The only peace messages that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is issuing these days concern cooperation with various Arab states such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan. The Palestinians are ignored at best and correlated with the axis of evil at worst (the Islamic State equals Hamas, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is a Holocaust denier, and the vision of both is merely the historic continuation of the Nazi program). Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been expressing similar ideas about regional cooperation that will magically resolve the conflict, with the Palestinians pushed aside as if irrelevant to the process.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi’s opening address yesterday of the international donor conference on rebuilding the Gaza Strip proved just how empty and unfounded these notions are. Sissi, who called on Israelis and their leaders to adopt the Arab Peace Initiative — which no Israeli official has been willing to consider since it was issued, in 2002 — made it clear that the path to Cairo and to Abu Dhabi runs through Ramallah; that no diplomatic or economic cooperation will be possible with the wealthier parts of the Arab world, the parts that are farther away from Israel and that have no direct claims against it, so long as the status quo in the territories continues — that is, the occupation and building in the settlements, which prevent any possibility chance of separation and of territorial compromise.
With his speech, Sissi — the Arab leader with the broadest legitimacy among the Israeli public — burst the bubble being blown up by Netanyahu and Lieberman. The Palestinians cannot be ignored, the occupation cannot be concealed and the conflict must be resolved through compromise, in order to end the bloodshed.
Instead of pulling the wool over Israelis’ eyes by trying to sell them unrealistic solutions, lip service meant to conceal the Netanyahu government’s refusal to make peace, instead of trying to confuse the world with double messages, Netanyahu must launch negotiations that will address the core issues — borders, refugees and the status of Jerusalem. Any other proposal or initiative constitutes fraud, offering a false impression of readiness for a peace process when the aim is really to reduce the likelihood of a solution.
What Sissi understands — that without a peace agreement Israel will not have a secure future — Israel’s leaders must also understand. Otherwise they are gambling irresponsibly with the future of the state.