A Strategy for Peace with the Palestinians
Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians up to now have been about the destruction of Israel, not a long-term peace.
By Max Singer, The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University. November 1, 2012
Editor's Note: This article is excerpted from the introduction of a highly recommended white paper on how the obstacles to peace between Israel and the Palestinians can be overcome and how a lasting peace can be achieved. Go to the full report.
This paper is an analysis of how Israel and other countries can pursue peace between Israel and the Palestinians. It starts with the assertion that peace must remain Israel's permanent goal. Peace on Israel's terms means an end to the Arab world's long-term effort to eliminate Israel, establishment of long-term arrangements for the Palestinians,, and Palestinian acceptance or recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Not only is continuing war dangerous and costly in lives, it has a profound economic and moral cost as well. Israel must also be committed to pursuing peace, to be true to its inherent character and to the desires of a large majority of Israelis. The goal cannot be "peace now" because it is not necessarily in Israel's power to achieve it now, as peace depends on the Palestinians as well. There are many factors from within the Palestinian community that prevent peace from being a realistic option in the near future, as this paper discusses in length. That being said, Israel must decide what the reasons are that peace is temporarily impossible and do whatever it can to remove the barriers to peace.
The international diplomatic community seems to have an immense desire to see negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, though no realist and coherent argument has been made for the value of such negotiations under current conditions. That such negotiations cannot currently bring peach does not imply that there must not be any negotiations; it implies that peace should not be an expected outcome. It should be understood that a failure to start negotiations is not a failure to achieve peace; it might even help the cause of peace.
The current diplomatic consensus is that Israel is preventing peace because it refuses to make the concessions that the Palestinians demand before they are willing to negotiate. This is the thinking behind the consensus view that, even though Israel is proposing to negotiate and the Palestinians are refusing to negotiate, it is Israel that stands in the way of peace. This view works against peace because it fails to recognize the reality of the Palestinian community's position and encourages it to continue its policies of engaging in acts of non-military, though not non-violent, war on Israel, and rejection of peace.
Those who blame Israel for the lack of peace—including a small but prominent minority of Israelis—deny that the Palestinians' essential requirement for peace is Israel's elimination. Disagreement whether that is the fact explains why so many people who Israelis think are "anti-Israel" are actually "pro-Israel" in their motivation—even if their actions harm Israel. These people, including some Israelis and many Jews in other countries, genuinely want to achieve peace because peace is what Israel needs. They challenge Israel's policies because in their advocacy for peace they don't deal with the fact that now the Palestinians' essential goal is the elimination of Israel and that peace will not be possible until they change that goal. Nor do they deal with the fact that peace is not the goal of Iran or of the Muslim Brotherhood, for both of whom peace between Israel and Palestinians would be a major defeat. Especially in the US, Israel's main potential danger comes from people who try to help Israel achieve peace, but their misunderstanding of Middle Eastern realities leads away from, rather than towards, peace.
The key question is the meaning of "peace," Israel's fundamental goal. This goal comes from Israel's unique history. From its birth, Israel, unlike almost any other country, has had neighbors whose state policy is to eliminate it and have made numerous violent and diplomatic efforts to do so. For Israel, "peace" means that the Palestinians give up what has been their goal from the beginning, the elimination of Israel from the region. If that goal is not given up, Israel's existence is still in question and any agreement would only temporarily change the conditions of its struggle to survive.
The Palestinians may be willing to make a form of peace agreement with Israel if it does not rule out continued Palestinian struggle to change Israel from being a Jewish and democratic country. But such an agreement would not be the peace that Israel and the world seeks or needs. It would be a false peace in which the Palestinian effort to destroy Israel would continue, but with some agreed-upon limits on the measures the Palestinians could use against Israel. No such limits are reliable, however, particularly against such a deep-seated and widely supported goal as the elimination of the Jewish state from the middle of the Arab/Muslim world.
There are two things that the Palestinians can do to show that they have given up the goal of destroying Israel. One is to say—in a peace treaty—that they are ready to live in peace with Israel and drop all its claims against it. The other is to give up the weapon they have preserved to destroy Israel: the unsettled "refugees." A Palestinian regime cannot sign a peace agreement giving up demand to bring "refugees" to Israel while intending to continue the struggle, as it would face tremendous internal and external opposition to making such a promise. Such an agreement could occur only after the Palestinian regime is able to win a political battle against opposition to the plan to scuttle the "refugee" issue. This internal victory would signify the end of the Palestinian effort to destroy Israel, as it would demonstrate the Palestinians' willingness to move forward and relinquish its historic commitment to eliminating the Jewish state from what it understands to be "Muslim land."
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, says that it is not his responsibility or business to say that Israel is or can be a Jewish state. But Israel is not looking for his blessing of its Jewish character; it is merely looking for a definitive statement that the Palestinians are permanently dropping their argument that Israel cannot be a Jewish state. If Israel were not a Jewish state, it could not do anything for Jews or the Jewish religion that it would not do for other citizens of the state. In addition, Israel is seeking assurances that the Palestinians accept a Jewish state as a legitimate neighbor with which they can have normal relations and no more than an intellectual objection. This would undermine other countries arguing against Israel's right to have a Jewish character.
[. . . ] The big problem with interim agreements, which are short of full peace treaties, is that Israel is left with big security problems. As long as the conflict continues, the concessions Israel would make are smaller than they would be for real peace. This exposes the folly of recent efforts to try to reach agreement about security and borders before discussing "refugees" and the end of the conflict. If the "refugees" are resettled outside Israel and there is agreement to end the conflict, Israel has smaller security needs and can afford to me more forthcoming about borders.
The common view is that the "refugee" issues is the most difficult to settle and therefore should be left to the end of the negotiations. But "refugees" are not a normal negotiating issue—the "refugee" issue determines the nature and purpose of the negotiations. If the Palestinians are ready to resettle the "refugees" elsewhere, then the negotiations are about peace; if the Palestinians expect large numbers of them to go to Israel, the negotiations are about the destruction of Israel. How can negotiations be conducted if it isn't know whether they are about peace or about the destruction of Israel?
The basic problem for negotiations for less than peace is that there is nothing substantial that the Palestinians want except for concessions that would reduce Israel's ability to survive and defend itself.