When the Israeli government’s temporary building freeze expired Sept. 26, great hopes for a new Middle East peace vanished. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insisted that, for peace talks to go forward, MIT-educated Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reinstate the same building freeze. Squeezed by radical elements stemming from Hamas calling for Israel’s destruction, Abbas seeks concessions from Netanyahu to move the peace process forward. Abbas continuously walks a razor’s edge placating radical elements, especially Hamas that has never accepted, endorsed or signed onto any peace accord in Israel’s 62-year history. Abbas watched his predecessor and founder of the Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser Arafat go to his grave Nov. 11, 2004 without a Palestinian state. With the peace clock ticking, Abbas can’t afford to lose a new chance for peace.
Both Netanyahu and Abbas are squeezed by extremists committed to unending war—a battle that has not gained the Palestinians once inch of land despite promises of destroying the Jewish State. U.S President Barack Obama, his Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her special peace envoy former Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) have all pressed both Netanyahu and Abbas to deliver. All parties know the stiff headwinds, especially the cottage war-making industry that’s committed to perpetual war. Damascus-based Hamas, headed by exiled Khaled Mashaal, is only committed to destroying Israel. Even Gaza-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh refuses to compromise with Abbas’ more conciliatory Palestinian Authority to reconcile Palestinian factions and pursue a unified peace deal. Haniyeh wants no part in Abbas’ peace overtures, discussions and negotiations.
Because of the delicate nature to the peace process, both sides know that any demand can torpedo the White House’s hard work. “If the Palestinian leadership would say unequivocally to its people that it recognizes Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, I will be willing to convene my government and ask for an additional suspension,” Netanyahu said in a speech to the Knesset, Israeli’s parliament. Netanyahu, who holds a most fragile governing coalition with Labor and a host of ultraconservative pro-setter parties, can’t offer enough concessions. He knows that publicly humiliating Palestinians, forcing public statements of recognition, won’t fly with Abbas’ unstable constituency. Expecting demands now or defining both Israel or Palestine serve no one other than the enemies of peace. Both Netanyahu and Abbas need to show restraint and avoid incendiary rhetoric.
Moving the peace process forward requires restraint on both sides, avoiding incendiary public comments that sabotage behind-the-scenes work by Mitchell and other diplomats. When Abbas is urged to get tough with Israel and break off peaces by his friends at the Arab League he should remind himself about Arafat’s plight and the costs of war: Too much suffering and poverty for Palestinians all with promises of redemption and great victory over Israel. Abbas knows the track record of war against Israel. No matter how many missiles and suicide bombers, there’s no progress toward an independent Palestinian state. Hamas, the factions that controls 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, doesn’t want to make peace with Israel. They’re committed to the long-term fantasy of destruction.. Before Abbas heeds his pro-war factions, he needs to consider the consequences.
Netanyahu’s Cabinet didn’t help matters passing a law that requires non-Jewish immigrants to pledge allegiance to the “Jewish and democratic” state of Israel to get citizenship. Where Nentayahu and his right wing Cabinet go wrong failing to define what he means by “Jewish.” Palestinian’s chief negotiator Saeeb Erekat cautioned Netanyahu about “playing games,” trying to define Israel as the “Jewish State.” Nearly 1.5 million Arabs live in Israel, most of whom are Israeli citizens. They’re free to practice their own religions, including Islam, Druze, Maronite, Phalangist and other minor practices like Zoroastrian, etc. Calling Israel a “Jewish State” raises objections to those who seek a clear separation between church and state. If Netanyahu wished to call Israel a “Jewish homeland” perhaps there’d be less objections. All cultures are free to practice their religions in Israel.
Netanyahu and Abbas have to get beyond the counterproductive rhetoric and get back to heavy lifting of quiet behind the scenes diplomacy. Neither side benefits from political posturing, nor to extreme groups or outsiders making unrealistic demands. Netanyahu’s decision to reinstate a building freeze in the West Bank and Jerusalem should come with no strings attached or concessions. Forcing Palestinians into “loyalty oaths” have little practical value other than throwing gasoline on an already volatile situation. “I don’t see the relevance between his obligations under international law and him trying to define the nature of Israel,” said Erekat, urging Netanyahu to stop settlement activity and continue the peace process. Erekat and other senior Palestinian leaders now working with Abbas want to remove the obstacles and complete an independent Palestinian state.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.