Dear Palestinian Leaders, Your Destiny Is in Your Own Hands

An open letter to President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, from a supporter of the peace process.

Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger
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Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger

To President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Leadership,

As many of you know, I have been a staunch supporter of a peace agreement between Israel and a Palestinian state to be established along the 1967 borders. I have addressed you from these pages a number of times, and do so again because I believe that we are at a critical juncture.

Palestinian sources close to you have been quoted to say that United States Secretary of State John Kerry is undermining the peace talks by taking Israel’s side on security matters. These, it seems, include a prolonged Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley after the final status agreement will be put into practice, a number of military observation points at strategic locations in the West Bank and considerable control of Palestinian airspace. These sources have made clear that if Kerry continues in this vein, he will be responsible for the peace talk’s failure.

Yes, it is true that Kerry is fully committed to address Israel’s security concerns. And I can completely understand why this evokes skepticism on your part. For too many years you have heard Israeli leaders paying lip service to peace while continuing to expand settlements. And you have come to the conclusion that all of this talk about peace is nothing but a thin disguise for Israel’s gradual de facto annexation of the West Bank.

Let me therefore make as clear as possible what the actual situation is: Seventy percent of Israelis have no interest in keeping control over the West Bank. They would love to no longer have to send their sons serving in the IDF to maintain the occupation, raid Palestinian villages and pursue terrorist suspects. They would, in fact, be thrilled if Israel had no more business in the West Bank and they could live their lives without worrying about their sons and daughters. The problem is that 20 or 25 percent of Israelis who believe in the catastrophic notion of the Greater Land of Israel have abused the security concerns of ordinary Israelis to pursue their dream.

I completely understand your frustration, and that an agreement that would keep you surrounded by the IDF feels like a continuation of the occupation. And yet, precisely because I want Israel to end the historical catastrophe of the occupation and for you to live in freedom and dignity, I call upon you to realize that there will be no agreement without far-reaching security measures in Israel’s favor.

The years from the 1996 suicide bombings that first brought Benjamin Netanyahu to power, through the second intifada to the shelling of Southern Israel from Gaza have led Israelis to the point where they are unwilling to rely on you to maintain their security for a very long time to come. Furthermore, the ongoing chaos in many Arab countries and the frightening regional instability make all Israelis wary about the future.

Do not delude yourselves: Even if Bougie Herzog or someone else from Israel’s left would be elected prime minister tomorrow, he would insist on far-reaching security guarantees. Nothing else would be acceptable for the majority of Israelis, and no political leader will be able to convince Israelis to subscribe to a deal that they will perceive as endangering Israel’s population.

I expect you to tell me: “But why should we pay the price for terror attacks that were mostly perpetrated by Hamas? The second intifada ended a decade ago. Fatah has no responsibility for what Hamas did in Gaza, and under the leadership of Salam Fayyad it has made remarkable efforts to build viable state institutions and an effective security force that has done much to prevent terror attacks on Israel. And we Palestinians certainly have no responsibility whatsoever for the chaos in the Arab world around us! So stop hiding behind security concerns, and let us have a state no longer controlled by the IDF!”

My argument, dear Palestinians, has nothing to do with morality. The question is not whether you are morally responsible for Hamas’ acts or the chaos in Syria. I am talking pure realpolitik. I have very good reasons to believe that Netanyahu has indeed turned around and is willing to accept a viable, territorially contiguous Palestinian state. You will know that he is serious when he replaces Bennett’s right-wing Habayit Hayehudi with Labor in the coalition. But he will not underwrite any agreement that does not give wide-ranging security guarantees for a long period to come.

You are at this point faced with a choice. You can move toward an agreement with Netanyahu’s government. The result will be that your children will no longer see any IDF soldiers; that the settlers planted in your midst who make your life miserable will be removed; and that you will have more freedom and dignity than you have had not only since 1967, but since 1948, when you were under Jordanian rule.

Assuming that there will be no violence, in due time Israelis will come to trust Palestine, and Israel’s security control over the Jordan Valley and Palestinian airspace will be gradually removed. In the meanwhile, Palestine will enjoy special status vis-à-vis the EU and will finally be able to develop its economy without the shackles imposed by Israel’s occupation apparatus.

You can, of course, reject an agreement of this sort. In doing so, you condemn your people to more decades of suffering and humiliation. Your children will not experience the dignity of self-determination and freedom, and we will see further cycles of violence, reprisals and counter-violence. You will further empower Israel’s extreme right wingers, who will further abuse the security concerns of ordinary Israelis to continue their project of colonizing and ultimately annexing the West Bank.

I have no illusions that you will like what I write. You will think that I write from a position of power, and that I have no understanding of the Palestinian experience and its narrative. But this is not the case. I genuinely accept your point of view that Israel’s existence for historical reasons had to be based on the dispossession 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. I am not trying to wipe out or deny your narrative of your tragic history.

But neither you nor I can rewind history – and this history does not only include Israeli misdeeds. It also includes that the Palestinian people have made catastrophic errors of judgment, starting with the rejection of the 1947 UN partition plan and ending with the second intifada.

We need to mend the situation as it is in the present. I can only hope that you, the Palestinian leadership, will be able to put the wellbeing and flourishing of generations to come before the unrealizable dream of redressing all the pains of the past.

Abbas and Netanyahu.Credit: AP

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