Why should the Palestinian leadership make peace with Israel, when the international community seems willing to recognize a Palestinian state without requiring its leaders to make the kinds of compromises that are essential to a viable two-state solution?
The Israelis offered the Palestinians a generous two-state solution under the leadership of then-prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. Now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging them to sit down and begin unconditional negotiations. The Palestinian leadership have accepted none of these offers, because they foolishly believe they can get what they want without giving what they must.
The major fault for this impasse lies squarely on the shoulders of the international community, including the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the International Court of Justice, the international media and many individual governments. They have led the Palestinian leadership to believe that if they can maintain the impasse with Israel by refusing to make the kinds of compromises required for a two-state solution, the international community would come to their rescue and impose such a solution on Israel.
The international media, the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement and student protests against Israel all contribute to disincentivizing the Palestinians from entering into real negotiations that will require compromise.
Even this newspaper, Haaretz, by placing virtually all the blame for the impasse on Israel, discourages the Palestinians from coming to the negotiating table. Because they believe they are winning the war of public opinion, they do not believe they need to compromise.
The time has come for the world to point a harsh finger at the Palestinian leadership, and to make clear to them that they will not be rewarded for their intransigence. The Palestinians must know that the only way they will get a viable state is to sit down and negotiate on such an entity with the Israeli government. This will require painful compromises on both sides, not just the Israeli one.
Skewed against Israel
The Palestinian leadership must also learn that violence will not get them a state, although it may win them positive press in some parts of the world. The Palestinian tactic of initiating terrorist and rocket attacks against Israel, knowing that Israel will retaliate, and expecting that the international community will either condemn Israel or describe the ensuing events as “a cycle of violence,” has scored points for the Palestinian side. But this is not a game where the team with the most points wins. The Palestinians may be winning in the court of public opinion, because the court of public opinion is skewed against Israel, but they are no closer to achieving statehood than they were when they rejected previous offers.
This is not to say that Israel is blameless for the current situation. Its policies of settlement building, particularly in areas that will probably become part of a Palestinian state, have been a mistake from the very beginning. But the primary fault for the current impasse lies squarely at the feet of the Palestinian leadership. The time has come for the international community, the media and those who truly want peace to begin putting pressure on the Palestinian leadership to come to the negotiating table and agree to the kinds of compromises that are essential if a two-state solution is to be achieved. The Palestinians must give up their so-called “Right of Return.” They must agree to an essentially demilitarized Palestinian state. They must agree that Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket and terrorist attacks. They must agree to territorial compromises, with land swaps that recognize the realities on the ground.
Israel must make compromises as well, especially with regard to settlements in areas that will be part of a Palestinian state.
The way forward is through bilateral, unconditional negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. For the moment, there are no prospects for a peaceful resolution of the Gaza situation. The best that can be hoped for is a long-term cease-fire between Hamas and Israel. If a Palestinian state in the West Bank emerges from negotiations, the people in Gaza may well come to recognize that their interests would be better served by aligning themselves with those who seek peace rather than continued warfare. When the United Nations partitioned Mandatory Palestine, it explicitly contemplated a nation-state for the Jewish people alongside a nation-state for the Arab people. The two-state solution requires that each side recognize the legitimacy of the other.
The Palestinian Authority must acknowledge that Israel is the legitimate and authentic nation-state of the Jewish people, in which all citizens are equal under the law. Israel must recognize that Palestine is the nation-state of the Palestinian people, hopefully with equal rights for all its citizens and residents. Only then can the dream of enduring peace be fulfilled.
If this were to come to pass, the peace dividend – not only for Israelis and Palestinians, but for the entire world – would be incalculable. So let us all incentivize both sides to negotiate a real peace that will endure, and that can serve as a model for other conflicts.
The writer is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law Emeritus at Harvard Law School. His latest book is “Abraham: The World’s First (But Certainly Not Last) Jewish Lawyer.”
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