What Are Palestinians Trading for Peace
When Israel entered negotiations with the Palestinians in 1991, they agreed to trade “land for peace,” as they did when they left the Sinai for peace with Egypt. Israel balanced the loss of strategic territory they gained in the 1967 Six Day War with the hope of future peace. In return, they asked the Palestinians for the only collateral they had to trade; peace. That peace included three elements: Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, abandonment of the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, and a future negotiations on the final status of Jerusalem.
The resulting Oslo Accords, beginning in 1993, led to increased autonomy, as both sides began to build trust. Despite progress, elements within the Palestinian leadership opposed the agreement and undertook to undermine negotiations with a series of high profile terrorist attacks. Yasser Arafat used these terrorists to pressure Israel, and apparently funded some of them. Despite the “enemies of peace,” and the assassination of Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israel forged ahead.
Continued attacks led Israelis to vote Benjamin Netanyahu into power, and even with his harder line with the Palestinians, negotiations continued, ending in the Wye River Agreement in 1998. In 1999 Ehud Barak was elected by an Israeli electorate demanding peace with the Palestinians. Armed with a broad mandate, Barak entered negotiations with the Palestinians, culminating in the 2000 Camp David Summit. Arafat and the Palestinians rejected an offer of 95% of the West Bank territory and part of eastern Jerusalem as a capital. In the aftermath, Arafat launched the Second Intifada.
In the intervening years, various Israeli governments attempted to restart talks. Finally, in 2007 new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert opened negotiations with the Palestinians. By 2008, Olmert had offered equal land swaps in Israel for larger settlement blocks, and a Palestinian capital in Arab sections of Jerusalem. Many Israelis were very uncomfortable with the offer and felt Olmert exceeded his mandate. This time, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offer and negotiations broke down.
Fast forward to 2016. In the wake of the UNSC Resolution 2334, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech, Palestinian leaders feel emboldened to pressure Israel with new demands and threats. Kerry reiterated the US position on the resolution, declaring settlements obstacles to peace, including housing built in eastern Jerusalem. And by using 1967 ceasefire lines as the basis of a Palestinian state, he essentially declared the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and the Western Wall of the Temple Mount to be “occupied territory”. While Kerry did address Palestinian terrorism, his focus on settlements and the political influence of settlers in the Netanyahu government ignored the multiple missed opportunities by the Palestinians to reach an agreement with Israel.
Subsequent to Kerry’s speech, the PLO Secretary General, Saeb Erekat issued the following statement:
“The minute the Israeli government agrees to cease all settlement activities, including in and around Occupied East Jerusalem, and agree to implement the signed agreements on the basis of mutual reciprocity, the Palestinian leadership stands ready to resume permanent status negotiations on the basis of international law and relevant international legality resolutions, including UNSC 2334, under a specified timeframe.”
“President Abbas is fully convinced that a just, comprehensive and lasting peace can be reached in all core issues on the basis of the Arab Peace Initiative, with specified terms of reference, which can guarantee to fully end the Israeli occupation and lead to the establishment of an independent State of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital, on the 1967 border, living in peace and security, side by side, the State of Israel, as well as resolving all core issues, including refugees and prisoners, on the basis of the relevant international legality resolutions.”
Rather than encourage bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the UN and Kerry have heartened the Palestinians that they can achieve their aims unilaterally with the support of the international community. Now instead of giving up their three pieces of collateral, they are doubling down.
Rather than recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, they claim it would disadvantage Israeli Arab citizens. Rather than accept reparations for refugees that left Israel, they demand their “right of return”, knowing that it could destroy the Jewish nature of Israel. And rather than negotiating a fair status of Jerusalem, they demand all the Old City, including the Jewish holy sites. Add to that the UNESCO declaration that the Temple Mount is a Muslim site, it effectively would end Israel’s sovereignty over its capital city, and Jewish access to the holiest site in Judaism.
Palestinians have had numerous opportunities to claim an independent state. Each time they have rejected the offer at the last moment. Clearly, they are less interested in a state for Palestinians than they are in denying Jews their state. Unless and until they accept the reality of Israel, there is no hope for peace. They must be willing to trade the cards they do hold in return for sovereignty. The international community must make them understand there is no alternate path.