The Israeli Peace Camp’s Obligation: Demand Negotiations Without Preconditions

The prime minister may have a forked tongue, but when he is publicly calling for negotiations without preconditions, the Palestinians must respond affirmatively.

A. B. Yehoshua
A.B. Yehoshua
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President Mahmoud Abbas.
President Mahmoud Abbas, March 21, 2016.Credit: AP
A. B. Yehoshua
A.B. Yehoshua

The moral and political duty of the Israeli peace camp and all its component parts is to demand that the Palestinian Authority and its leader accept the Israeli prime minister’s offer to embark on negotiations without preconditions. Knesset members from the Arab parties’ Joint List also have a moral duty to join in this demand by Israel’s peace camp.

Over the past few months, the Israeli prime minister has said repeatedly and publicly, including in the presence of the British and French prime ministers, that he’s willing to begin direct negotiations with the PA’s leadership without preconditions and to discuss all the issues under dispute, including borders and refugees. At one point, Benjamin Netanyahu said he would even be willing to hold these negotiations in Ramallah.

Like many people, I’m aware of the prime minister’s forked tongue, of his empty pronouncements and his cunning political maneuvers. I’m also aware of all the evidence proving that his heart isn’t where his mouth is. Nevertheless, if an official representative of the State of Israel offers openly and clearly to begin negotiations without preconditions, the Palestinians must respond affirmatively and begin negotiations, regardless of the outcome.

Even if these negotiations bring about only a minor improvement in relations between the two peoples, it’s worthwhile to hold them. Even if it’s impossible to divide Jerusalem, but it is at least possible to evacuate the illegal settlement outposts and transfer another few pieces, even small ones, of the West Bank’s Area C to the Palestinian Authority, such negotiations would produce an important result. Even if nothing substantive is decided in the negotiations, but they at least produce a fairer division of water for Palestinian communities in the West Bank or an improvement in the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, it would still be worthwhile for the Palestinians to sit face-to-face with Israel’s leadership and hold an open dialogue in order to seek out any possible means of improving their condition.

The Palestinians can continue appealing to international institutions and seeking their help and support even while these direct negotiations are proceeding. There’s no contradiction between conducting wide-ranging international diplomatic activity and holding negotiations. After all, Israel, too, will continue its public diplomacy and political efforts to bolster its position during the talks.

International institutions and European or American pressure won’t bring about a two-state solution; only direct negotiations will do that. Today, it’s also completely clear that the chaotic, confused Arab world, embroiled in vicious civil wars, won’t solve the Palestinian problem and won’t grant the Palestinians the political freedom they deserve. After all, even in the years when the Arab world was strong and powerful and united, after the Six-Day War of 1967 and also after the Yom Kippur War of 1973, it didn’t manage to prevent the establishment of a single settlement.

If in fact the Palestinians, in their heart of hearts, reject the two-state solution and are hoping for a single state, then fine: Let them reveal their goal publicly and explain during the negotiations what they see as the way to create a single state and the conditions for maintaining it. Meanwhile, the occupation, which is continuing with all its evils, is not merely poisoning Israel’s DNA, but is also deepening the rot in Palestinian society.

It took the Palestinians 20 years after the Six-Day War to understand their desperate situation and recognize Israel’s sovereign existence within the 1967 borders. And even this recognition came only following the peace with Egypt and because of massive immigration from the former Soviet Union.

Yasser Arafat refused to join Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s dramatic peace visit to Israel in 1977, so the Israeli-Palestinian peace process once again lost important years during which more and more settlements were built, eating into the future territory of the Palestinian state. The cessation of negotiations following the failed Camp David summit in 2000 and the subsequent outbreak of the second intifada, with all its horrors for both peoples, once again distanced the hoped-for solution.

Then, when former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert finally gave PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) a real map detailing his proposed permanent borders, which corresponded to the 1967 borders with the exception of about 2 or 3 percent, Abu Mazen didn’t negotiate over this important proposal; he simply went quiet and disappeared, on the assumption that Olmert would soon become irrelevant.

But why should Abu Mazen get involved in the problems of the Israeli government? He’s the leader of an occupied people that needs its freedom, and he must aspire day and night to hold nonstop negotiations with the occupier in order to end the occupation. If he receives a public offer like that from the Israeli government, he ought to use it as leverage for further negotiations.

Even if the peace camp doesn’t believe Netanyahu’s declarations, it’s obligated to take him at his word and issue a moral and political demand to the PA that it enter into negotiations immediately. Perhaps I’m deluding myself, but it seems to me that even Netanyahu and his people now understand that a binational state, over the long term, is a very gloomy prospect and a dangerous burden on Israel’s identity. Therefore continuous, persistent negotiations that are as public as possible, even if they are exhausting and frustrating for both sides, are important in and of themselves.

It’s impossible for the peace camp to do nothing but caress the PA with statements of solidarity and sympathy. It’s precisely the members of the peace camp who must demand unequivocally that the Palestinian leadership invite official Israeli representatives at the highest level to Ramallah, as Netanyahu proposed, in front of the spotlights and the cameras, and without preconditions, to talk about all the problems. Any solution and any agreement, even the smallest, would be welcome.

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