t How can peace be achieved?
The dream of a future in which Israeli and Arab children can grow up free from the threat of war and the fear of terrorism unites all Israelis. However, the long history of failed negotiations with the Palestinians has proven that simply yearning for peace is not enough. Time after time, Israel has presented far-reaching peace proposals, made major concessions, relinquished extensive tracts of land, uprooted settlements, withdrawn forces, dismantled military bases and taken steps to enable the Palestinians to establish the foundations of self-government. In return, Israel has received a Palestinian campaign of terror, suicide bombings, rocket attacks, and virulent incitement against Israelis and Jews; and has been subjected to an ongoing campaign in the international arena to delegitimize Israel's very existence and undermine its economy.
Israel has always been willing to compromise and every Israeli government - including the present one - has been prepared to make major sacrifices for the sake of peace. However, peacemaking requires concessions on both sides. Just as Israel has acknowledged the rights and interests of the Palestinians, Israel has legitimate rights and interests that also need to be acknowledged and addressed. Peace can only be achieved through earnest negotiations which bridge gaps and resolve all outstanding issues.
t What are the five principles for peace?
The foundations for a lasting peace can be found in the fulfillment of five principles: the first three of which concern the recognition of the legitimacy of Israel; while the last two relate to security concerns. While these principles are not preconditions for peace talks, a true and enduring peace will only be possible if they are satisfied. The five principles are as follows:
1) Just as Israel is being asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinians, so too the Palestinians have to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state lies at the core of the conflict.
2) The Palestinian refugee issue should be resolved within the context of the Palestinian nation-state. While Palestinian refugees should be free to settle in the Palestinian homeland, Israel cannot allow itself to be demographically engulfed by a flood of refugees, undermining the basic identity of Israel as the world's only Jewish state.
3) Any peace accord must conclude the conflict completely. Peace must be permanent, not an interim stage during which the Palestinians would be able to use their state from which to pursue further conflict with Israel. No further claims should be advanced following the signing of a peace agreement.
4) Given the attacks launched on Israel after it left the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon, it is important that a future Palestinian state should be one that doesn;t threaten the State of Israel. Any territory that is vacated within the framework of an arrangement cannot be exploited by terrorists or by Iran's proxies for attacks on Israel. The only way to achieve this goal and prevent further conflict is by effective demilitarization of any future Palestinian state.
5) Any peace treaty should be guaranteed by the international community - led by the United States - especially with regards to demilitarization and security arrangements. Support would be expressed through political, and not military, means. Such a guarantee will add a layer of deterrence against those who seek to invalidate or violate the demilitarization arrangements.
t How have the Palestinians responded to Israeli offers of peace?
The people of Israel have always been willing to make momentous concessions, both during negotiations and unilaterally, for the sake of peace. Each time peace seemed possible and a negotiating partner came forward seeking an agreement, Israel responded positively, clearly demonstrating its ability and aspiration to make peace.
Israel's readiness to reach an agreement with its neighbors predated the very founding of the state. The Jewish leadership of pre-state Israel accepted numerous international plans for the partition of the land - including UN Resolution 181 of 1947 which called to divide the Palestinian Mandate territory into a Jewish state and an Arab state. Unfortunately, this plan was violently rejected by the Arab side, as was the 1937 Peel Commission's plan and the 1939 British White Paper, both of which presented the Palestinians with prospects for establishing a state of their own.
Following the establishment of Israel in 1948, the Palestinians and their Arab patrons appeared more interested in destroying Israel than in establishing a Palestinian state. Indeed, from 1948 to 1967 although the West Bank and Gaza were under Jordanian and Egyptian control respectively, no efforts were made to establish a Palestinian state and attacks against Israel continued unabated.
Following Israel's victory in the pre-emptive Six Day War of 1967, the Arab League meeting in Khartoum dashed Israeli post-war plans for peace when they declared: "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with it."
Israel's first peace agreement with a neighboring state was achieved in negotiations following Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's 1977 visit to Jerusalem. As part of its peace treaty with Egypt, Israel gave back the Sinai Peninsula buffer-zone, which constituted 91% of all the territory which came under Israeli control as a result of the Six Day War. In so doing, Israel voluntarily relinquished vital electronic early-warning stations, 170 military installations, factories, businesses, agricultural villages and an Israeli-discovered oil-field. Most painfully, Israel uprooted 7,000 of its citizens from their homes in Sinai. All this Israel did in return for a promise of peace. Israel's peace treaty with Egypt clearly demonstrated its readiness to sacrifice for peace.
The Palestinians, who could have established autonomous rule under the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, refused to cooperate, again missing an opportunity to achieve their national aspirations.
Following changes in the international arena, the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab states Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan finally agreed to bilateral and multilateral negotiations with Israel and direct peace talks were inaugurated at the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference. These talks led to the signing of a Treaty of Peace between Israel and Jordan in October 1994.
Negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinians eventually led to the September 1993 Declaration of Principles. In exchange for Palestinians promises to recognize Israel and renounce violence and terrorism, Israel agreed to far-reaching and tangible concessions, including the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Gaza, headed by Yasser Arafat. Israel transferred substantial powers and responsiblities to the Palestinians in vast geographical areas.
Negotiations for a final settlement continued, although marred by Palestinian terrorist attacks, as well as a campaign of incitement against Israel in the PA-supported media, schools and mosques. These talks led to the historically critical 2000 Camp David and Taba summits in which Israeli leaders offered exceptional compromises for peace. Unfortunately, Yasser Arafat chose to reject the unprecedented proposals, which would have led to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. A short time later, he decided to turn his back on negotiations altogether, and launch a new wave of terrorism - the Second Intifada - which led to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
In the absence of a genuine Palestinian negotiating partner, yet keen on restarting the peace process, Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in 2005, again uprooting thousands of Israeli families from their homes. As the last settler and soldier left Gaza, Israel hoped that its far-reaching concession - which provided the Palestinians a tangible opportunity to peacefully lay the foundations for a state - would lead to a better future for both peoples.
However, yet again, Israel's painful sacrifice was not reciprocated. Instead, the fundamentalist Hamas terrorist organization took power in Gaza, and rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israeli communities escalated dramatically, forcing Israel to launch a large-scale operation in Gaza in December 2008, successfully curtailing the Hamas attacks.
Despite Palestinian rejections, Israel has still not given up the search for peace. However, the Israeli people are finding it more difficult to keep their hopes alive, particularly after PA President Abbas refused even to reply to Prime Minister Olmert's 2008 offer of a Palestinian state, reportedly the most generous offer ever made.
Since the earliest days of the State of Israel, and even before its establishment, one pattern has emerged clearly: any demonstrated Israeli willingness to compromise and to make difficult sacrifices for peace have been matched by Palestinian rejections and a refusal to reciprocate with concessions of their own.
t How has the Hamas takeover of Gaza affected the chances for peace?
In 2005, Israel totally disengaged from Gaza and four settlements in Northern Samaria in the hopes of creating an opportunity for peace. It redeployed its armed forces, removed 8,000 settlers and dismantled 25 civilian communities, which cost billions of dollars and caused deep national trauma. But, instead of movement towards peace, Israel received a hostile territory on its border. Hamas, an Iranian-sponsored terrorist organization, violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Attacks on Israeli civilians, which had been ongoing since 2000, escalated dramatically. Israeli towns adjacent to Gaza became targets of almost daily Kassam rocket and mortar barrages, cross-border terror attacks were frequently attempted, and the terrorist infrastructure grew at an alarming pace.
Israel had hoped that the Gaza disengagement would lead to a reduction in terrorist attacks, an increase in mutual trust, and ultimately to a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians. The rise of Hamas and the ensuing violence caused the Israeli public to doubt whether its sacrifices for peace would ever be reciprocated. As any peace agreement will involve Israel making considerable and tangible sacrifices for peace as well as taking considerable security risks for peace, the confidence of the Israeli people is a major component of peace. The continued presence of a terrorist government in Gaza, and its constant attempts to gain power in the West Bank, severely undermine that confidence.
Hamas has brought nothing but violence to the citizens of Israel and nothing but tragedy to the Palestinians. As events in Gaza have shown, while the terrorists may claim to be advancing Palestinian rights, they have succeeded only in undermining them. Mayhem has reigned in Gaza since Israel left and Hamas staged its coup. Hamas established an Iranian-backed mini terror-state on Israel's southern border. It imposed its fundamentalist agenda on the population of Gaza, applying the principles of Sharia law, repressing women, abusing individual freedoms, and violently persecuting its opponents.
It is self-evident that the future Palestinian state cannot be a terrorist entity. For this reason, the international community has insisted that the path to Palestinian statehood must follow acceptance of the conditions outlined by the international 'Quartet' (the UN, EU, US and Russia), including the renunciation of terrorism, acceptance of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements and the recognition of Israel's right to exist. As a terrorist organization which, by its own definition, is dedicated to Israel's destruction, Hamas is absolutely incapable of accepting any of these principles.
No one who wants true peace or a better future for the Palestinians could even consider duplicating Gaza's reality - a violent, fanatical theocracy - in the West Bank. All those who suggest further Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank must take the lessons of Gaza into account.
t Could a Hamas-Fatah unity government be a partner for peace?
When the Hamas government first seized power in Gaza, Hamas' statements advocating violence, opposing a two-state solution, and denying Israel's right to exist, as well as its direct involvement in terrorism, served to prompt the 'Quartet' (the US, EU, Russia and the UN) to set three conditions for any Palestinian government to attain international legitimacy and cooperation. These basic conditions are: recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing terrorism and violence, and accepting previous agreements and obligations.
The international community has demanded that any Palestinian government must be committed to these three conditions and that "it should contain no member" who has not committed to them. Therefore, a unity government, which would include the extremists of Hamas, could not be a partner for peace.
The conditions set out by the Quartet, which Hamas continues to reject, are not obstacles to peace, but rather the basic conditions by which the international community can determine whether a Palestinian government is capable of being a party to peace negotiations.
Hamas' extremist ideology does not allow it to make any compromises with Israel. Its charter declares that Israel will be obliterated by Islam, and Hamas declares in its official slogan that "Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes." Hamas uses violent methods, including terrorism, as well as political means to pursuit of its primary goal: the establishment of an extremist Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel.
Given its dubious goals and dogmatic approach, Hamas is not capable of compromising its stance on Israel. Any negotiations with the Palestinian Authority will not lead to an improvement in Hamas' ambitions or behaviors; rather, it can only lead to a more intransigent Palestinian Authority.
Granting international legitimacy to any Palestinian government which refuses to meet the Quartet's basic principles for peace would be a grave setback for the prospects of peace, and a betrayal of those on both sides of the conflict who support a two-state solution and seek to make it a reality.
t How does Palestinian incitement harm peace?
Peace can never reign between Israel and the Palestinians as long as generation-after-generation of Palestinians are being fed a never-ending diet of anti-Israel incitement. There is a direct connection between anti-Israel incitement and terrorism. True acceptance of Israel's right to exist in peace cannot be achieved solely through signatures on a piece of paper; it must also exist in the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people. Just as Israel has educated for peace throughout its history, so too must the Palestinians begin this process.
The Palestinian education system, media, literature, songs, theater and cinema have been mobilized for extreme anti-Israel indoctrination, which at times degenerates into blatant anti-Semitism. This incitement to hatred and violence is pervasive in Palestinian society, particularly in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. It exists in nursery schools and kindergartens, youth movements, schools, universities, mosque sermons, and street demonstrations.
Incitement against Israel has many faces. It begins with the complete denial of the very existence of the State of Israel. Maps in schools and universities do not even bear the name of Israel, nor a large number of its cities and towns.
Palestinian officials and religious leaders frequently deny the thousands of years of Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. By repudiating Jewish history (and the New Testament as well), the Palestinian leadership is promoting a narrative that disavows any Jewish rights to the Jewish historical homeland. Peace cannot be achieved as long as the right of the Jewish people to their own nation-state in their native land is denied.
Incitement is also characterized by the hero worship of terrorists. Inciters extol the deeds of suicide bombers, name schools and football teams after them, and hold them up as models to be emulated.
Inflammatory materials make no distinction between the State of Israel and Jews as such, often including anti-Semitic cartoons that use the same kind of motifs and imagery that were used against the Jews during the Nazi era.
This phenomenon bodes ill for the next generation, educated to disregard the peacemakers and worship the symbols of death and destruction. Children, such as those in Hamas-controlled Gaza, who have been taught from the earliest age to hate, kill and destroy, are a tragedy for their own people and a potential danger for others.
The question that must be asked is what kind of future does the industry of incitement offer the next generation, which is growing up learning to hate. Will that young generation be capable of thinking in terms of peace, of good neighborliness, of tolerance and compromise? Can Palestinian society create the new state of mind that is needed for peace, rather than just signing a peace treaty?
One cannot ignore the intensity of the emotions that exist on both sides of the conflict in the Middle East. Suffering and feelings of deep frustration exist on Israel's side as well. But there is a huge difference between feeling anger or frustration on a personal level, on the one hand, and promoting a culture of hatred, on the other.
Unlike a large part of Palestinian society, Israeli society sees peace as the noblest of goals; it's highest of aspirations on both the individual and national level. The desire for peace and for the normalization of day-to-day life is at the very center of Israel's being and culture. The many thousands of songs, books, artistic works, and articles that have been written about peace in Israel, since the very establishment of the state, are too numerous to mention. Peace is an important core value, the greatest dream of every mother and father, the embodiment of the Zionist idea which envisages Israel living in peace and cooperation with all its neighbors.
There is no legitimate reason why Israeli children learn about peace and coexistence in their schools, while at the same time Palestinian children are taught to honor suicide bombers and to seek 'martyrdom' through Jihad. Those who desire peace should educate for peace, and not promote hatred and murder.
Peace can only be achieved through earnest negotiations which bridge gaps and resolve all outstanding issues.