh at the total lack of understanding by Netanyahu of what this conflict is all about."

A Palestinian youth throws a stone during clashes with Israeli soldiers next to the scene of a stabbing attack near Hebron on October 26 (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian youth throws a stone during clashes with Israeli soldiers next to the scene of a stabbing attack near Hebron on October 26
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US Secretary of State John Kerry: “There can be no peace when we have an onslaught of terror.” That is true. The clearest indication that there is no peace is the onslaught of terrorism. But the news for Netanyahu is that there will be no end of the onslaught of terrorism until there is a serious peace process going on. Netanyahu’s practical proposal to Kerry to extend to the Palestinians is let Israel unilaterally annex the settlement blocs (according to Netanyahu, this is at least 20 percent of the West Bank) and Israel will allow the Palestinians to have some building rights in Area C of the West Bank which is under full Israeli control.
If this wasn’t so serious, I might even laugh at the total lack of understanding by Netanyahu of what this conflict is all about. From the Palestinian point of view, all of Area C which is 62% of the West Bank belongs to the Palestinians. All of the Israeli settlements are in Area C, which the Palestinians and the international community, including the United States, believe are illegal by international law. Israel prevents the Palestinians from developing their own land in the West Bank which is the only reserve of land for Palestinian economic development. Palestinians truly believe that in 1993 when they signed the Oslo agreement Declaration of Principles they gave up 78% of their demands for Palestine from the River to the Sea. They had no idea that they would have to negotiate over the remaining 22% (the West Bank and Gaza). There is no way that Netanyahu’s proposal can even be seen as an opening position for any kind of Palestinian agreement.
I have news for the Palestinians: Netanyahu is right that there must be an end to Palestinian terrorism.
At the beginning of the latest round of violence back in October, I wrote on my Facebook wall: “NO MARTYRS, NO HEROES, ONLY CRYING PARENTS.
Everyone on both sides is very angry. The calls for revenge will only end up with more dead Israelis and more dead Palestinians. There are no martyrs and no heroes, only crying parents. This madness has to end.” Palestinians will not achieve their goal of ending the Israeli occupation and getting their independence by killing innocent Israelis. Every day the killing goes on and the bodies are piling up – there are no winners, only losers.
But I have news for the Israelis too: the occupation of almost 50 years must come to an end. Yes, there is occupation. Israel controls the lives of millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control and domination.
Israel controls their movement and access. Israel controls their economy. Israel controls their radio wave frequencies – only last week the Israeli army granted the Palestinians to right to upgrade their telephone network to 3G! Yes, the permit came from the Israeli army because the legal sovereign in the West Bank, both by international law and by Israeli law, is the IDF commander of Judea and Samaria. Whatever limited authority the PA has, it has been granted by the IDF, and whatever authority the IDF wishes to remove from the PA, it does, without flinching a muscle.
Israeli forces enter the areas under the so-called control of the PA whenever it wants.
DURING PERIODS of acute Palestinian terrorism, Israel enters every night and breaks into Palestinian homes and carries tens of Palestinians off to interrogation and prison every single night. Those people forced out of their homes in the middle of the night end up standing in front of IDF military courts and military judges and then are put in IDF military prisons.
More than 800,000 Palestinians have spent time in IDF military prisons since 1967. Those who deny that there is an occupation are living in a world of fantasy. There is an occupation and it is a harsh occupation and no Palestinian will ever agree to live under these conditions. And I have news for the Israelis: no Israeli would ever agree to live under these kinds of conditions.
Palestinians will never give up their struggle to be free from Israeli occupation and Palestinian violence will unfortunately accompany us until the Israeli occupation comes to an end. I have news for all: conflicts come to an end through negotiations and negotiations usually take place in conflicts when there is violence. There is a fair and legitimate demand that while negotiations are taking place there is a full cease-fire. But a full cease-fire means that while negotiations are taking place all new settlement building will also cease – not only will no new contracts and tenders be issued, all building in settlements will have to come to a full halt.
There will be no end to this round of violence without a genuine political process taking place. The violence will continue at its present level or more likely escalate as it continues. No one at the senior levels is talking across the conflict lines. I have appealed to several senior Israeli politicians who have the ear and the confidence of Netanyahu to reach out to the Palestinian side at the senior levels to begin talking behind the scenes. Today there is no effective line of communication between Israel and Palestine.
Netanyahu and Abbas are 30 minutes apart by car and they know each other’s phone numbers. Netanyahu’s empty public appeals to Abbas to negotiate are without response because the Palestinians know that there is nothing behind them other than public relations. Why is it so difficult for Netanyahu to pick up the phone and call Abbas directly to get the ball rolling? He doesn’t need a press conference for that or a UN speech (the same is true for Abbas).
Those who I have spoken to about opening a direct channel for communication who are close to Netanyahu have responded that there already is the channel of Silvan Shalom and Saeb Erekat (they have met once and everyone knows that this is not an effective channel). There is also the channel of Attorney Yitzhak Molcho who acts on behalf of Netanyahu. What I have heard from the Palestinians about Molcho, other than that he is a real gentlemen, is that he was the person who prevented any real substance in the nine months of talks sponsored by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and that when he is sent to deliver messages from Netanyahu to Abbas they come in the form of direct threats that are never useful in moving understanding forward.
There is also the IDF channel led by General Yoav “Poli” Mordechai from COGAT (Coordinate of Government Affairs in the Territories). While Poli is generally liked by the Palestinians, a military channel from the military governor cannot replace a political channel of communication.
Those people who propose that the way to end the violence is to use more force, more checkpoints, more home demolitions, more arrests, more forced movements from the West Bank to Gaza, etc. I have news for you: the harder Israel pushes, the harder the Palestinians will push back. Violence and force will beget more violence and force. This will never end without serious and genuine talks toward concluding the negotiations. This is the news that everyone should get into their heads.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and in English as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.