Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wanted: A responsible peace process

Wanted: A responsible peace process

Zalman Shoval

A recent news article reported that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that now that Kadima has joined the coalition, there is no excuse for peace talks with the Palestinians to remain stalled. One can infer from this that Washington believes the Israeli government is at fault for the lack of progress up until now.

Of course, we don’t know if the quote that was reported exactly reflects the tone of their discussion, but a Washington Post article by columnist Fareed Zakaria, known for his strong ties to the U.S. administration, has hinted at a similar message: Israel is stronger than ever, both in its domestic political situation and militarily. Therefore, if Netanyahu wants to "become a truly great figure in Israeli history" he must take "bolder steps toward resolution" and solve the Palestinian problem.
One can surmise then that not only is the U.S. administration ignoring the real reasons why negotiations are deadlocked between Israel and the Palestinians, but that it intends, if President Barack Obama remains in power after elections in November, to return to the diplomatic policy that characterized it at the beginning of its first term. In other words, it intends to pressure Israel (despite Obama's subsequent admission that this was a mistake).

The Palestinians, moreover, will see this as a golden opportunity to come in from the proverbial diplomatic cold, where they have been since their unilateral appeal to the U.N., against the wishes of the U.S. They will be further encouraged to entrench themselves in positions that have thus far hindered the renewal of talks.

Washington knows the facts: The Palestinian Authority is demanding that Israel concede, ahead of final-status talks and without debate, to its extreme demands onborders and construction beyond the Green Line, including in Jerusalem. The PA views these demands not as issues it can raise during talks but as preconditions for entering into them. It goes without saying that while the Palestinians are listing their demands, they are simultaneously unwilling to consider measures such as revoking their "right of return" claims or even accepting Israel's legitimate request to recognize it as the home of the Jewish people.

Perhaps in order to mask their intransigence, the Palestinians have acquiesced to American pleas to issue a joint statement with Israel that they are committed to the peace process.

The time has come, however, for Washington (as well as some circles in Israel), to remove the guise and understand that the Palestinians' conduct is not tactical but strategic. Meaning, the less desirable thing from their perspective is to enter into peace negotiations that will lead to concessions and compromises from their side as well. They are unwilling or unable to adopt a real strategic policy shift whose repercussions would be hard to gauge both in the Palestinian domestic arena and internationally.

Regardless, it would be a mistake and it would be misleading to bind the government's actions on the Palestinians to seeming considerations about the coalition's "survival." The unity government was established due to legitimate political and national considerations. The coalition agreement between the Likud and Kadima calls for "promoting a responsible peace." This means promoting a real peace process instead of engaging in farcical negotiations or caving in to ultimatums that damage Israel's essential interests, as well as the chances for peace.

This principle guides both Netanyahu and newly appointed Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, and it is safe to assume it guides most of the Israeli public as well.