Netanyahu wants peace. Does the PA?

They seem to have a great territorial appetite, and lack political pragmatism.

Moussa Abbas 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Moussa Abbas 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu wants peace and is interested in negotiations with the Palestinians. His government enjoys large popular support because a large majority of Israelis agrees with this view. Israelis deeply desire peace and this issue influences their voting behavior. Indeed, every Israeli government must demonstrate to the electorate its seriousness in pursuing peace to be reelected.
True, what is required to convince Israelis about their government’s determination to pursue peace is not always enough to impress the outside world. This gap is the source of much of the criticism leveled against Israel. But the critical and/or hostile circles, which are heavily influenced by misguided notions propagated by the discredited Israeli Left and Palestinian propaganda, are not in sync with regional realities and entertain unrealistic expectations.
In his June 2009 speech at the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, Netanyahu successfully redefined the consensus and became a mainstream political leader. Despite the Jews’ ancient claim to their historic homeland, the Land of Israel, Netanyahu
expressed a willingness to reach territorial compromise – a two-state solution – to satisfy the national needs of the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s acceptance of a Palestinian state is conditional, however. His insistence on a demilitarized state reflects ingrained Israeli fears of dangerous neighbors. Netanyahu also demanded the long overdue recognition of Israel as the Jewish nation-state. In line with Israeli
consensus, he insisted on Jerusalem remaining the undivided capital of the Jewish state.
MORE THAN 70 percent of Israelis agreed with Netanyahu’s address – quite an achievement for any prime minister. The consensus revolves around the willingness to repartition the Land of Israel. There is enormous skepticism about the Palestinians’ ability to reach an historic compromise with the Zionist movement and subsequently implement the agreement. Israelis are most concerned about Palestinian compliance with Israel’s security requirements. They want defensible borders, understanding that the peace process is predicated upon a strong Israel.
The hawkish faction within Netanyahu’s Likud party feels comfortable with his positions. This faction even supported the 10-month partial freeze on new housing construction in Judea and Samaria that was announced on November 25 – an unprecedented concession. Netanyahu’s
government is strongly enforcing the moratorium.
Netanyahu believes that progress on the road to peace can only be achieved by a slow process of institution-building and economic growth beginning from the bottom-up. Indeed, his government has done its best to facilitate economic growth in the PA by removing dozens of roadblocks in the West Bank, thereby putting the lives of Jews at risk, and by supporting international and Palestinian economic activity. Moreover, the prime minister declares at every opportunity his willingness to enter into unconditional talks with the PA. He has even accepted proximity talks despite the traditional insistence on direct talks.
So far, those advocating great territorial concessions to the Palestinians to bring peace have been proven wrong. Two prime ministers offered to cede virtually all of the disputed territories.
The offers of Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert were respectively rejected by Yasser Arafat in 2000 and ignored by his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, in 2008. Moreover, in 2000 the Palestinians launched a campaign of terror and recently they have threatened to renew it. Similarly, after Ariel Sharon’s government unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and dismantled all
settlements in 2005, the Gaza Strip was converted into a launching pad for intensified missile attacks.
The Palestinians seem to have a great territorial appetite and historically have displayed a lack of political pragmatism that is a prerequisite for reaching a compromise. Unfortunately, they have no David Ben-Gurion-type leaders capable of making difficult decisions. The contrast to Israeli leadership is striking, particularly when history shows that Ben-Gurion was ready to accept the convoluted 1947 partition borders and a Jewish state without Jerusalem.
BLAMING NETANYAHU for the current impasse assumes that the insatiable Palestinians must be placated at the expense of vital security interests, such as demilitarization of the West Bank and maintaining control over the Jordan Valley and Greater Jerusalem. Ascribing responsibility to Netanyahu for the impasse also wrongly assumes that the Palestinians have displayed flexibility in their approach to Israel. Yet it is they who insist on preconditions for resuming the talks. Even Netanyahu’s decision for the 10-month freeze on building in the settlements was rejected by the PLO.
As a matter of fact, it is the Palestinians who are dragging their feet in the peace negotiations. Abbas in his May 2009 Washington Post interview emphasized that he is in no hurry to negotiate and that he expects the Americans to force Israel to accept the Palestinian conditions. His prime minister, Salam Fayyad, announced a plan to unilaterally establish a Palestinian state in two years instead of a state emerging from negotiations.
Both “moderate” leaders honor suicide bombers as martyrs and provide their families with state pensions. They allow the PA-controlled media, education system and mosques to continue to promote rabid anti-Semitism. Both reject recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Unfortunately, Palestinian society in Gaza and in the West Bank is under the spell of Hamas, which has not accepted Israel’s right to exist. Consequently, the Palestinians are not moving in the direction of compromise and reconciliation.
Netanyahu’s government probably has no illusions about the ability ofthe Palestinians to reach an agreement and implement it in the nearfuture, but Netanyahu keeps the option of negotiations open. Incontrast, the Palestinians’ goal is to extract concessions withoutnegotiations, hoping that Washington and/or the international communitywill pressure Israel into accepting Palestinian demands.

The writer is professor of politicalscience at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA)Center for Strategic Studies. This article was first published on and is reprinted with permission.