Last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ’75 addressed a joint session of Congress, almost a week after President Obama delivered a major policy speech on the Middle East to the U.S. State Department. Both men outlined bold and unprecedented plans for ensuring security and peace in the region and deserve commendation for their strong support of a sincere and lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. However, Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as the Jewish state, Fatah’s reconciliation with Hamas, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ rejection of direct negotiations with Israel pose serious threats to the peace process.
After a warm welcome, Netanyahu outlined a plan for a two-state solution in his speech to Congress. The plan aims to establish a secure Israel as a Jewish state alongside an autonomous and demilitarized Palestinian state. This arrangement would require Israel to give away parts of what it considers the Jewish ancestral homeland to guarantee that the Palestinians receive a viable, sovereign state.
Netanyahu’s offer demonstrates that if the Palestinians are sincerely committed to statehood, their dream can be achieved by grasping Israel’s outreached hand. However, if the Israelis are going to make “painful concessions,” the same must be expected from the Palestinians; both sides need to genuinely compromise for a true end to the conflict.
Unfortunately, there has yet to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace because the Palestinian leaders utterly refuse to accept Israel as the Jewish state. They insist instead on a right of return condition that would flood Israel with millions of Palestinians and demographically destroy the Jewish majority in Israel. This proposition is unacceptable because a two-state solution means the existence of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian state, not the destruction of one at the expense of the other.
Thankfully, both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have firmly stressed the importance of preserving Israel as the Jewish homeland, as it has been for the past 3,000 years. The Palestinians need to stop insisting on a right of return to Israel, especially as a negotiating precondition; a peace contingent on a right of return will never materialize. Mutual recognition is essential for a long-lasting peace, and the global community should embrace this truth.
Moreover, just as a Palestinian right of return to Israel is not viable, neither is negotiation with the terrorist group Hamas. Fatah recently reconciled with Hamas under the premise of Palestinian unity, but this action will only delay the necessary negotiations with Israel. Just as it would be foolish for America to sit down at the negotiating table with al-Qaida, it is also futile for Israel to negotiate with a group determined to destroy it and whose charter explicitly says, “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” The purpose of a Palestinian state should be ending the Palestinian refugee problem by creating a successful and independent country where Palestinians can thrive, not establishing another imminent threat on Israel’s border under the thin veneer of statehood. Therefore, direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations are needed with the peaceful elements of the Palestinian Authority — not Hamas.
Despite Israel’s call for direct negotiations, Abbas refuses to return to the table; he dismissively cites preconditions that are not being met by Israel. As an alternative, he is pursuing a unilateral appearance at the United Nations to appeal for recognition of Palestinian statehood based on the 1967 borders. It is an attempt to globally pressure Israel and to essentially impose a peace resolution that would neglect Israel’s border security. It is clear that what Abbas is planning at the U.N. is merely a stunt and will not actually change the situation on the ground; peace is not something that can be imposed, forced, or mandated. Fortunately, President Obama stated that the U.S. would veto such a resolution and is encouraging European cohorts to do likewise.
Despite these challenges, it is not too late to achieve peace. Abbas can still terminate the reconciliation with Hamas and forgo an attempt at action by the United Nations. If Abbas wants serious peace and to genuinely galvanize emerging Palestinian nationalism, then he should toss aside his preconditions, accept Israel as the Jewish state, and come to the bargaining table. Give and take is an intrinsic part of the negotiation process, which means that concessions need to be made and that not every demand can be met. With this necessity internalized and understood, a practical agreement can be implemented on the ground and a real Israeli-Palestinian peace can be forged.