As the tenuous relationship between Israel and the USA is again in the news, focus is directed on how the peace process could possibly be revived, and with it, the old chestnut of Israel being “at the table ready to negotiate”, no matter what the Palestinians’ position. This position of being prepared to negotiate without preconditions has been a bedrock of Israeli policy for decades. But it’s time this is challenged.
For Israel, being surrounded by enemies and regularly under threat means the desire for peace always runs high. Being prepared to negotiate without preconditions says two things: (a) we want peace so badly that we are always ready to discuss it, and (b) that we are taking the moral high ground with the expectation that other parties will do likewise. If we are prepared to negotiate without preconditions, the other party ought do the same.
But has this worked for Israel? I suggest not. The Palestinians have never reciprocated. They have remained obstinate, and regularly demanded concessions from Israel just for the privilege of sitting at the negotiating table together. And guess what? Israel has made those concessions time and again. Israel has made offers time and again. But the Palestinian response has always been “no” (or worse). Israel’s generosity both in coming to the negotiating table, and in the negotiations itself has led to the line continuing to shift away from Israel’s favour.
Indeed, this position has actually hurt Israel far more than that. By being soft and silent on preconditions for negotiations when the Palestinians have kept demanding them, they have allowed the Palestinians to be the only voice talking about the reasons for the lack of progress towards peace. The “occupation/settlements as a barrier to the peace process” trope has remained largely unchallenged and been accepted as fact, not just by the world, but by many within Israel.This has in turn fed the BDS campaign. In the meantime, the genuine barriers to peace have been ignored and allowed to fester.
How can Israel redress the huge damage this has caused? The starting point is to go very public on its own preconditions to return to negotiations. If the desired outcome is for a Palestinian state that will not quickly turn into yet another terrorist launching pad against Israel, then demands must be made of the Palestinians to engage in meaningful ‘state-building’ in preparation. Further, how can Israel expect to negotiate with Abbas, whose mandate to lead is tenuous at best? He has notched up ten years of a four year term, and is petrified of holding elections because he knows he will lose power.
As preconditions for resuming peace talks, Israel should demand that:
- The Palestinians put an end to cronyism and corruption and meet standards of accountability as to the use of taxes and international aid. Why negotiate about creating a state that has no chance of being a viable one?
- They hold free elections so that Israel can negotiate with someone that actually has the authority to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians.
- They cease teaching hatred to their children. While loving Israelis is certainly not a prerequisite for peace (“you don’t make peace with your friends”), the Palestinian education system perpetuates unrealistic expectations that Israel will be destroyed, which definitely qualifies as a barrier to peace.
- They relinquish the claim for a Palestinian right of return. We all know it’s not going to happen. It’s time to consider more practical options for the disposition of the descendants of 1948 Palestinian refugees.
The “peace process” has made zero or negative progress for decades, so it’s time to end the charade and level the playing field. It is simply not in Israel’s interest to agree to negotiations without their own preconditions.