It is now close to 17 years since Israel's ill-fated decision to recognize the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and the Oslo Accords. Despite the accords, or possibly because of them, during those years much blood has been shed and no significant progress was made toward peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
There was no absence of good intentions on the part of Israel. But as was shown repeatedly, good intentions are not enough to resolve the seemingly intractable issues that separate the parties. On the contrary, on many occasions, suggestions and proposals offered by Israel actually created obstacles to any progress in the negotiations. Far-reaching concessions offered by Israel, although rejected by the Palestinians, only served to establish what the Palestinians from then on insisted would have to be the starting point for future negotiations, actually creating a pitfall on the road map for any progress.
Ehud Barak's egregious concessions offered at the Camp David talks in 2000, and the additional farcical proposals made by the Israeli delegation at the continuation of these talks in Eilat, only served to establish a roadblock on the way to peace.
Why would an Israeli offer of concessions end up being a roadblock to further progress? For the simple reason that if these concessions are not supported by the majority of the Israeli public they cannot be implemented, while a Palestinian demand that these concessions become the starting point of any further negotiations blocks the resumption of negotiations.
The prime minister or government that offers these concession might well argue that they are the democratically elected government and have the perfect right to offer concessions that they consider appropriate. And they do have that right, but if they are aware of the fact that the Israeli public would not support these concessions they should know that they cannot be implemented, and therefore they are actually doing a disservice to the very peace process they claim to be pursuing by offering these concessions to the Palestinians.
Barak's mistake was repeated by Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, who six years later offered the Palestinians concessions that did not have the support of the Israeli public, were rejected by the Palestinians, but are now holding up the beginning of negotiations because the Palestinians demand that negotiations start at the point where they left off.
Barak knew full well that his offer to the Palestinians did not have the support of the majority of the Israeli public - he had by then lost the support of his own cabinet and did not command a majority in the Knesset. The elections that followed in February 2001 left no doubt as to the opinion of the Israeli public regarding his offer to the Palestinians. Although Olmert and Livni were in a more solid position in the Knesset when they started their negotiations, by the time Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas what he claims are the most far-reaching concessions Abbas would ever receive from Israel, he was already on the way out.
And again, faced by a new Israeli government, Abbas insists that negotiations must begin where Olmert left off - a seemingly insurmountable roadblock on the way to peace.
How is an Israeli government to know that the concessions they are offering will be supported by the Israeli public, rather than just serving as another roadblock to peace? Is it sufficient that they command at the moment a majority in the Knesset, or that they believe that by using "Mitsubishi" tactics they can entice a few Knesset members to cross party lines and support their proposals? A momentary accidental majority in the Knesset for concessions offered by the government will surely not be enough to bring peace to the area.
A suggestion has been raised that large-scale territorial concession would have to be approved by a national referendum. That is the kind of support that would lend legitimacy and permanence to any offer made by the government, and would probably prevent intemperate and capricious offers, which would end up being impediments to peace. The objections raised seem specious and overly formalistic. The fact that Israel is governed by a parliamentary regime does not mean that certain important matters should not be brought directly to the people for a decision.
Parliamentary governments all over Europe have only recently brought the matter of accession to the European Union to a direct vote of their citizens. They did not consider this to be undemocratic. In any case, peace with the Palestinians will not be attained by accidental or artificially created majorities in the Knesset.
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