Putting Peace on the Map

Israel’s government will be committing a crime against its citizens if it lets slip away the opportunity presented by the upcoming visit of United States Secretary of State John Kerry.

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United States Secretary of State John Kerry, scheduled to land in Israel Monday, requested a two-month extension to kick-start the peace process. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is ready to give the U.S. arbitration a two- to three-month chance before turning to international bodies. Meanwhile, violent confrontations in the West Bank are mounting and threaten to turn into an all-out clash. The opportunity and the threat mean that Israel’s government must take advantage of the short time frame to present clear stances, to dispel the convenient vagueness behind which it is hiding its lack of policy, and turn the phrase “two states for two peoples” into practice.

As a first step, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas need to present a map with clear borders to form the basis of negotiations. No more “basic principles,” as negotiators Isaac Molho and Tzipi Livni put it, no more “colorful stains,” but rather precise borders. Abbas has said he would see such a map as proof that Israel is serious about its intent. This would be a tangible step toward Israel’s stated desire to live in peace within secure, recognized borders. For without recognized borders, we cannot live securely.

Israel’s citizens are waiting to finally see how their currently borderless state will look, while for the settlers, such a map will clarify the limits of state recognition of their enterprise. The American effort, which began with U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the region last month, will be seriously damaged if Israel continues with the standard evasion tactics that characterized the last government.

The time for “gestures” such as freeing prisoners − a worthy topic in its own right − or handing over tax monies that the Palestinians are owed anyway, is over. They cannot come in place of sketching out borders and drafting a precise road map with a clear time frame. Likewise, the standard excuse that there cannot be negotiations if the situation in the West Bank is volatile is not convincing. Years of quiet, obtained in part thanks to the efforts of the Palestinian Authority security services, did not temper Israel’s stance.

The international community came to believe that Israel wasn’t interested in peace, and the country’s standing among its friends crumbled to the point where some are ready to consider sanctions.

Israel’s government will be committing a crime against its citizens if it lets this latest opportunity slip away.

Netanyahu and Kerry after their meeting in Jerusalem Saturday, March 23, 2013.Credit: Amos Ben Gershom, PMO

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