Commentary Magazine


A Refreshing Change

It’s too early to declare a trend. But the near-simultaneous publication of calls for an Arab gesture toward Israel from two unlikely sources — president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations Leslie Gelb and Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar — represents a refreshing change from the usual discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which only Israel is ever expected to give.

Gelb served as assistant secretary of state under Jimmy Carter and spent years as a New York Times correspondent. One would expect someone with that resume to be reflexively pro-Palestinian, and indeed, in a Daily Beast article on Sunday, he opposed an emerging U.S.-Israeli deal on a settlement freeze for being “overly generous” and reducing American leverage over Israel.

But that makes the article’s conclusion, which Jennifer quoted at length yesterday, all the more stunning. What is needed to promote peace, he said, is a “dramatic step” by Palestinian leaders: Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad should emulate Anwar Sadat and go to the Knesset and “pledge acceptance of ‘a Jewish state of Israel.’”

Eldar’s column on Monday was perhaps even more shocking. I’ve read hundreds of Eldar columns in recent years, and they have one unchanging theme: the absence of peace is 100 percent Israel’s fault. But in this one, for the first time I can remember, he attacked Arab leaders for “treating dialogue with Israeli society as part of ‘normalization’ — the ‘fruits of peace’ that the Israelis will get to taste only after they pledge to withdraw from all the territories,” instead of understanding, as Sadat did, that the risks of withdrawal won’t seem worth taking unless Israelis are assured of peace beforehand. And he concluded:

Indeed, what would happen if [Egyptian] President Hosni Mubarak, Jordanian King Abdullah and Saudi King Abdullah, together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, and promised from the Knesset rostrum, “No more war”? That would be much easier for them than what Israel is being asked to do: evacuate tens of thousands of people from the settlements and divide Jerusalem.

It seems like common sense: surely a mere statement is easier than evacuating tens of thousands of fellow citizens. Moreover, as Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman noted this week, if the Palestinians are really so desperate for a state, then it’s hard to understand why Israel is the one constantly being asked to “pay another additional price for the joy of conducting negotiations” aimed at giving them one.

But of course, if the world began demanding gestures from the Palestinians or the Saudis, the inevitable refusal might finally force it to confront the truth: both are still unwilling to recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist. That’s why Abbas, Fayyad, and Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah never will come to the Knesset to make the statements Gelb and Eldar suggest. And that’s why most of the international community, unwilling to give up its delusions of peace, will never ask it of them.