Palestinians Remain the R​eal Obstacle


Like the people and governments of Israel, the pro-Israel community in the United States has long sought a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct negotiations between the parties that would lead to a lasting peace agreement and Israel's acceptance by all its neighbors.

The Israeli people dream of peace, and their governments have worked and sacrificed for it. As American supporters of Israel, we are committed to helping them make it a reality.

Since assuming office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pursued peace with Israel's neighbors. Netanyahu declared his vision for peace — for two states — last June in a landmark speech at Bar-Ilan University, saying that he supported the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish State of Israel.

Underscoring Israel's sincerity and willingness to make the most difficult choices in the pursuit of peace, a few months after his speech Netanyahu took another bold step, declaring a 10-month moratorium on all Israeli construction in the West Bank — a concession that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called "unprecedented."

Alongside these political gestures, Israel has also taken significant steps to ensure that life improves for Palestinians in the West Bank, such as dismantling hundreds of West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints, and enabling greater freedom of movement between Palestinian cities. Israel's cooperation also helped produce double-digit economic growth at a time of global recession.

While the current Israeli government — like its predecessors — has proven its desire for peace, the leader of the Palestinian Authority refuses to meet or even speak on the phone with his Israeli counterpart. Given Mahmoud Abbas' refusal to even sit down to talk face-to-face about a shared future for Arabs and Jews, how can there be any chance for peace?

During his recent visit to the United States, Abbas made several public appearances in which he expressed his desire for peace. Many of his comments were significant and noted as such. But words alone are not enough. Abbas has said that his strategy is not to make concessions in negotiations, but to encourage the United States — and even more, the international community — to pressure Israel for unilateral concessions.

Abbas rebuffed then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's sweeping offer in 2008, and like former Palestinian head Yasser Arafat before him, refused to even engage in more serious deeper discussions with Israel. This has led us to the current situation, when new preconditions and further refusals to talk with Israel sabotage the dream of peace to which we all aspire.

It's not just Abbas' refusal to talk that's problematic. In recent months, the P.A. has intensified its efforts to delegitimize Israel in the international arena and increased the incitement against Israel. By endorsing the Goldstone Report, the P.A. has pushed for senior Israeli leaders to be charged with war crimes. It has also lobbied forcefully, but unsuccessfully, against Israel's admission to the prestigious Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In addition, the P.A. continues to name schools and streets after terrorists, including Dalal Mughrabi, who killed 37 civilians, and Yahya Ayyash, a suicide bombmaker responsible for hundreds of deaths. The P.A. media carries outrageous programs portraying Israel and Jews in the most negative ways. Rather than seeking to isolate Israel in the global arena and incite hatred of Israel, Palestinian leaders need to prepare their people for genuine peace.

It's easy to get caught up in the daily news, and forget the history of Israel's efforts and sacrifices in the pursuit of peace.

As American friends of Israel, we must — and we will — continue to remind our leaders about how badly Israel wants peace, and how tragically the P.A. has only increased its demands and pulled away from the negotiating table.

In the interim, America and Israel are attempting to engage the P.A. through "proximity talks" — a significant departure from direct talks of the past 20 years.

Peace may be a dream, but it takes work and courageous leadership in real life to achieve it. It is not Israel's fault alone for the lack of progress toward a clear-cut goal.

Lee Rosenberg is president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Alan Solow is chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.


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