MIDEAST PEACE TALKS

Israelis, Palestinians try again to give peace a chance

 
 
DROMI
DROMI

dromi@mishkenot.org.il

When negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians resume in Washington, both delegations can save a lot time on making preparations, especially on speeches and opening remarks. Why work day and night and agonize over the right wording and nuances, when everything has already been said?

The Israeli representative, for example, can pick up a piece of paper from the archive and read as follows: “Our Palestinian partners in peace, we feel that we can work together with you. We have been empowered to continue to change the course of history and to follow in the direction of our two leaders, who make the historical decisions. We hear the call of our peoples and the order of our children: Put an end forever to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and build good relations between neighbors, living apart, differing in character, history and aspirations, yet destined to dwell side by side.”

His Palestinian counterpart can respond with the following words: “We will spare no effort and will work diligently and tirelessly to ensure that these new negotiations achieve their goals and objectives in dealing with all of the issues: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, border security, water, as well as the release of all our prisoners — in order to achieve peace. The people of our area are looking for peace that achieves freedom, independence and justice to the Palestinian people in their country and in their homeland and in the diaspora — our people who have endured decades of longstanding suffering.”

As a matter of fact, the Israeli speech was actually delivered on May 5, 1996, by then-Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry Uri Savir, at the opening of the Taba negotiations. The Palestinian one was given on September 1, 2010, by Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), president of the Palestinian Authority, when he met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington. Of course, both sides can choose from a multitude of similar speeches, given at countless negotiations in between.

Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, who has just been appointed by the Obama administration as the chief mediator between the Israelis and the Palestinians, can also save himself the trouble of preparing opening remarks. He can just browse through his files and dig up something he said on Dec. 22, 1997, when he was assistant secretary of State for Near East affairs during the Clinton administration: “There is still a lot of hard work to be done, but the United States, the president and the secretary of State, remain committed to moving this process ahead as quickly as possible so we can achieve an agreement and start final status talks as soon as possible.”

This sense of déjà vu can explain a lot of the cynicism that accompanies the announcement on Secretary of State John Kerry’s success in jump-starting the stalled peace process. Israelis and Palestinians have already seen and heard everything. What makes this new round different than the previous ones?

It has always been my belief that with all the fine words negotiating partners might use on the merits of peace, real peace between Arabs and Israelis will only happen when both sides come to the conclusion that they have exhausted all other options. In other words, that peace was their best choice to promote their national interests. Egypt, Israel’s greatest enemy for decades, made peace with Israel only after realizing that Israel cannot be defeated by military force. Israelis, on the other hand, gave Sinai back to Egypt, something they had been reluctant to do before, only after the Yom Kippur War taught them the heavy toll of stagnation.

People in Israel should really salute the determination of Secretary Kerry in particular, and of all American administrations since the Six-Day War in general, for never giving up hope of brokering peace in this region. However, no American mediation and goodwill, or even pressure, for that matter, can possibly substitute for a genuine decision by the leaders of both sides to make peace.

So again, what’s new in this round? Have the Israeli and Palestinian leaders really reached that crucial point?

Some of my friends maintain that true peace will only be possible when the two parties reach the point of mutual exhaustion. I hate this conclusion, because it means more bloodshed. Short of that, however, is there something that can convince Israelis and Palestinians that peace — with all the painful compromises and risks involved — is their preferred alternative?

I think that there is. On the Palestinian side: the realization that sooner than later, they might be declared a failed state, and that they will forever be doomed to fight for their sovereignty and never get it (see the case of the Kurds in the Middle East).

On the Israeli side: the growing awareness that every year of stagnation moves us closer to a bi-national state, where the Jewish and/or democratic nature of the state might be compromised.

So thank you, Mr. Kerry, and welcome again, Mr. Indyk. You might be surprised to find the two parties riper than ever. This time, I, for one am holding my breath.

Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem.

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