Israel-Palestinian peace talks: Palestinians’ fantasy world

Without a doubt, at the moment, the Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank are riding high, flexing their muscles and feeling very confident about what they view as an impressive string of recent victories. The leaders of Hamas, for their part, have excited the whole Arab world by taking on the Israelis and successfully firing hundreds of rockets into the heartland of Israel, reaching her main population centers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to the great delight of the Arab street.

Mahmoud Abbas and his supporters in Ramallah can tout their stunning victory at the United Nations, where an unprecedented 138 nations recognized the existence of a Palestinian state and granted it observer status, even though its leaders stubbornly bypassed any bilateral talks with Israel.

But, if that is all the Palestinians and their newfound friends in the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, Egypt, have learned from the recent outbreak, they will be embarking on the same road that has led the Arab world from one disaster to the next for the last 65 years. They continue to live in a fantasy world, hiding from their citizens the simple fact that, in spite of their oil reserves, Israel, warts and all, is by far the most vibrant, dynamic and free country in the entire Middle East.

[Click here to read a counterargument by Alan Elsner]

Yes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fell far short of the vote of confidence he expected. Nonetheless, there is no question that he will remain Israel’s prime minister. Yes, all eyes are now on Yair Lapid and his party, Yesh Atid. Lapid, a virtual newcomer to politics, overnight managed to build a coalition of both left-of-center and right-of-center Israelis frustrated with the country’s direction, to become the leader of the second-most important party in Israel. Truth is — Lapid and Bibi agree on most of the major issues confronting Israel, including Iran and not dividing Jerusalem.

For those Palestinians sincere about seeking a way to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, they must ask themselves some fundamental questions: Why is Netanyahu still going to be the prime minister of Israel? Why didn’t the Israelis choose Shelly Yachimovich, the Labor Party candidate, long regarded as Israel’s peace party? What is it about the Palestinians that still makes Israelis suspicious about their intentions?

Unquestionably, the answer is because the people of Israel do not see the current Palestinian leadership as peace partners. If they did, they would have marked their ballots for Shelly Yachimovich or Tzipi Livni, but they did not. The overwhelming majority of Israelis, even in 2013, remain very skeptical about the Palestinians’ readiness to accept the existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East. Most of them refuse to drink the Kool-Aid being offered by the academics and intellectuals who frequent the Tel Aviv cafes.

Can you blame them? They remember the days when the last Labor Party prime minister, Ehud Barak, was in power, and when he offered Yasser Arafat at Camp David the best deal he could have ever gotten, including a 95 percent Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and their capital in East Jerusalem, how Arafat shocked President Bill Clinton and the rest of the world, by rejecting the offer and bolting the talks.

That was a seminal moment in the life of Israel that every taxi driver and worker in the country has never forgotten — just as they remembered Ariel Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and the Hamas takeover and the subsequent campaign of terror and suicide bombings.

Can you blame them for remembering last September’s speech at the U.N., when President Abbas spoke before the whole world and mentioned only Islam’s and Christianity’s profound ties to the Holy Land? How he deliberately ignored Judaism, the religion with the strongest biblical roots there, and its 3,500-year connection to the land of Israel? Is that the road to peace? Is that the way you reach out across the aisle, especially when you know that all of Israel is watching you?

Can you really blame them for refusing to believe in Abbas’ declaration of a two-state solution, when everyone in Israel who reads a newspaper or watches television sees before them not two states, Israel and Palestine, but three states, Israel and two separate Palestinian entities, one in Gaza and another in Ramallah? One, which continuously calls for Israel’s destruction, and the other in Ramallah, which says it wants peace, but, which at the same time is willing to invite Hamas into its government.

Of course, the overwhelming majority of Israelis are in favor of a two-state solution, but nobody in Israel would accept two Palestinian states or even a single state where terrorists are part of the government and could one day take control of it. Can you imagine France or England or any other democracy being asked to do that, let alone a small country surrounded by 22 hostile states?

The lesson that the Palestinian leaders refuse to learn is that their state is not dependent on public opinion in Cairo, nor can it be realized from the podium of the United Nations General Assembly or UNESCO. Palestinian statehood, whether the Arabs like it or not, is without question inextricably linked to Israeli public opinion. For so long as the majority of Israelis continue to believe that the Palestinians cannot be trusted as viable peace partners, their dreams for statehood will remain dreams that never came to fruition.

The Palestinian leadership must reverse tactics and embark on an entirely different course. Rather than continuously making anti-Semitic comments about Jews, preaching hatred of Israelis and honoring suicide bombers, they need to take the advice of a fellow Muslim, former Commodore of the Royal Saudi Navy Abdulateef Al Mulhim, who wrote in the Arab News a few months ago: “The Arab world has many enemies and Israel should have been at the bottom of the list. The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good health care, lack of freedom, lack of respect for the human lives. … Israel now has the most advanced research facilities, top universities and advanced infrastructure. Many Arabs don’t know that the life expectancy of the Palestinians living in Israel is far longer than many Arab states and they enjoy far better political and social freedom than many of their Arab brothers. Even the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip enjoy more political and social rights than some places in the Arab world.”

When the leadership in Gaza and Ramallah accepts those truths, that will be the day when a Palestinian state will come into being. 

Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance.