A commitment to peace has been a central goal of every Israeli government. While Israeli efforts aimed at attaining peace have resulted in the conclusion of peace treaties with both Egypt and Jordan, Israel's endeavors to achieve an equitable negotiated peace agreement with its Palestinian neighbors have been repeatedly rebuffed by the Palestinian leadership.
The most recent example of this enigmatic pattern of Palestinian behavior is the refusal by the Palestinians to even renew peace negotiations with the new Israeli government since the Israeli elections in early 2009.
The consistent rejection by Palestinians of Israeli peace initiatives and its current refusal to negotiate leaves Israel questioning whether its neighbors are in fact committed to peace.
Peace initiatives of the new Israeli government(April 2009 - the present)
Since its inauguration in April 2009, the present Israeli Government has sought ways to re-engage the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in peace negotiations, which were unilaterally suspended by the Palestinians following Israeli elections.
1. Two states for two peoples
In a speech given at Bar-Ilan University on June 14, 2009, PM Netanyahu clearly stated his acceptance of a Palestinian nation-state, living alongside a Jewish nation-state, in peace and security. In his speech, the PM made clear that a Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized so as not to endanger Israel's security. The PM called for the PA to begin negotiations immediately and without conditions in order to realize the vision of two states for two peoples.
International praise: World leaders praised this significant Israeli step.
- The American administration welcomed the speech, calling it "an important step." (White House website, 14 Jun 2009)
- Similar sentiment was expressed by Bernard Kouchner, French foreign minister (AFP, 15 Jun 2009).
Palestinian rejection: Netanyahu's speech was rejected by the Palestinians.
- Saeb Erekat, Senior Palestinian Negotiator stated that: "The peace process has been moving at the speed of a tortoise. Tonight, Netanyahu has flipped it over on its back."(Al-Jazeera TV, 14 Jun 2009)
- Similarly, PA Spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah, stated: "Netanyahu’s remarks have sabotaged all initiatives, paralysed all efforts being made." (Jerusalem Post, 14 Jun 2009)
- Ahmed Bahar, acting chairman of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said that the speech proved that "'resistance' [i.e. terrorism] was the only way for Palestinians to receive the rights they deserved." (Al-Intiqad, 15 Jun 2009)
- Following the speech, the sixth Fatah Conference, resolved to "totally reject recognition of Israel as a Jewish state", to "adopt all legitimate forms of struggle" against Israel, and "to be creative in finding new forms of struggle and resistance." (Fatah Political Program, al-Ayyam, 11 Aug 2009)
Despite these repeated rejections, PM Netanyahu has specifically reiterated his call for peace with the Palestinians several times since June. PM Netanyahu is yet to receive a positive response from the Palestinian Authority.
2. Israeli initiatives to improve the political climate vs. Palestinian delegitimization
Recognizing that calls for a Palestinian state are necessary, but not sufficient, for the realization of peace, extensive measures have been implemented by the current Israeli government in order to improve the political climate in the region, and to create facts on the ground which advance reconciliation.
The steps that Israel has taken include measures to enhance freedom of movement both within the West Bank, and between the West Bank and Israel. These moves not only improve the quality of life of Palestinian civilians, but also promote economic development. These measures have contributed to the impressive and encouraging World Bank statistics that show an 8% annual growth in the West Bank economy, and the projection by Quartet Representative Tony Blair in an interview with the New York Times of double digit annual rates of growth.
In addition, recognizing the ease with which terror activities can torpedo progress on the ground and in the negotiating room, and can result in increased security restrictions in Palestinian areas, Israel has taken steps to promote security cooperation with the Palestinians.
Although life in the West Bank has improved significantly as a result of these combined Israeli efforts, Palestinian leaders continue to pursue an international campaign to delegitimize Israel, hurt its economy, and undermine its ability to defend itself.
The measures taken by the Israeli government to enhance freedom of movement within the West Bank and between the West Bank and Israel include:
In addition, in order to further ease restrictions, and still preclude, to the extent possible, disruptions of the peace process by terrorist elements, Israel has closely cooperated with the PA in building the capacity of the Palestinian civil security forces and in improving coordination between the Israeli and Palestinian security services.
For example since 2008 there has been intensive ongoing coordination IDF and the Palestinian Police Forces; and, Israel has worked closely with U.S. General Dayton and his team in their efforts to organize, train and upgrade the PA's National Security Forces battalions.
Despite Israeli confidence building measures, the PA has orchestrated a campaign in international fora to delegitimize Israel and undermine its economy and security. For example, the PA is a driving force behind the establishment of the politically motivated Goldstone Mission by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), and has led the campaign to implement its one-sided conclusions both in the HRC (16 Oct 2009), and the UNGA (5 Nov 2009), in order to delegitimize the actions taken by Israel to protect its citizens.
Simultaneously, Palestinian groups are leading campaigns to arrest Israeli leaders abroad through the abuse of 'universal jurisdiction' clauses - the latest such incident being the arrest warrant issued in the UK (14 Dec 2009) against former FM Livni.
Moreover, the PA is leading a political initiative aimed to foster support in the UN Security Council for the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, thus allowing the Palestinians to both bypass negotiations and unilaterally dictate its position regarding future borders.
A further international campaign involves introducing PA-sponsored resolutions condemning Israel at UN professional bodies such as the Commission on the Status of Women and the World Health Organization, where no other nation is singled out for criticism.
The PA is also leading an international effort to boycott, divest and sanction Israel. Indeed, at the sixth Fatah Conference a platform was adopted calling "to boycott the Israeli products inside the territories and abroad through popular moves... and work to escalate an international campaign towards boycotting Israel and its products and its institutions." (Fatah Political Program, al-Ayyam, 11 Aug 2009)
3. Israeli restraint of settlement activity
On November 25, 2009, the Israeli government announced an unprecedented ten month moratorium on new residential housing construction in the West Bank, which PM Netanyahu described as a step "designed to encourage the resumption of peace talks" and as "an opportunity to move forward in the path of peace."
- The Israeli move was welcomed by the US. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that the decision was a "helpful move toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,"(State Dept. website 25 Nov 2009).
- The US special envoy for Mideast peace, former Senator George Mitchell, also welcomed the move, stating stated that "it is more than any Israeli government has done before and can help movement toward agreement between the parties," (State Dept. Website 25 Nov 2009)
- Similar sentiment was expressed by France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who welcomed the move and called it a "step in the right direction." (EJPress, 26 Nov 2009)
- Palestinian spokesmen rejected the moratorium even before the official Israeli announcement (Fox News, 25 Nov 2009).
- The Fatah Central Committee claimed that PM Netanyahu was trying to avoid peace, stated that the Israeli decision showed Netanyahu was: "continuing to avoid the peace process and ignore all opportunities to achieve peace," (Jerusalem Post, 26 Nov 2009)
Consistent Palestinian rejection of Israeli initiatives
The Palestinians rejections of PM Netanyahu's many initiatives in pursuit of peace are not unique: they are just the latest in a string of Palestinian rejections of Israeli peace initiatives in the past decade.
Oslo (1993): The Oslo Accords constituted a series of interim agreements, intended to bring peace between Israel and her Palestinian neighbors.
US President Clinton referred to Oslo as "the peace of the brave" (BBC, September 13, 1993).
The Palestinians fundamentally breached their obligations under the Oslo Accords, responding to the Israeli implementation of Oslo with a wave of suicide terrorism in Israel's cities.
Camp David: In 2000, at Camp David, then Israeli PM Ehud Barak offered PA Chairman Arafat a series of far-reaching Israeli concessions as part of a comprehensive peace offer. In exchange, Arafat was asked to put an end to the conflict.
Then U.S. President Bill Clinton described PM Barak's actions as "courageous".
The Palestinians rejected the Israeli offer out-of-hand - no counter-offer was even made. In response to the Israeli offer of peace, the PA launched (Sept 2000) a pre-planned wave of violence, known as the Second Intifada, and characterized by unprecedented terrorist attacks killing 1,184 Israelis.
Disengagement: The Israeli government, under PM Sharon advanced a plan to disengage Israeli forces and remove settlements from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. The plan was implemented in August 2005. Israel saw the disengagement as an initiative towards peace.
- US President Bush praised The Israeli people for their "courageous and painful step" and stated: "now that Israel has withdrawn, the way forward is clear. The Palestinians must show the world that they will fight terrorism and govern in a peaceful way." (Radio Address, August 27, 2005)
- UK PM Tony Blar called the disengagement a "historic step," stating: "I would like to reiterate the British government's full support. I greatly admire the courage with which you have developed and implemented this policy. I believe you are right to see disengagement as an historic opportunity to pursue a better future for Israelis and Palestinians." (Letter from Blair to PM Sharon, August 16, 2005)
- Similar praise emanated from the U.N., Turkey, Morocco, Italy, South Africa and Norway.
Despite Israel's disengagement, Palestinians continued to fire rockets on Israel from the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, rather than using disengagement as an opportunity to achieve peace, the Palestinians elected the Iran-backed terrorist group Hamas to power. In June 2007, Hamas seized full control of the Gaza Strip in a violent coup. Under Hamas, the constant barrage of rocket fire on Israel's southern communities increased dramatically with over 10,000 rockets and mortar shells fired at Israeli populated areas by Hamas and other terror groups.
2008: Israeli PM Ehud Olmert made PA President Abbas a sweeping and unprecedented peace offer.
Abbas rejected the offers and explained to the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl that he had rejected Olmert's proposals because "the gaps were too wide," Abbas continued: " l will wait for Israel to freeze settlements…until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality…the people are living a normal life." (Washington Post, May 2009)
Israel has achieved negotiated peace agreements, which have turned previous avowed enemies, such as Jordan and Egypt, into peace partners. These agreements were made possible by the courageous leadership of Anwar Sadat and King Hussein, who prepared their people for peace, and made the compromises necessary to achieve peace at the negotiating table. The Palestinians, however, expect somehow to achieve peace, solely on their own terms, without even sitting down to talk.
Israel's current government has already demonstrated, in word and in deed, its commitment to advance peace and, like all Israeli governments in the past, is willing to make the compromises needed to reach that peace. Yet the Palestinians refuse to compromise or even to negotiate. It would be a tragedy if the Palestinian leadership once again choose the "all or nothing" approach and reject the possibility of forging an historic peace agreement.