Why I Support the Prime Minister’s Statement in Poland

During Prime Minister Netanyhu’s current visit to Poland, a joint Israeli-Polish statement read, “Both governments agree on the urgent need for progress towards a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, through direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions. Unilateral steps by either party are counterproductive to achieving a sustainable, lasting peace.” This statement has caused a stir within Israel, primarily due to its misinterpretation.

The statement deals with two issues: first, the need to progress towards a two-state solution, and second, the need to avoid unilateral steps. I believe that this statement was both wise and intelligent.

Regarding the first statement, there can be no doubt that the establishment of a Palestinian state is an issue of great important to Israel and to the international community. There is a need to define the nature of this state, under the current circumstances of a divided Palestinian leadership. Would the state only be in the West Bank or also in Gaza? What would the political and geographical link be between the two areas and the two political powers, Fatah and Hamas? How would Arab-Israelis who seek autonomy and define themselves as Palestinian be connected to this state? What would be the status of the Palestinian citizens of Jordan? These are very important and difficult questions, to which nor Israel nor the international community has received adequate answers. There is an impression that the Palestinians do not want to deal with these questions.

The second issue dealt with in the joint statement claims that unilateral activities damage the chances to reach peace. This is a very brave and accurate statement, as in recent years, each side has engaged in unilateral activities which have prevented the advancement of peace. The Palestinians unilateral approach to the United Nations to be recognized as a state, in opposition to previously signed agreements, caused a significant step backwards in attempts to build trust and reach a negotiated solution. With such activities taking place, it became impossible to engage in intimate and sensitive negotiations. On the Israeli side, the unilateral initiative to disengage from the Gaza Strip caused great damage towards reaching peace. As the step was unilateral in nature, it did not include any mechanism of reciprocity or mutuality to build trust or cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, but only empowered the radical elements in Gaza. Moreover, it created a great scar in Israeli society, resulting in a new refugee problem, which has yet to be solved. The example of Gaza has shown how problematic unilateralism can be in attempting to reach a peaceful solution, as well as illustrating why the creation of new refugee problems must be avoided in attempting to arrive at a peaceful solution.

In summary, I believe that the joint statement issued in Poland showed significant wisdom, and we should be wary of giving such a statement interpretations that do not stay true to the intended text.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center