To break down barriers, Palestinians must negotiate in good faith with Israel over a state of Palestine
Australian Financial Review – 5 July 2017
Those supporting a motion at the upcoming ALP NSW State Conference calling for recognising a Palestinian state argue they are aiming to advance prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Yet an informed look at the current situation would make it clear that premature recognition of “Palestine” as a state would actually have the opposite effect.
The main obstacle to peace over the past two decades has been the Palestinian inability to take yes for an answer, as exemplified by the failure to accept generous Israeli offers of statehood in 2000, 2001 and 2008, and by the terrorism that erupted after Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005.
In 2009, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu instituted a 10-month near total moratorium on building of houses in settlements as a confidence-building measure to encourage negotiations. However, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas refused to talk for the first nine months, and then only wanted to talk about extending the moratorium.
In 2013-14, Netanyahu tried again. This time, as a confidence-building measure, he agreed to progressively release groups of Palestinians imprisoned for murdering Israelis. Unfortunately, the talks did not prove fruitful. US mediator Martin Indyk, has said of Netanyahu, “I saw him sweating bullets to find a way to reach an agreement”. He added: “We tried to get [Abbas] to the zone of possible agreement but we were surprised to learn he had shut down. We were ready to go beyond policy positions the US had taken on the core issues to bridge the gaps … and he didn’t answer us.”
Since his re-election in 2015 Netanyahu has on several occasions reaffirmed his support for a Palestinian state and offered to meet and negotiate anywhere, at any time, without preconditions. Abbas has failed to take up this offer.
This Palestinian intransigence appears to be based on an unwillingness to offer a genuine acceptance of Israel’s right to exist – which any peace deal would and should require. This would include an undertaking that there would be no further claims against Israel, and that there would be no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants to Israel. Flooding Israel with 5 million hostile descendants of refugees is simply incompatible with a genuine two-state peace.
Since 2014, the Palestinians have pursued a strategy of using various international organisations from the UN down to gain recognition of their state from as many governments and bodies as possible. In this way, they hope to avoid having to make the compromises necessary for genuine peace, and to be awarded their state in a way that enables them to continue their conflict with Israel, including demanding the “right of return”. This is a recipe not for peace, but for worsening conflict.
Meanwhile the PA has continued to incite and encourage terrorism against Israel – through overt calls for violence, leading to the spate of car and knife attacks that have seen more than 40 Israelis killed since late 2015 and hundreds of others wounded – by awarding generous lifetime pensions to terrorists and their families, and by naming streets, facilities and even children’s soccer tournaments after terrorists.
Supporting unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state just rewards and encourages these destructive Palestinian tactics. As long as they believe they just need to keep doing more of the same to achieve a state without any concessions to Israel’s right to exist in peace, they will continue to do so. Peace requires the international community to make it very clear to the Palestinian leadership that they must cease their intransigence and support for terrorism if they wish to advance their cause (if that is indeed a state alongside, rather than one instead of Israel) – while also making it clear to Israel that it will be supported as long as it continues to offer a genuine two-state resolution.
Those favouring recognition of “Palestine” often cite Israeli settlements as the reason, claiming Palestine must be recognised now because continued settlement expansion will soon make a Palestinian state impossible to achieve. While settlements are certainly an important issue, this claim is just not true.
Since 2003, no new settlements have been established and existing settlements have not been permitted to expand their current geographic boundaries. Even Palestinian leaders admit settlements take up less than 2 per cent of the West Bank – and again, that proportion is not growing. Furthermore, most population growth has been within settlements it is generally accepted Israel will keep in exchange for land swaps in any peace agreement. Settlements certainly did not prevent generous Israeli offers of Palestinian statehood in 2000-01 and 2008, which involved evacuating many outlying settlements.
Those who genuinely have the best interests of the Palestinians at heart should be urging them to negotiate in good faith with Israel, and to genuinely accept Israel’s right to exist – which is the only way they can achieve their state – not rewarding then for doing the opposite.
Dr Colin Rubenstein AM is executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC). Previously, he taught Middle East politics at Monash University for many years.