Commentary Magazine


Delay Would Make Israeli-Palestinian Deal More Likely, Not Less

On Monday, I argued that Washington’s push for final-status talks now, when neither Israelis nor Palestinians actually think a deal is possible, could substantially worsen a situation that’s currently tolerable for both sides — a concern that Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, reiterated yesterday. But there’s another reason why talks now are a bad idea: Contrary to the accepted wisdom, the conflict is likely to be more resolvable in another few decades, not less.

First, after 16 years of existence, the Palestinian Authority has only now, under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, finally started building institutions of statehood. Time would enable these institutions to grow and develop, increasing the chances that whatever Palestinian state a deal established would be viable rather than collapse into chaos.

Second, after years of alternately attacking Israel itself and tacitly abetting Hamas’s attacks, the PA has only now started seriously fighting terror — albeit mainly because Hamas threatens its own survival. This long track record of complicity in terror has been a major obstacle to an agreement, because it convinced Israelis that further territorial withdrawals would undermine their own security unless accompanied by stringent security provisions, including the continued IDF presence in parts of the West Bank, which Palestinians reject.

But if the PA now demonstrates a serious, long-term commitment to counterterrorism — and two years isn’t even close to constituting “long-term” — less stringent security provisions would be possible. The paradigm is Israel’s 1994 treaty with Jordan: The 27 years of de facto peace that preceded the agreement created a level of trust that enabled far less complex security arrangements than peace with Egypt did.

Most importantly, however, time is needed to enable the emergence of a new generation of leaders who are actually prepared to accept the existence of a Jewish state — something both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have repeatedly refused to do.

Indeed, just yesterday, Fayyad stormed out of a meeting of the UN Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates financial aid to the PA, rather than sign a summary statement referencing “two states for two peoples,” Jewish and Palestinian, rather than merely “two states.” Nor was this accidental: PA leaders are fine with two states, but only if both are Palestinian — with Israel’s conversion into a second Palestinian state being accomplished by flooding it with millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees.

This is due partly to the long shadow cast by Yasir Arafat, who dominated Palestinian politics for 50 years until his death in 2004. As Munib al-Masri — the West Bank’s wealthiest businessman, a close associate of Arafat’s, and a former supporter of Oslo who vehemently opposes the current talks — told Haaretz (Hebrew only) this month, neither Abbas “nor anyone else can concede more than Arafat did in negotiations with Israel. The Americans and Israelis don’t understand this.” And regarding the current generation, who grew up under Arafat’s thumb, he’s undoubtedly right.

But a new generation, growing up in a post-Arafat world, might be able to free itself of this shadow. And only once this happens will peace be possible.

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