The stars seemed better aligned now to move peace forward than at any time over the past decade. What is lacking is any real call from the people of Israel and Palestine demanding it.
The Arab League rescued Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama from being boxed into a corner. The onemonth extension granted to the peace process during which they have to find a way back to negotiations provides a little room to breathe and avoids having Obama take the direct fallout from a foreign policy failure prior to the crucial midterm elections on November 2.
The truth is that neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have a strategic alternative to negotiations. Neither side is doing the other side a favor by agreeing to negotiate an end to the conflict. Time is working against the interests of both and neither leadership has the luxury of waiting for a miracle.
Neither side is interested in another round of violence nor wishes to see the economic growth of the past two years erased by confrontations, closures, bombings, death, destruction and despair. There is too much to lose to allow the chance of peace to evade us once again. Netanyahu and Abbas must face the tough task of making tough decisions. This very well may be the last opportunity for achieving a workable, equitable partition of the land that would be the best chance of reaching peace.
The US will continue to try to entice Netanyahu to agree to a settlement freeze extension for another few months and to pressure the Palestinians to stay at the table even without a full freeze.
Netanyahu himself may be convinced by the sweet offers given to him as Abbas also may be, but on both sides, domestic political constraints are far more limiting than one may expect.
IT SEEMS clear that both publics live under the illusion that there is a strategic alternative to negotiations. Both would prefer to flex their muscles than appear to be giving in to pressure or, in this case, agreeing to American enticements that would lead them to compromise on tactical minutia they raised to the level of consequence and principles.
In all honesty, the political behavior of both sides is shameful and the political handling of the issue by the Americans has been riddled with mistakes and miscalculations.
Neither Abbas nor Netanyahu is worthy of being called a leader, nor are the Americans worthy of being called effective mediators.
The Americans, the Quartet and the parties may have to come up with some real alternative to direct negotiations at this point, until they are politically mature enough, or until they manage to come a lot closer to a real agreement on issues of substance. Both sides are certainly considering unilateral options.
There is no doubt that both sides can take steps unilaterally that could either have a positive outcome and lead us closer to peace or alternatively could provoke the next round of violence. Of course, the options being considered are those which will be considered provocations rather than unilateral steps toward peace.
Israel could unilaterally annex settlement blocs. The Palestinians could unilaterally turn to Western states or to the UN to recognize a state in the 1967 borders.
Israel could reestablish checkpoints and roadblocks throughout the territories and Palestinians could once again take up the gun and challenge the authority of the IDF throughout the West Bank.
Unilaterally leading us back onto the road of death and destruction is actually quite easy. It is politically expedient to have someone to blame for all of the problems.
It is easy to restir the pot of violence and extremism. Rebuilding a culture of hate is so much easier than building a culture of peace.
TEN YEARS after the second intifada that took the lives of thousands and left destruction and despair without a single political achievement, we should understand that we must do everything possible to advance what is believed by most of the world to be a real chance for peace. But it seems that neither side will be wise enough to do the right thing.
A popular right-wing Israeli leader who appears to be taking a pragmatic path and the last of the founding fathers of Palestinian nationalism have emerged on the world stage at a the same time. There is an American president committed to peace and willing to devote his political collateral in the process. There is an international community backing a solution which has been proposed and whose price tag is known. The Arab world is anxious to put this conflict into the history books.
There is an economic reality that would bring great benefits to the people of both states and to all of the peoples of the region. There is a shared threat from an emerging regional state aiming to become a nuclear power. The stars seemed better aligned now to move peace forward than at any time in the past decade.
What is absent is any real call from the people of Israel and Palestine demanding their leaders become serious about peace.
We have become so skeptical about the possibility of peace that outside observers cannot understand why the rest of the world seems to want it so much more than those who suffer directly from the lack of it. It seems quite abnormal that the overwhelmingly silent majority of Israelis and Palestinians don’t even seem to care whether or not there will be peace negotiations.
The vocal minorities on both sides clearly support nationalistic options that “feel good” but are dangerous and counterproductive to their real strategic interests.
Real leaders make real hard decisions.
Historic leaders make hard decisions, even if at their time unpopular, because they can see beyond the moment of necessary national ego massage that feels so good but ignores the pain that really needs to be treated.
Netanyahu and Abbas view themselves as historic leaders. Obama has already received his Nobel Peace Prize in advance of making peace. This trio will either prove to be tragic figures of historical insignificance or the masters of their own fate and the heroes of their peoples. We who observe from the sidelines will soon be able to write their epitaphs.
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.