The Wall Street Journal notes that “it says something about the current Palestinian leadership that it has made the release of killers a condition of peace talks,” and the Journal asks “why anyone should expect that a peace process that begins by setting murderers free is likely to result in peace.” The short answer is no one does–nor would anyone expect it even if the process were to begin with a handshake on the White House lawn rather than the release of murderers.
We’ve already seen this movie three times, as the Palestinians rejected three offers of a state in eight years, before ceasing to negotiate altogether in 2009 and have the Obama administration carry their water. What is new about the current process is the U.S. accepted the idea the Palestinians should be paid simply to show up, and then pressured Israel into paying the price. This is a more significant development than the particular price the Palestinians demanded, because the tactic is one that, once countenanced, can easily be repeated: expect to see the Palestinians, having been paid to show up, demand further payments simply to stay around, as the “negotiations” proceed. It is already happening, as the Palestinians now demand cessation of construction even in longstanding population centers “everyone knows” Israel will retain.
What is also new, however, is an Israeli consensus about the current process.
The recent Tel Aviv University/Israel Democracy Institute poll shows 62 percent of Israeli Jews favor a referendum on any agreement and 62 percent reject withdrawal to the 1967 lines with territorial swaps–even for (in the language of the polling question) a “permanent” peace agreement with a “demilitarized” Palestinian state, featuring “security arrangements,” “international guarantees” and a “conflict-ending declaration.” Israelis know “declarations” are only declarations, “guarantees” cannot be guaranteed, and “arrangements” can be re-arranged. The 1967 war itself occurred when peacekeeping forces–an international security arrangement guaranteeing peace–were withdrawn as Egypt positioned its military to attack Israel. The Second Lebanon War ended with a “binding” UN resolution establishing a peacekeeping force to prevent Hezbollah from re-arming, after which Hezbollah proceeded to rearm. A U.S. letter reiterating a “steadfast commitment” to “defensible borders,” which the Obama administration proceeded to ignore, accompanied the Gaza withdrawal.
The new poll demonstrates Israelis are unwilling to trade land in the heart of Eretz Yisrael for the magic beans of an agreement that depends on reversible declarations, guarantees, and arrangements, signed with a Palestinian “leadership” that hasn’t stood for election since 2005 and can’t set foot in half the putative state, rather than on defensible borders, the parameters of which have long been known: retention of the high ground around Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, control over the strategically critical Jordan Valley, and retention of the major settlement blocs that are within such borders. Nothing less will provide Israel with security, and nothing less will likely pass an Israeli referendum.
Standing next to the German foreign minister yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said the EU’s new guidelines regarding Israeli population centers beyond the 1949 armistice lines “have actually undermined peace,” because: “They’ve hardened Palestinian positions, they seek an unrealistic end that everybody knows is not going to happen, and I think they stand in the way of reaching a solution.” When you accept the principle that Palestinians should be paid to attend negotiations; when you encourage them to make unrealistic demands; and when you ignore commitments to Israel for prior peace process concessions, the fact that the new process starts with the release of murderers is the least of the problems.