Sunday, October 17, 2010

DFM Danny Ayalon: Palestinian rejectionism not Settlements, is the main obstacle to peace

(Danny Ayalon-The guardian).With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process once more sadly hanging by a thread, the international community has already launched a pre-emptive blame game. While the initial focus has been on Israeli building in Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank, too few have acknowledged that the Palestinians have quietly been allowed to regress from the conventional positions, many of which they formerly accepted, that are essential for any peace process.

There has been much conversation this week in the British media about excessive foul play in English football. Too many tackles have taken the man and not the ball. Many in the international community appear intent on doing likewise – kicking out in the wrong direction and missing the point entirely.

For an example of this foul play, consider the reaction to the murder of four Israelis by Palestinian terrorists on 31 August this year.

Even a brutal attack of this nature on the eve of negotiations did not induce Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, to withdraw from peace talks. Yet the construction of a few apartments in Judea and Samaria has been viewed by many as a justifiable excuse for the Palestinians to walk out.

Such background events make it difficult for the Israeli public to keep faith in the peace process. And as if all that wasn't enough, the language of those sitting around the table on the Palestinian side is also troubling.

In English, Palestinian leaders speak about peace and their hopes for the restarted peace process. However, in Arabic, Mahmoud Abbas and other top officials in the Palestinian Authority repeatedly state that they will not make a single concession during the talks. That doesn't seem to leave too much room for negotiation.

In addition, basic positions are no longer a given. At a recent Palestinian Donors' Conference at the United Nations, Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad could not even agree to insert the words "two states for two peoples" in the text of the conference summary. This standard formula, established and consistently repeated by the international community, was deemed unacceptable to the most moderate elements of the Palestinian Authority.

While the Israeli position has progressed and developed since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, the Palestinian position has actually regressed. Rather than placing this unhelpful behaviour under severe scrutiny, and examining its impact on the peace process, the international community has instead opted to concentrate attention elsewhere.

It is this current Israeli government that has paved the way for negotiations by constantly stating that all issues are on the table. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have demanded concessions to even arrive at the negotiating table, and once there are not prepared to even countenance compromise. Yet counterintuitively, each rejection by the Palestinians has caused the international community to demand even more concessions from Israel.

The unprecedented settlement moratorium is a fine example. For nine-and-a-half months, Abbas ignored calls from the international community to sit and face the Israelis in the same room. Throughout this window of opportunity, the Palestinian leadership wasted time, decrying the moratorium as unacceptable. Nevertheless, now it has finished, the Palestinians are demanding a prolongation of this very same policy that they continually rebuffed. Worryingly, the international community appears willing to acquiesce.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, noted this irony, purportedly saying about the Palestinian reaction to the moratorium: "It was an unprecedented decision by an Israeli government and now we're told that negotiations can't continue unless something that was viewed as being inadequate continues as well."

Arriving at a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires the permanent acceptance of the Jewish people's inalienable right to sovereignty, and the corresponding recognition of our self-determination. For over 100 years, Arabs in the region have shunned any possibility of Jewish sovereignty, rights or history in our ancestral home.

The settlements have proved a great distraction from the Palestinian rejection of the fundamental principles of the peace process. One needs to ask whether it is a newly built structure or in fact, the Palestinian refusal to walk down the path towards "two states for two peoples" that is the true impediment to a peaceful solution. This is the basis for the Israeli government's insistence of a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

The international community needs to appreciate that it is this rejectionism that is the main obstacle to peace. This issue is the core of any future peaceful resolution. If the Palestinian leadership has still not come to terms with the enduring existence of Israel as a Jewish state, everything else is hollow.