Mural at Deheishe refugee camp of Ayat al–Akhras, a suicide bomber who blew herself up at a Jerusalem supermarket, murdering two Israelis. Photo credit: Rhonda Spivak, Winnipeg Jewish Review.
The last time anything happened in the Israel-Palestinian peace talks was two years ago when then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians a comprehensive peace settlement.
Olmert’s offer included the West Bank and Gaza with a corridor connecting them, a chunk of Israeli territory in exchange for land occupied by Israeli settlements, international control over the holy sites in Jerusalem, and so forth – everything liberal-minded people believe the Palestinians can possibly want.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas rejected the Israeli offer out of hand. And he made no counter offer.
Now the Israelis and Palestinians are negotiating about whether to resume negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (whom the media describes as a hard-liner) is all for talking peace, with no preconditions.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (whom the media calls a moderate) says he’ll concede to talk peace only if the Israelis will again freeze construction within Jewish neighbourhoods in east Jerusalem and settlements in the West Bank.
People pretend to take this demand seriously even though Abbas allowed the previous ten-month freeze to run out without agreeing to talk peace – though admittedly in the final month of the last freeze he sat down with the Israelis to try to extract a new freeze.
Netanyahu has countered with the offer that if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he’ll extend the hold-up on any new construction. This was a good move, as it gets close to the heart of the conflict.
Currently, the Palestinians recognize Israel in much the same way as they recognize the world. The difference is they’re okay with the world’s existence. As for Israel, they’re not willing to concede that the Jews have any right to their own state.
This is a problem, because as long as the Palestinians continue to declare Israel illegitimate, there won’t be peace. Even if the leaders eventually sign an agreement, peace won’t follow. “Idealistic” Palestinians will continue to strap on bombs and try to make things right by destroying the Zionist entity.
To no one’s surprise, the Palestinians rejected Netanyahu’s offer. Israel has long recognized the Palestinian’s right to a state, but the Palestinians will not reciprocate. To do so would undermine their identity, which is built largely of grievance.
There’s another reason Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Today, roughly 4 million children and grandchildren of the Palestinians displaced by the Arab wars against Israel live in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere in the Arab world.
The Palestinians insist that these descendents of the displaced should be settled in Israel, thereby transforming Israel into a Palestinian state – not a Jewish one. There is no chance Israel will ever agree to this, but nonetheless it remains a key reason the Palestinians keep rejecting Israel’s peace proposals.
I suggest Netanyahu offer another deal: Israel will extend the building moratorium if the Palestinians will agree to renounce terrorism.
In September, when the Palestinian Authority grudgingly negotiated with Israel for a couple weeks, Hamas tried to upset the talks by murdering four Israeli civilians. Abbas denounced the attack – but only as an ill-timed military operation.
If Abbas would like another building moratorium, let him denounce that attack as a crime – as terrorism, as murder.
In addition, let Abbas declare that PA will no longer honour terrorists – will no longer name schools, summer camps or soccer teams after murderers, as has been their custom. For example, 10 months ago, the PA named a public square in Ramallah in honour of Dalal Mughrabi.
Mughrabi was the leader of a terrorist squad that murdered an American photojournalist, then hijacked a bus, commandeered another, and went on a murderous rampage that left 37 Israeli civilians dead, 13 of them children.
The Palestinians have also named two high schools, two summer camps, a computer center, a soccer championship and a high school graduation ceremony in Mughrabi’s honour, all within the past two years.
Let Abbas declare – in Arabic, on PA television and in all their newspapers – that Mughrabi isn’t a hero but a murderer and that henceforth murderers are not to be honored. Perhaps the Palestinian Authority could rename the square in Ramallah, call it the Galit Ankwa Square, in honour of Mughrabi’s youngest victim, a little girl, two years old.
I’d love it if Abbas were to renounce terrorism in this way, because it would suggest he’s serious about peace. Unfortunately, there is no chance at all of Abbas calling terrorism and murder by their proper names.
But his refusal to do so – even in exchange for a settlement freeze – will at least show what the conflict is all about.
Brian Henry is a Toronto writer and editor and a refugee from the NDP – Canada’s social democratic party. This article previously appeared in the October 28, 2010, Jewish Tribune, a community paper published weekly by B’nai Brith Canada.