Since its inauguration eight months ago, the present government of Israel has sought ways to re-engage the leadership of the Palestinian Authority in peace negotiations. Such negotiations had taken place with past Israeli governments since the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles of 1993. However, the Palestinians decided to unilaterally suspend talks early in 2009, following the elections in Israel.
Israel has placed no preconditions on the resumption of peace negotiations, and has repeatedly called upon its Palestinian partners to restart talks without imposing preconditions as well.
The Israeli government, reflecting the deep desire of the Israeli people to reach a peace agreement with our neighbors, has taken numerous steps in support of the negotiating process. The most recent and dramatic step was a ten month moratorium on new residential housing construction in the West Bank, authorized by the Israeli Security Cabinet on 25 November 2009. Under this moratorium, new residential housing starts in Jewish settlements throughout the entire area of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) are suspended, as is the granting of new residential building permits in all Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.
The purpose of the far-reaching ten month moratorium is self-evident. When Prime Minister Netanyahu presented the proposal for a settlement moratorium before the Cabinet he stated clearly: "The Government of Israel wants to enter into negotiations with the Palestinians, is taking practical steps in order to do so and is very serious in its intentions to promote peace." The Israeli Cabinet authorized this politically-sensitive and painful step because of Israel's deep desire for peace.
It should be noted that the moratorium constitutes an unprecedented move for any Israeli government to date. Noteworthy also is the fact that this decision represents the first time that an Israeli government has instituted a moratorium on new settlement housing as a confidence-building measure to promote negotiations, rather than as a result of the negotiating process.
This moratorium measure is not the first taken by Prime Minister Netanyahu's government in its efforts to restart the negotiating process:
- In his Bar-Ilan speech (14 June 2009), PM Netanyahu clearly stated his acceptance of a Palestinian state, alongside a Jewish state, with the two living side-by-side in peace and security.
- Israel declared that it would refrain from building new settlements in the West Bank, expanding existing settlements, providing government incentives for settlement activities and expropriating land for settlement-related use.
- Israel has removed hundreds of security check-points and road-blocks throughout the West Bank, improving both the quality of life of Palestinian residents of Judea and Samaria, as well as commercial activity.
- Israel has extended the hours of operation and streamlined procedures at the Allenby Bridge border crossing with Jordan, thereby bolstering Palestinian trade.
- Israel has assisted the facilitation of economic developments in the West Bank, through close cooperation with international parties to expedite projects and remove bureaucratic and other bottlenecks.
Israel's efforts have led to a dramatic improvement in the economic situation in the West Bank. World Bank and Palestinian Authority (PA) statistics show an 8% growth in the West Bank economy, with double-digit annual rates of growth projected in the future by Quartet Representative Tony Blair. All this growth is happening despite the world economic crisis.
To date, Israel's numerous and extensive confidence-building measures towards the Palestinians have, unfortunately, not brought about a restart of the peace talks. Israel hopes that its exceptional decision to impose a moratorium on residential settlement housing will help launch meaningful peace negotiations to finally end the conflict with the Palestinians.
Israel has been told by many friends that once it takes the first step towards peace, the Palestinians and the Arab world would respond positively with steps of their own to create a virtuous cycle of goodwill. With the moratorium, the government of Israel took a very big step forward toward peace. It is hoped that the Palestinians and the Arab world will seize upon this opportunity to work to forge a new beginning and a new future for our children and for their children. It is also hoped the international community will support Israel in its difficult decision, endorse its goals and work with the other parties to leverage this step into forward movement towards peace.
Now that Israel has taken a important step for peace, it’s time for the Palestinians to do the same.