My wife is a psychotherapist who practices marital counseling. She is scrupulous about maintaining the confidentiality of her clients, but from time to time she will anonymously make reference to yet another couple who in her opinion should never have wed.
Most of her clients are religious Jews whose observance runs from modern to ultra-Orthodox. Some are suffering in their marriage because their matchmaker was more interested in getting the couple under the canopy than in the welfare of their long term relationship. The broker was mainly seeking to chalk up another success. The matchmaker gets immediate credit and moves on; the couple later gets a therapist and then a divorce.
During their courtship, such that it was, the couple themselves were not comfortable with the direction in which they were moving. Their respective friends warned them that they were walking into a bad situation. But after remaining single for so long the pressure was on. Others who also genuinely cared about them told them that the window of marital opportunity was closing. It was now or a single household solution.
This is not too far an analogy for the circumstances under which Israel and the Palestinians are again talking, the objective of their talks being a signed peace accord, not to be confused with reaching the goal of peace itself.
Clearly, Secretary of State John Kerry had to have wielded some very persuasive arguments to get both Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Exactly what he offered, or threatened, with President Obama’s backing, is still not known to the public. But he somehow succeeded in convincing the “couple” to get together.
We do know that to induce the Palestinians to participate, Kerry convinced Israel to agree as a precondition of the talks to a de facto freeze on planning new homes starts in Judea, Samaria and East Jerusalem as well as to the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners being held in her jails for security violations, all with “blood on their hands.” Furthermore, it is understood that following the outcome of negotiations Israel will be left with only the “large settlement blocs,” i.e., Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, and essential travel arteries, some 4-5% of Judea and Samaria, which will then be annexed to the state. East Jerusalem will become the capital of Palestine. Freedom of access to the Western Wall will be guaranteed to Jewish worshipers, but not so the Temple Mount. Jews living beyond the 1949 armistice lines in smaller, outlying communities and outposts will be obligated to abandon, comme dans l’Gush Katiff, but with the probability of greater civilian resistance and violence.
In return for implementing these “painful decisions” Israel will receive the signature of the head of the new Arab state as a symbol of his commitment to upholding the pledges made by the Palestinian side. In their essence they require the Palestinian leadership to formally recognize Israel as a Jewish, democratic state, refraining from violence and incitement, and officially declaring the decades-old conflict to have ended. No doubt the members of the Quartet, being the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, will step forward and offer to oversee the implementation of all terms.
Gauging by the pressure placed on both parties by Secretary of State Kerry to get them to agree to return to the negotiating table there is the sense that the United States is capable of imposing even further pressure upon them until they come to terms. Such an outcome would be nothing less than that long considered by many to be but a chimera, namely, a formal peace agreement between the state of Israel and the state of Palestine.
And then what? Who really believes that the day after their festive signing ceremony the new couple will live happily ever after? Of course, people caution, the new relationship will demand good will and great effort from both sides. Things won’t be easy at first, they never are. But thankfully there will be friends around to help the couple through their inevitable disagreements. Really?
The morning after the ceremony Palestinians will wake up to the reality of having finally acquired a sovereign state. But this state will not include within its borders the cities and towns that generations of Palestinian children are taught to this day, in their schools and in their summer camps, were stolen by the Zionists. These include Jaffa, Haifa, Tiberias, Beersheva, Nazareth, Umm al Fahm, and others, cities all unequivocally part of Israel. Furthermore, by signing the agreement the Palestinian leadership will have acceded to forfeiting the highly controversial claim to a “right of return.” For many Palestinians, such compromises only enshrine the historical injustice done to their nation and render the agreement intrinsically invalid.
Less than two years after signing the Treaty of Hudaybiyya in March 628 C.E. with the Quraish tribe of Mecca, Muhammad returned with an army and took the city. This historical fact should neither be dismissed nor taken lightly. The narrative is a formative event in the development of Muslim pride and identity. A millennium and a half later, in September 1993, PLO strongman Yasser Arafat was a signatory to the Oslo Accords, an earlier attempt, blessed by the U.S., to formally set the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to rest. Less than a year after the signing, in May 1994, in Johannesburg, S. Africa, in a speech he delivered in a local mosque, Arafat proclaimed: “This agreement, I am not considering it more than the agreement which had been signed between our Prophet Muhammad and Quraish, and you remember the Caliph Omar had refused this agreement and considered it a ‘sulha dania’ [a despicable truce]. But Muhammad accepted it and we for now are accepting this [Oslo] peace accord. But we will continue our way to Jerusalem, to the first shrine, together and not alone. We are in need of you as Moslems, as warriors of Jihad [in Arabic, Mujaheddin].
Today, from North Africa to the Gulf States, the Muslim world is at war with itself. Israel’s neighbor states are imploding, one by one. Today it is Syria and Egypt. Next up may be Libya and then Jordan. The Shi’ite-Sunni conflict, as well as intra-Sunni fighting, is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths over the last decade. Differences in religious ideology drive this conflict, a conflict with no end in sight, a conflict involving millions of people and vast land expanses. And all this pertains but to Muslims. When Jews, Zionism, Jerusalem, Fatah and Hamas are thrown into the mix, the realistic chances of a forging a stable peace between Israel and the Palestinians are negligible.
How, for example, would a Palestinian government respond to cross-border incursions and the firing of short-range to mid-range missiles from its territory into Israel by sundry terrorist cells? Either form of aggression originating from the soil of a neighboring country constitutes a causus belli. Would a Palestinian government have the will or be ready to risk a civil war to forcibly stop such hostilities?
Furthermore, continuing with our analogy, what is the dowry, in terms of state building potential, that the Palestinians bring to this marriage? How strong within current Palestinian society are such values as the rule of law, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, civil rights, especially the protection of weaker minority groups, and equality of women? None of these values are hallowed in Palestinian society, neither de jure nor de facto.
Finally, the outlandish declaration made by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before a mostly Egyptian press corps in Cairo at the end of July, just as the peace talks were resuming in Washington, that “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands,” only goes to emphasize the a priori incompatibility of the partners to the proposed arrangement. As Jerusalem Post columnist Sarah Honig states: “That’s his vision for the future. It’s not a slip of the tongue, (nor) braggadocio geared to impress a newly friendly Egyptian audience or just meaninglessly mouthing off.” And this vision is not just his. It is shared by many, perhaps a majority of Palestinians.
As a potential peace partner with Israel, Palestinian society is not yet ready, not politically, not economically, but most importantly, not ready mentally. It is not capable of standing by its vows.
What is to be said about having entered into a bad relationship with eyes wide open? According to recent polls the majority of Israelis are of the opinion that the current talks, like those previous, will fail. Need Israel continue down this road? Some Israelis who feel negatively nevertheless maintain that even if these talks end in failure Israel still has an obligation to make an effort. Previous breakdowns between these parties have resulted in violence and terror. Has Israel backed herself into a corner?
This Wednesday, three days after the Israel government cabinet’s final approval of the first group of terrorists to be set free, talks are scheduled to resume with the Palestinian interlocutors in Jerusalem. With each meeting Israel will be making additional concessions while the Palestinian side will offer… what? Rather than plunging headlong into an unbalanced relationship doomed from the start, Israel should condition all further talks upon the Palestinians meeting specific and realistic benchmarks over the next 12 – 18 months.
These could start with (1) the capture and trial of terrorists known to be at large within the Palestinian Authority, (2) the reform of Palestinian Authority educational curricula to purge from them all racist and hateful references to Jews, Judaism and Israel, to be replaced by a curriculum that promotes peace and co-existence; (3) the positive reformation of UNWRA-sponsored summer camps and other youth programs that are, in fact, Palestinian run and in which young Palestinians are indoctrinated to aspire towards war against Israel; (4) the cessation of all incendiary statements or defaming caricatures of Israel or Jews in any publications underwritten by the Palestinian Authority; and (5) no inflammatory statements made by Palestinian Authority officials. These conditions are certainly no more extreme than releasing over one hundred convicted Palestinian terrorists. They exemplify the confidence building measures that Prime Minister Netanyahu has referred to in the past as necessary for moving the peace process forward.
There is, of course, the possibility that the Palestinians, even under third party scrutiny, will default on one or more of the conditions to which they must agree. This would justify Israel choosing to at least delay, if not cancel, the agreement. But having succeeded in securing the release of their imprisoned compatriots the Palestinians could conceivably then abandon the talks and blame the Israelis for their recalcitrance. Much of the world would undoubtedly side with whatever remonstrations are conjured by the Palestinians.
After Israel has done the unthinkable and released terrorist murderers, the Palestinians too must be held to some measurable standard of responsibility. Concrete terms and conditions to be met within a reasonable amount of time by the Palestinian side must be part of this agreement. Most observers remain doubtful if this match will materialize. But having been brought together by the matchmaker, Israel needs to secure a legitimate, transparent and early exit strategy as soon as it becomes clear that, in spite of all best efforts, this match ain’t going to work out. Again.