With the Netanyahu right-wing religious government in power in Jerusalem it is clearer than ever that there is no partner for peace in Israel. The amazing thing about this statement is that the world believes that there is no partner in Ramallah. The international community through the mainstream media is confronted with an Israeli peace offensive which presents Netanyahu as the partner pleading with the Palestinians to come to the table while Palestinian President Abbas is portrayed as the refusnik. Isn’t it time to set the record straight?
It is time for the Palestinians to go on the offensive. It is time for the international community and more importantly for the Israeli public to know that the Palestinian people and their leaders are interested in peace with Israel now. It is time for the Israeli public and the international community to understand that the Palestinians have reasonable demands that could be acceptable to most Israelis.
What does the Israeli public know and believe? They know that Netanyahu has spoken peace in every speech he makes. They know that he accepted the two-state solution and recognized Palestinian national rights for a state. They know that Netanyahu continuously speaks about his desire to return to negotiations. They know that Netanyahu says that all issues can be put on the table. They know that the Palestinians demanded a settlement freeze and that Netanyahu agreed and has frozen settlement building for ten months as a good will gesture to the Palestinians. They know that Israel has removed check points and that the Palestinian economy is booming (as a result of that – this is how it is presented in the media).
The Israeli public also knows that the Palestinians refuse to come to the table. They know that the Palestinians have put preconditions on those negotiations. They know that there is a change on the ground for the better and that under the leadership of Salam Fayyad the Palestinian security forces are working in cooperation with Israel. They know and believe that the Palestinians will never recognize the Jewish people’s right to have a state of their own and they interpret this as a fundamental unwillingness to make peace with Israel.
Just listen to the speeches at this year’s Herzliyah conference on the Palestinian issue. One Israeli spokesperson after the other announced that the Palestinians will never be willing to make peace with Israel as the State of the Jewish people.
The Israeli public does not see the fundamental contradiction between Netanyahu’s calls for peace and the continued settlement building, or the contradiction between peace and a united Jerusalem under sole Israeli sovereignty.
If there was an effective peace camp in Israel the job of explaining to the Israel public would be undertaken by them. But there is no effective peace camp in Israel and the Palestinians bear a good deal of responsibility for that (not full responsibility but a fair share of it). In the absence of an effective peace camp and in the interest of advancing Palestinians interests, the Palestinians must go on a peace offensive vis-à-vis the Israeli public and the American Jewish public.
This is not new to the Palestinians – they have done it in the past. This time they need to be a lot more effective, efficient and strategic. They must be willing also to expose their end game, and this may be perceived as a risk, but it is a necessary risk. The Israeli public must be able to hear what are the Palestinians ultimate and final demands that they can live with taking into account what they know they will be able to achieve in negotiations. This is not a bargaining position or a negotiating tactic, it an honest and sincere presentation of how the Palestinians believe the permanent status agreement can look like.
There must be no doubt in the minds of the Israeli public that the problem of making peace is not on the Palestinian side. The Palestinian Authority has made huge strides in implementing the demands of the international community in the Road Map while the government of Israel has not implemented a single demand which they are obligated to do. How is it that the Israeli public does not know this? How can the Palestinians change Israeli public opinion? The Palestinians must understand that without changing Israeli public opinion there will be no chance to change what the government of Israel does.
We had hoped that President Barack Hussein Obama would make a difference. We had hoped that he would put down his own peace proposal and bring the parties to the table to negotiate on that. But this has not happened and looks like it will not happen. Instead it seems that Senator Mitchell is applying pressure mainly on Abu Mazen to return to the negotiations while Israel is continuing to build settlements, to confiscate homes in Sheikh Jarah, to build in Jabel Mukaber, Silwan and elsewhere. Netanyahu declares that he wants peace but his actions speak louder than his words. No, Obama will not come to the rescue. It is up to the Palestinians to do it on their own.
A Palestinian peace offensive is the order of the day. This is what is required. It is the actions of a people who are strong, not weak, not surrendering. It is the plan for a people who hold the higher moral ground. It is the plan for a people who believe that history is on their side and that their claims are just. This is a plan that can work. This is a plan which should be taken and implemented – now is the time.
Originally Published: Al Quds Newspaper (Jerusalem) March 3, 2010 (page 18 – oped page)
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.