The following is an open letter to Mr. Martin Indyk, former US special envoy to the Middle East and former US ambassador to Israel.
Dear Mr. Indyk:
You have devoted a good part of your life working to bring peace to Israel and her neighbors, including the Palestinians. No one can doubt your sincerity. But, your recent statements at the Haaretz peace conference in Tel Aviv seem to me to be entirely disconnected to the real, unavoidable facts on the ground.
You have been quoted as saying that Pres. Abbas, who is currently in the tenth year of what was supposed to be a four-year term, “could become a partner tomorrow for the deal [Israel would] like to make if there was a settlement freeze,” and also that, “I can tell you, from personal experience, they [the settlements] are the problem.” This is very strong language, indeed: Israeli settlement-building activity is apparently the only obstacle to a full-fledged peace agreement with the PA. It is precisely this language that seems to me to be unrelated to all the most relevant facts.
Let us assume for the moment that Israel were indeed to enter into a “settlement freeze,” however that vague term is defined. What next? According to you, what is next is a peace deal between the government of Israel and the PA. That deal would provide, first and foremost, for a cessation of all hostilities between the two parties. And then, of course, there would have to a settling of borders, resolution of the ‘right of return’ of Palestinians to Israel, an agreement as to control of Jerusalem and its holy sites, water and air rights, the military force to be mustered by the new state, etc. But, first of all, there would have to be a cessation of hostilities. What is a peace agreement, after all, if it doesn’t usher in peace?
And so the question arises: would Pres. Abbas be able to enforce on the Palestinian side the promise to end hostilities? No serious person can doubt that the answer is ‘no’. The plain, unhappy fact is that Mr. Abbas is a ‘leader’ who does not lead that one portion of his population—the Islamist terrorist goups, starting with Hamas and including all the numerous other groups dedicated to the destruction of Israel—whose cooperation would be vital to a genuine cessation of hostilities. The men (and women) with the guns—and the knives, the rockets, the explosive vests, and the underground tunnels—are the members of Islamist terrorist groups, and they view Mr. Abbas as their rival and enemy, not as their leader.
History teaches us, as clearly as it teaches anything, that Mr. Abbas has no influence over Hamas at all. In 2007, as you know as well as anyone Mr. Indyk, Hamas violently ejected the PA authority in Gaza, killing numerous PA officers in the process. Since that moment, Mr. Abbas has not set foot in Gaza, no doubt because he fears assassination. The proposed Palestinian state would include East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, yet the putative ‘president’ of that state cannot enter, much less assert his authority over, Gaza. And it is your honest belief that this ‘president’ is the man who, immediately upon the inception of a settlement freeze, will become Israel’s true partner for peace?
If good will were all it took to bring peace to the Israelis and Palestinians, then all that would be necessary would be for any Palestinian—whether a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker—to sit down with PM Netanyahu and sign a paper headed “Peace Agreement between Israel and Palestine”. But that obviously would be ridiculous, because not just any Palestinian would be able to exercise true political power over all the Palestinians. But the same thing could be said of Mr. Abbas. Regardless of whether or not he subjectively desires to reach a deal with Israel (and reasonable minds could differ, I think, on that matter), he has no political power over the key element of the Palestinian population that would have to follow his lead if peace is actually to be achieved. That is, Mr. Abbas has no political power over the Islamist terrorists, and he and his followers have never displayed an ability or willingness to use the kind of military power that would be necessary to bring those terrorists to heel.
The Islamist terrorists believe they have a religious obligation to destroy the ‘Zionist entity’ and to establish an Islamic state in the territory that was once belonged to Israel. However misguided, distorted or irrational they may seem to us, one cannot doubt the sincerity of their religious beliefs. Those beliefs will not be altered in the slightest if Mr. Abbas waves in the air a ‘peace agreement’ signed by himself for the PA and PM Netanyahu for Israel. Hamas and its cohorts may make noises about a hudna or truce, but that of course is the exact opposite of a permanent cessation of hostilities. Moreover, a hudna would leave to the terrorists the privilege of building up their strength and then attacking in force at any opportune moment. The issue boils down to this: why would Israel enter into a peace agreement that would not at all bring peace? Such an agreement would merely allow the terrorists to grow stronger and then to strike at a time of their own choosing.
So, Mr. Indyk, you say that a settlement freeze is the key to opening a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. With respect, I think you are mistaken. Regardless of the subjective desire Mr. Abbas and the PA may (or may not) have to enter into a peace agreement with Israel, there can be no true, genuine peace agreement until the Islamist terrorist groups are rendered harmless and thus incapable of continuing their attacks on Israel. Therefore, Mr. Abbas and the PA cannot be true partners for peace unless and until they break the power of the Islamist terrorists. In my opinion, that would be the key to opening a true peace agreement.