Taking stock as the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations deadline passes this week, one can ask whether the two sides are any closer to peace than they were when Secretary of State Kerry launched the energetic initiative last summer. The good news is that despite the endless recriminations and implied threats — like Mahmoud Abbas saying he may dissolve the Palestinian Authority and Benjamin Netanyahu talking of withholding funds for the PA — the Israeli homeland has remained secure, with few acts of terror.
Some who warned that a failed peace effort would be worse than none at all predict that violence will flare up now. They recall that the second intifada began in 2000 after the Camp David talks between Yasir Arafat and Ehud Barak resulted in a dead end. Will the frustration of the prolonged status quo trigger another round of terror? We pray not.
Those who said that Kerry’s initiative was the last chance for a two-state solution may be correct — a frightening prospect — but even as the April 29 target date passed, there are reports of how close the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators came to an agreement. If and when the two sides feel it is in their best interest to resolve their differences, it will happen. But not before, even when the U.S. employs all of its diplomatic muscle to make it so.
We understand that many on the right within the pro-Israel camp breathed a sigh of relief that in the end, the talks failed. They make the point that Abbas, for all of his “moderation,” refused to make any significant concessions throughout the process. For him, simply agreeing to meet, while pushing Israel for territorial compromises and seeking the release of hundreds of Arabs imprisoned on terror charges, was enough.
Israel did free scores of prisoners, many with “blood on their hands,” for having committed murderous acts. They were welcomed home as heroes. And in Israel, widows and orphans and other critics berated their government for “giving in,” with little or nothing to show for it.
One concern now is that Israelis will feel life can go on as usual, without a heavy price to pay. The government is stable, the economy is humming, international criticism will fade, and the security barrier and Iron Dome are protecting them. We worry, though, that such thinking is shortsighted. Time is working against the possibilities of a Jewish democratic state.
If the Arab world takes the long view, a demographic intifada will come into play, forcing Jerusalem to choose between a Jewish majority and a democracy. The tactics against Israel are insidious, branding a vibrant democracy as anything but.
Consider: While Secretary Kerry apologized for suggesting that Israel now risked becoming an “apartheid state,” that perception is prevalent even if the definition is inaccurate.
The BDS movement, advocating boycott, divestment and sanctions, is not a practical worry — Palestinian businesses and workers in the West Bank would suffer as well. But as it moves from Europe to this country, the effort gains strength among those who see it as a moral cause rather than a political attempt to de-Judaize Israel.
And Palestinians are likely to continue their diplomatic strategy to increase their foothold in the United Nations. Still, it is Israel they must deal with to retrieve land.
For now Jerusalem waits to see if the much-heralded rapprochement between the PA and Hamas is as ephemeral as past efforts to merge the two groups. If somehow Hamas agrees to recognize Israel, end its violent campaigns and accept previous resolutions as set forth by the Quartet (U.S., Israel, Russia and the UN), there may indeed be a potential Palestinian partner with whom to make a deal. Barring that unlikely event, though, the last nine months of diplomatic activity will have resulted in another stillborn birth.