Netanyahu and Abbas must put their heads together
No matter what the UN says, direct talks, in which each sides makes excruciating compromises, are the only route to a Palestinian state
“Oom-shmoom” said the Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, speaking about the UN in the 1950s. (Oom is the Hebrew abbreviation for United Nations.) Using more diplomatic language appropriate to a US Secretary of State, Susan Rice said much the same thing yesterday after the UNGA voted to upgrade the status of Palestine to a non-member observer state:
“There simply are no short cuts. Long after the votes have been cast, it is the Palestinians and the Israelis who must still talk to each other – and listen to each other – and find a way to live side by side in the land they share."
“The prospects of a durable peace,” an angry Rice pointed out, “have only receded.” Not least because of the unhinged and hate-filled speech made by Palestinian President Abbas from the UN podium. He began with libel, accusing Israel of being a “racist state” engaged in “ethnic cleansing” and ended with incitement, appealing to the UN to “prevent the occurrence of a new Nakba in the Holy Land!”
And yet wise heads will now resist the temptation to respond in anger – righteous as it would be – to Abbas. They will choose to note that there was another President Abbas on display at the UN podium yesterday, and they will hold him to the better words he sandwiched between his libel and his incitement.
Abbas promised that the Palestinians “do not seek to delegitimize an existing State – that is Israel; but rather to assert the State that must be realized – that is Palestine.” Israel – who accepted the principle of two states for two peoples 65 years ago to the day and has been waiting for the Palestinians to do the same ever since – will also welcome Abbas’s statement that “We realize that ultimately the two peoples must live and coexist, each in their respective State, in the Holy Land. Further, we realize that progress towards making peace is through negotiations between the PLO and Israel.”
But the facts are these: Israel accepted two states for two peoples in 1937, 1947, and proposed the same at Camp David in 2000 and Annapolis in 2007-8. The Palestinians said no each time, and made no counter offer. Israel has long made it clear that it can meet the Palestinians territorial needs when the Palestinians agree to meet Israel’s existential needs. That means two things.
First: security. Withdrawal from both Lebanon and Gaza led to Iranian terror bases on Israel’s borders; terrible, but a repeat of this in the West Bank with rockets looming over the population centres of Israel’s ‘narrow waist’ is simply non-negotiable.
Second: Palestinian acceptance of Israel as the Jewish homeland, and that means Palestinian refugees must return to the new Palestinian state and not to Israel and the solemn end of claims.
Where do we go from here?
Though you’d never know it from Abbas’s playing to the gallery yesterday, Israel and the PA have actually been cooperating in recent months to stave off a severe Palestinian financial crisis. Israel has streamlined the collection of tax revenues for the Palestinians, backed the development of Palestinian offshore gas, and even rushed tax revenues to Abbas ahead of schedule to help the Palestinians manage cash shortfalls.
Israelis recognise the continuation of the bottom-up state building project led by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to be in Israel’s interests. It has created a relatively calm situation in the West Bank, keeping Hamas at bay there and reducing security threats to Israel.
This quiet cooperation tells us what real progress might now look like. There is an urgent need to de-escalate tensions, commit not to take steps which antagonise the other, and, in partnership with the international community, help the Palestinian state building programme in the West Bank.
A package of Israeli incremental measures – everything should be up for discussion, from giving the Palestinians wider opportunity for development in parts of the West Bank currently under full Israeli control (Area C) to the establishment of a Palestinian state in interim borders – is possible. This kind of positive bottom-up progress which benefits both sides, not grandstanding in New York, will create a more promising context for resuming final status talks.
And make no mistake, whatever the “Oom” says, those direct talks, in which each sides makes excruciating compromises, are the only route to a Palestinian state.
Dermot Kehoe is Chief Executive of BICOM
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