Rivlin Tells European Lawmakers: Conditions Not Right for Final Status Agreement With Palestinians

At European Parliament address, president proposes the EU would assist in confidence-building, calls for Israeli-international initiative to rehabilitate Gaza.

President Reuven Rivlin delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament on June 22, 2016.
John Thys, AFP

The conditions necessary for a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians don't exist at the current time, President Reuven Rivlin said on Wednesday in an address to the European Parliament in Brussels.

Instead, he proposed that the European Union assist in improving trust between Palestinians and Israelis and called for a combined initiative by Israel and the international community to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip, against the backdrop of what he said was the "human tragedy" taking place there.

All Israeli governments since the Oslo Accords in 1993, including the current one, had supported the principle of a two state for two peoples, Rivlin said. Any such agreement brought before the Knesset would be approved, he added.

"That said, with all the difficulty and pain involved, we have to look at reality and speak the truth," the president said.

"The current diplomatic, political and regional conditions do not allow Israelis and Palestinians to reach a permanent peace agreement."

Rivlin is currently visiting European Union institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg. In the past two days, he has met with European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Parliament President Martin Schultz and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

In his speech, the president detailed why, in his view, it is not possibly to reach a permanent peace at this stage. He mentioned the political split among the Palestinians, between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.

He also mentioned the anarchy and lack of stability in the Middle East, engendered by the rise of the Islamic State, and the economic distress in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, characterized by high unemployment and the lack of infrastructure.

"It's important to mention the most basic feature of the relations between Israelis and Palestinians – the total lack of trust between the sides at all levels, from the leaderships to the people," Rivlin said.

The international community has operated for the past 20 years on the basis of a mistaken assumption regarding the peace process, in terms of which a Palestinian state will either be established immediately or that it will never be established, the president argued.

"That paradigm rests on the assumption that the problem at the core of the conflict is the absence of goodwill on both sides and that, if we just pressure them, they will agree to a final status agreement and peace," Rivlin said.

"Negotiations have failed, one after the other, over the years, dragging behind them waves of violence and terror. It appears that the assumption of the lack of goodwill is not only basically flawed, but it ignores the circumstances. The current situation on the ground by definition thwarts any attempt to negotiate a permanent settlement."

In that connection, Rivlin attacked the French Peace Initiative, arguing that aiming for a permanent solution between Israel and the Palestinians at this stage will be a "predictable failure which will only push both nations further into despair.

The only ones who would benefit from such a scenario would be the extremists, he said. The international community, Rivlin added, must cease its efforts to restart diplomatic negotiations between the two sides and focus instead on steps that will build confidence between the sides and create the conditions for successful negotiations in the future.

The president recommended a series of what he said were achievable steps:

The first step was coordination with Jordan and Egypt in order to prevent the military buildup of extremist elements in the region and to minimize violent confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis.

The second was development of the Palestinian economy, infrastructure and quality of life. "There is a need for a wide-ranging economic initiative," he said "We need to advance the development of infrastructure, gas, electricity, water, sewerage and housing. We need to find a solution to the human tragedy in the Gaza Strip."

"The State of Israel regards the rehabilitation of Gaza, as well as economic development and improved living conditions for both the Palestinians and the Israelis as both a moral and a security interest," he said.

The third step was investment in joint ventures to create common interests. "Whether we like it or not, Israelis and Palestinians share a very small area, with resources and regional assets in common and common regional challenges," he said.

"In such a small and crowded space, the creation of common interests is a crucial factor in the establishment of stability and the creation of conditions for swapping the next war with arrangements that will benefit both sides."

The final area discussed by the president was education. "The creation of conditions for a future settlement includes preparing hearts on both sides for the possibility of living in mutual respect," he said.

"Peace is made between leaders, but it is also made between people. Changing current trends requires dealing with the sediment of hatred and fear The building of trust requires investment in the education of future generations to recognize their neighbors, their traditions and their language."

Rivlin asked the European lawmakers to reduce their fierce criticism of Israel. "I feel that much of the criticism of Israel in Europe comes from, among other things, lack of understanding and lack of tolerance for the existential needs of the State of Israel," he said.

"Unfortunately, there is lack of tolerance in Israel, as well. There are those who are angered and frustrated by the steps taken by Europe; by things which they regard as unfair and sometimes even patronizing and based on a double standard."

Prior to Rivlin's visit, European Parliament President Martin Shultz offered to organize a meeting between him and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is due to address the parliament in Brussels on Thursday. Rivlin accepted the offer, but it doesn't not seem likely that the meeting will take place.