This week, both the Palestinian and the Israeli leadership have embarrassed themselves. With Kerry racking up more frequent flier miles than a flight attendant, with incredible efforts made to bridge gaps and provide support for our regional problems, neither side has shown the strength of leadership to make significant concessions in the interest of peace.
Despite the differences between the two, both the Palestinian Authority and Israel have a strange relationship with public relations. Each prides itself as being media savvy, capable of conducting campaigns and conveying messages. Each has incredible international support, both grassroots and formalized. Each has spin-doctors and spokespeople, websites and social media supporters. Heck, I was one. And even for those who were inside, it’s blatantly obvious:
Neither side has a clue.
The Israeli-Palestinian problem is OUR problem. With both countries vying for international legitimacy, isn’t the first step to start acting like a country? Strong leadership is about making tough decisions, taking guarded risks and leaving the country better than it was when you got there.
One month ago, during one of the inevitable flare-ups with Gaza, a farmer from a southern community in Israel was interviewed on public radio. As a parting question, he was asked what he would like to tell the Israeli security cabinet. I cringed, knowing that the farmer was being lobbed an easy pitch. But his response was a simple “I trust the Israeli decision-makers to do what’s right.”
This is a rare response in any country, particularly in Israel. But the first step towards instilling similar confidence across the region would be both leaders realizing that the entire world is looking at them and waiting. Waiting for them to grow up, to take responsiblity for a conflict that both sides started, that both sides are perpetuating and that both sides must end.
But both sides are hiding behind a flurry of distractions.
Prisoners? If Israel’s security can afford to release prisoners, by all means, release them. Yes, they are terrorists. Yes, statistics show that they will return to their ways. But Israel has shown in the past that we could contain the threat of released terrorists, let them go. And if Israel made a public commitment to release them, honor that.
Pollard? These negotiations rely on creating trust between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Forcing the generous benefactor of the negotiations to make concessions is ancillary, unnecessary and generates bad-will.
As for the Palestinian Authority, it would behoove their leadership to recognize that negotiations need to take place between two willing parties. Neither Israel nor the United States can force the Palestinians into negotiations. Honest negotiations cannot and will not proceed if the PA is dependent on constituent validation at every junction. And threatening to abandon negotiations at every corner is childish at best.
Two nations are involved in this conflict. Two nations are looking towards their leaders and hoping that they will set aside pre-conditions, that they will approach negotiations in good faith. Looking to the outside world for solutions will not work. It didn’t work for Crimea or Syria. It hasn’t worked for us for over half a century.
There’s pragmatic backing for this too. If either the Palestinian or the Israeli leadership shows a genuine and mature willingness to negotiate in good faith, they will push the other side into a corner, forcing them to either negotiate or expose themselves as the party that doomed negotiations.
The current status quo is untenable and only negotiations can change that. A fitting starting point for the negotiations, and let’s be honest – they still haven’t started – is to realize that when it comes to global willingness to intervene, we share opportunities and risks. No one else is going to make these negotiations successful.
This one is on us.