Our ‘peace letter’ and why we said it

PM should join forces with Kerry to devise ‘confidence building steps.’

Kerry and Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Kerry and Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
The Israel Policy Forum’s April 3 letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urging him to take steps to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution has generated a somewhat predictable response. The Jerusalem Post, for its part, stated in an April 4 editorial (“Peace Letter”), that while “commendable,” and perhaps well intentioned, the letter failed to acknowledge how unlikely it is that Israel would be able to negotiate a peace agreement with this Palestinian leadership.
This criticism misses the mark.
We harbor no illusions as to the Palestinian Authority’s shortcomings. But the question is, what should Israel do in the face of these shortcomings? It is in answering this narrow question that we and the Post’s editorial board part ways.
The Post’s editorial implies that the appropriate response is for Israel to sit back and wait. Specifically, after briefly noting our letter’s “commendable message of hope,” the editorial then devotes most of the remaining paragraphs to developing the idea that, “if, however, the ‘confidence building steps’ mentioned [in our letter] include freeing dangerous terrorists, as demanded by the PA, very few here would agree that the risk is worth taking.” At no point does the editorial describe alternative steps that Israel could take or even acknowledge that such alternatives exist.
The editorial’s fixation on the issue of prisoners, and resulting implication that our letter supports the release of “dangerous Palestinian terrorists” to the detriment of Israel’s security, is nothing short of bizarre. Our letter did not make even passing reference to the issue of prisoners.
By contrast, we explicitly stated that any steps the US and Israel devise should be “consistent with Israel’s security needs.” Moreover, there are numerous alternatives to releasing prisoners that could be employed. The fact that Secretary of State John Kerry has announced his support for moving forward with economic initiatives is a case in point.
But perhaps the most serious flaw in the editorial is that in dwelling upon the risk that the hypothetical release of “dangerous” prisoners poses, the Post completely ignores the very real harm that will result if the peace process is allowed to stagnate, or even regress, any further.
This is a serious oversight. The eventual implementation of the two-state solution is simply too important to Israel’s long-term security and future as a Jewish and democratic state for Israel to sit by idly, passively looking on as the prospects for establishing two states slip away. Instead, Israel should capitalize on its extraordinary economic, political and military advantages over the Palestinians to take the lead where the PA falls short.
That is why our letter called upon Prime Minister Netanyahu to exercise the same sort of leadership he showed in mending fences with Turkey to rebuild momentum in the peace process. We believe the most effective way for him to do so would be to join forces with Secretary of State Kerry – who has evidenced an intense devotion to helping the parties resolve their conflict – to devise “confidence building steps” that would reaffirm Israel’s genuine and steadfast commitment to the two-state solution.
Taking this pro-active approach would not only offer a chance to reverse the negative trend in Israeli-Palestinian relations, it would also place the blame for any continued stalemate squarely on the PA’s shoulders.
The Post’s editorial reasonably charged that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has failed to take steps to “gradually prepar[e] his people for peace with Israel” and “creat[e] the atmosphere for a return to negotiations” to take place. As Israel’s advocates abroad, we urge the Israeli government to do all it can – without compromising Israel’s security – to ensure that Israel cannot justly be accused of the same charge.The writer is chairman and David A. Halperin executive director of the Israel Policy Forum.