Alon Ben-Meir - 12 June 2009
President Obama's push for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict has given the Palestinians an historic opportunity to end their disastrous state of affairs. Although many parties involved in the conflict-especially the Arab states and Israel-have contributed directly or indirectly to Palestinian suffering, the Palestinians have undoubtedly inflicted the greatest injury upon themselves by forgoing numerous opportunities to make peace with dignity. With the best of intentions by the international community, and even with unwavering American and Arab support, only the Palestinians united in their purpose and committed to a peaceful solution can end their hardship and realize a state of their own. Sixty-two years of dislocation and despair can come to an end; the question is will the Palestinian leadership be able to present a united front and rise to the historic occasion?

There are five prerequisites that the Palestinians must collectively meet to achieve a state of their own. Certainly no one should expect either the Palestinian Authority (PA) or especially Hamas to adopt all of these simultaneously or immediately. One thing however must be clear: no Israeli government-regardless of its ideological leaning-will compromise on these five issues, nor will the Obama administration break its resolve in backing them. These demands on the Palestinian leadership are consistent with the requirements imposed by the US, EU and Israel calling on the Palestinians to renounce terrorism, accept prior agreements and recognize Israel's right to exist. Hamas has shown in the past an unwillingness to cooperate with demands from the international community, but it seems that with new US efforts to push reconciliation, Hamas has a unique opportunity to join the political process as a recognized party. The PLO under the leadership of Yasir Arafat went through the same pain, and in 1988 recognized Israel and renounced terrorism. In a recent interview with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, he agreed not only to a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders, but conceded that "when the time comes, Hamas will make some of the moves demanded of it by the West."

Form a united front:
As the Egyptian-brokered talks between Fatah and Hamas continue, it is becoming more imperative that the Palestinian leadership show a united front as they face upcoming negotiations with the US and Israeli governments. A Palestinian unity government will allow Hamas to save face as it can commit to the two-state solution that the Hamas charter forbids. This will give the radical yet undeniably popular group a voice and stake in the negotiating process, and can bring Hamas to the table as a significant political force rather than an armed faction with a devious political agenda. Both Hamas and the PA (which represents the Palestinian Liberation Organization) know that the prospect of reaching a viable peace deal with Israel requires that the Palestinians speak in one voice. Hamas as a popular movement has secured a place in the Palestinian body politic and no one can effectively deny Hamas a say in negotiations. This why it is critical that Hamas is included in the Palestinian government, because left to its own devices and with no prospect of exercising some power over Palestinian affairs, it will undoubtedly resort to violence to disrupt the process. It appears though that the Egyptian-mediated negotiations between the PA and Hamas to form a unity government have advanced considerably, and the two sides may well reach an agreement this summer.

That being said, Hamas must nevertheless drop the illusion that it can control the Palestinian political agenda entirely. It must realize that the PA, with the support of the United States and other powers, will soon have a military powerful enough to confront Hamas' future challenges and to prevail. The recent clash in the West Bank proved that Fatah soldiers are willing to take on Hamas if necessary. Hamas must further be disabused of any illusion that it can overthrow the PA by political or violent means and take-over the West Bank. The continued training of PA security forces in Jordan with American funding, monitoring and equipping remains essential. It sends a clear message to Hamas' leadership that there will be no chance of unseating the PA and that time is not in its favor. And finally, if Israel is to make any major concessions to the Palestinians, it will only do so knowing that they are in agreement with a united leadership supported by the Arab street. Israel will not risk giving up an inch of land to the PA if it feels threatened that Hamas can hijack it and use it to launch violent attacks. If Hamas wants to gain legitimate political credibility in all of Palestine, it must demonstrate to the International community and to Israel in particular that it can act as a credible and responsible political partner along with the PA.

End all acts of violence:
Cessation of violence is fundamental not only to the resumption of peace negotiations but for fostering confidence between all parties. Decades of violence and counter-attacks have not improved the Palestinian prospect for statehood in any capacity. Although the PA has acknowledged this reality, and worked to quell violence in the West Bank, Hamas has made violent resistance against Israel the pillar of its strategy. Hamas too has realized, however-especially following the Gaza war-that continued rocket fire can only get them so far. During the war Hamas' fighters could not confront the Israeli army and assumed defensive posture as they were no match to Israel's overwhelming military prowess. The militants furthermore used women and children as human shields to raise the collateral damage and to bring international pressure on Israel to end the fighting. Now that Hamas has suspended violent resistance, it must continue to reinforce it at all costs in order to become a party to the peace negotiation. Should Hamas choose instead to violently disrupt the political process that the US is leading with the active involvement of the Arab states, it will risk losing all the political capital it gained throughout the past decade.

Ending the calls for Israel's destruction:
Challenging Israel's right to exist will get the Palestinians nowhere, as has been demonstrated in the past. If Israel feels threatened that it must fight for existence it will justify all means, however severe, to ensure its long-term safety and survival. Moreover, Israel does not need Hamas' recognition, though in ongoing negotiations Hamas has indirectly had to acknowledge Israel's existence as a reality. Hamas' leadership has agreed to 1967 borders, a long-term ceasefire and the possibility of living in peace with Israel, as was conveyed by former President Jimmy Carter. Khaled Meshal may come much closer to accepting Israel in his upcoming policy address. Moreover, Hamas is also fully aware of the changing political dynamics in the region as the Arab states are moving toward reconciliation with Israel. The Obama administration has repeatedly reaffirmed America's unshakable commitment to Israel's security and a viable Palestinian state. Hamas should not forsake this opportunity for an unrealistic goal of calling for Israel's destruction. This is a chance that Hamas may not want to miss, especially after watching Hezbollah's recent defeat in the Lebanese Parliamentary elections.

Give up on the Palestinian right of return:
This may be the most difficult demand for the Palestinians to come to terms with; it represents one of their toughest bargaining chips and in a large part caused the collapse of the negotiations at Camp David in 2000. While in theory, the Palestinian right of return appears logical, no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could possibly envision the return of any significant number of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper. From the Israeli perspective, any sizeable influx of Palestinian refugees will change overnight the demographic make-up of the state. This is not a question of right and wrong; it is simply a matter of Israel's survival as a Jewish state for which it was created, and Israel will never abandon or compromise on this principle. That being said, any Palestinian refugee who opts to resettle in their homeland should be able to do so in the West Bank or Gaza once a Palestinian state is created.

In past negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinian representatives understood that a solution to the refugee problem lies in resettlement and/or compensation. The United Nations General Assembly resolution 194 (1948) which called on Israel to allow the refugees to return to their original homes is not binding, as is the case with all General Assembly resolutions. Moreover, resolution 194 was superseded by the binding United Nations Security Council resolution 242 (1967), which instead called for "achieving a just settlement to the refugee problem." Having preached the gospel of the right of return so consistently over so many years, the Palestinians' leadership may not be in a position to simply drop the issue altogether unless it is a part of the whole package of a peace agreement. Yet, the sooner they begin to modify their narrative, prepare the public, and indicate to the United States their readiness to address the refugee problem in the context of resettlement and compensation, the easier it will be for the Israelis to make concessions in other areas such as the settlements, where they feel less threatened.

Embrace the Arab Peace Initiative:
The leading Arab states-especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt-must persuade Hamas to embrace the Arab Peace Initiative and rejoin the Arab fold. The Arab Peace Initiative generally calls on Israel to give up the territories captured in the 1967 war and to find a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem in exchange for peace with all Arab countries. This offers Hamas a clear way out of its self-imposed isolation. This is an opportunity Hamas should not forsake, as the Initiative represents the collective Arab will and provides the basis for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. Its merits have been acknowledged outside the Arab world by President Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres among others, and it will likely be included in the Road Map as the official framework for negotiations. Moreover, the leaders of the Arab states are determined to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which has been feeding extremism to the detriment of their own regimes. And once Syria joins the peace process on that basis, which may be sooner than later, Hamas will stand alone in the Arab world in its struggle against Israel. Moreover, if Hamas is seen as an obstructionist undermining the prospect of a comprehensive peace, it will force many Arab states that support President Obama's peace offensive to take severe punishing measures against Hamas. Hamas' leadership can see the writing on the wall, and to maintain its political viability it must find a way to join the Arabs states. While it will take time and a concerted effort to include Hamas in the Annapolis process, in the interim it should accept the Initiative created by the Saudis who are instrumental to its survival.

Although these requirements for peace are not new, they have eluded the Palestinians for decades. These years of struggle have also been instructive, however, as the Arab states led by Egypt have gradually concluded that Israel cannot and will not be marginalized or destroyed. A majority of Palestinian civilians have also finally come to accept the premise of a two-state solution. Time and circumstances matter greatly and now both Israel and the Palestinians face an unprecedented opportunity to forge a lasting peace.

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Dear Alon

It is grate reading you here.

What do you think Israel need to do?

Is Israel blocking progress in the palestinian side?
I am quite intrigued by your observations as well as your statements as pertaining the Arab-Israeli conflict, It is interesting that you fail to include the great body of Arab states in your blog.

There is, however, a very obvious theme that is running through the body of your work. Let me hasten to add that you have not added anything new to the discussion of this conflict since at least 1937 when the British came out with their White Paper..

The players on the Palestinian side have changed but how have new ideas permeated their thought since that time? I submit that the fundamentals for a solution are still the same and the sides have not moved rather the 1967 war just created a new time line and new demands.

I agree that it is important that the Palestinians accept the basic Israeli demands and safeguards for a settlement to occur but how can one possibly believe that this will happen when over half a century has passed and the Palestinians have become more extreme rather than more accommodating to a settlement. Oslo and Gaza have not been a harbinger of better times but rather have brought more wars and misery to Israel and as a result to the Palestinians.

The Palestinians had a state handed to them on a silver platter in 1947 and yet they rejected it in order to get it all. In 2000 as well as with Oslo the Palestinians could have had a state, although smaller than in 1947 and yet they rejected it.

So what are the negotiations all about? Will these negotiations bring us to a settlement rather than just a pause in more demands? Or to paraphrase you , is this just going to be an interlude between more wars and more attempts to eradicate Israel?

There is a consensus in Israel on holding on to Jerusalem and as you are well aware Jerusalem has in fact been annexed to Israel by an act of the Knesset. It is also folly to believe that the 500, 000 settlers are going to be uprooted. To do that you will have a civil war or a large scale army mutiny. How do you propose getting around that? As far as I can see there is no going back to the 1967 borders, they are a part of history and nothing more.

Netanyahu's ideas are probably the best that is available to the Palestinians and only borders are left for negotiations. If the Palestinians want and are ready for a state than it is doable otherwise we are just spinning our wheels on academic whirlwinds.
Dear Mr. Alon,
It's good article with good ideas have to be considered when to come to envisage any solution to this conflict, with this presentation, with these ideas and with good intentions , parties can start or even can build on what they've reached.
But I would like to discuss some issues here :-
• You're considering HAMAS as a pivot body to any future solution, putting aside and ignoring very important facts that any solution should be according to the international well and perspectives, necessarily according to codes of UN resolutions and not according to HAMAS's perspectives, mere projection of HAMAS's role as a pivot one is just a mere illusion and dwarfing ( minimizing)and deprecation to the role of international community and relevant UN resolutions.
• Insufflations to the HAMAS's role in the peace process , could be a version to be applied to judge the role of any extreme right wing Israeli faction /party, in other words can I say, for instance that (F.M) Mr. Avigdor Libermann's party would be obstruction to the peace process as HAMAS would be.
• I think when we come to talk about a Palestinian state and just solution to our cause, the majority of the Palestinian people would have their say, which is totally different to that say on the latter elections, that time the intention of the electorates was to judge and punish opaque prevailed to run municipalities and village councils .
• Don't you think, it's an illusion to link the whole process destiny on the idea that " HAMAS IS THERE" while the bolding the role of HAMAS and intimidating others; even PA ,with that role was a mere invention bait created by " SMART GUYS" here or there? And it seems all swallowed that bait , starting in HAMAS itself?
• I think it's time to count on good intentions and it's time to work seriously on the achievement of the two-state solution which , it's definitely the eventual viable answer to this conflict .
• What do you think about " GENEVA ACCORD" ? are you pro ?
I agree with you, Adnan, that " Lieberman's party would be obstruction to the peace process as HAMAS would be".
Lieberman's eventual veto could destabilize I. government and would baffle any negotiations.
Settlers will torpedo any peace process as well and by violence maybe.
Israeli public opinion is against any concessions.
Thus the Israeli side is as disunited as the Palestinian one and it is not sure
that Netanyahu is the proper consolidator.
Mr. Ben-Meir should address his exhortation to unity also to the Israelis.
I don't know if Mt Ben-Meir has traveled much of the West Bank lately, or studied the latest maps of the increasingly segregated roads, the encirclement of Palestinian communities by walls, and the growth of strategic settlement areas such as the Jordan Valley and the E1 corridor. I travel the roads of the West Bank daily and It's patently obvious that the plans laid down in the 1970's for the colonization of the West Bank, and the containment of the Arab population has passed the point of no return.

The reiterating of the mantra of 'two states for two peoples' will not alter the facts on the ground, facts that seem unlikely to change no matter what the Palestinians do or say. Israel has won, and winners always dictate the conditions of surrender, negotiations notwithstanding. Nit-picking about the stance of Hamas will not alter this.

Ben-Meir's perspective reflects the 'soft' Zionist stance in Israel, and the 'consensus' among Jewish Israelis. This consensus is rooted in ideology, not democracy or justice, and as such has no legitimacy within the international community. The assumption by Israelis that Palestinians will accept Jerusalem's annexation of about 10% of the West Bank is naive. The precondition that 1948 Palestinians can never return to their native areas is a non-starter, and the notion that the West Bank Palestinian Cantons can be connected by tunnels and closed roads and be called a state - is laughable if it weren't so tragic.

Assumptions that an 'ethnic state', Jewish, Muslim or otherwise, pretending to be a democracy, will continue to be acceptable in a modern world will eventually be left in the dustbin of history.

Both Ben-Meir and many of the 'Peace Camp' here see determined to follow lockstep into this collective fallacy, on the assumption that the state of Israel will somehow reverse the course it has followed these past 40+ years. Pointing the finger at Hamas as the latest obstructor to peace only plays into the hands of those who perpetuate the status quo in the name of a Greater Israel. Even the title of Ben Meir's essay reflects a mindset that the situation is the fault of the Palestinians. No-one can deny the mess that Palestinians politics is in today. The increasingly repressive Palestinian Authority has never had less legitimacy among it's people. Abu Mazen and his cronies do not represent the will of the Palestinian people, but unfortunately it's all they have right now.

We really cannot expect anything better to emerge under conditions of Occupation. I expect the consolidation of Israel's grip on the West Bank to continue, regardless of Obama's well-meaning efforts. We haven't reach bottom yet, but when we do, when we reach the next pivotal cusp of history, all hell is going to break loose. None of us are smart enough to predict what will happen, or when, but it's coming. There's a tension building on the Palestinian street, not quite as palpable as the period leading up to the 2nd Intifada, but it's there, and growing. I'm hoping that the next major crisis will be political, not military.

Here's a few possible scenarios:
1. The Palestinian Authority will dissolve itself, concede defeat to Israel, and demand voting rights for Palestinians.
2. Progressives on both sides will start advocating forcefully for a con-federation or union of two states.
3. Another round of bloody conflict.
4. US sponsored isolation of Israel - a-la South Africa.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not an advocate of the destruction of Israel, just it's peaceful and rapid evolution into a just democracy where I can be proud to be a citizen. We just have to get over the idea of a Jewish controlled state, and move towards a Jewish flavored state.
Mr. Fred,
Actually , once I read the scenarios, I’m really curious about more clarification, please :-
Mr. Khuffash,
I believe the foundation of the PA and the 1993 Olso agreements was a defeat for Arafat. He was a little too eager to come home, and gave the Israelis too much. This has played out since the PA has little power, and the Occupation is much, much worse than 1993. The PA has failed to live up to the expectations of the people it governs, and Israel keeps sending settlers, building walls and Apartheid roads.

Since Israel has created a defacto single state form the Jordan to the Medterranean then from a certain perspection it might be viewed as rational for the Palestinian Authority (not the PLO) to dissolve itself in recognition of the single state. Then, demands for equal rights can be made. The various Palestinian political parties could then organize within the new framework. Of course today this scenario is a bit of a fantasy.

Armageddon?? No. I don't subscribe to biblical prophesies.

A union of two states would be Israel and Palestine, with a third state being the Union or Federation. Justr like the USA has 50 states, with the 51st state being the government of the United States. Europe may be a better model for us here.
Mr. Fred and Mr. Adnan,

I suggest to you to be less formal, it is an interesting topic, and this is a question what the Palestinians and what the Israelis should do to achieve peace.

I also wish to suggest to you to avoid blame, as it is not Arafat blame for Oslo failure, nor Israel. Oslo was a 1st effort to brake the aggression loop. and if you think that Arafat was asking too little so Israel was asking too much. it is the whole system that fail to break the violence loop that we are all part of.

I know many of us recognize that we are all one human tissue, struggling to balance our selves on this piece of territory. we have one future that include all of us, but from what we know of the conflict we may need to go to a stage of two states. two states is a stage where each side can change for a grater cause, to be able to join the other side to make a better society. the "state" is just a formation of entity, we are the people communicate as we do here, and will build a world that is more balanced and fair then what our ancestors gave us.

For the post itself I argue that it is partial to ask only from one side to accept the other side terms. we all need to compromise, and when any of us think of what the "palestinians" should accept, he need to consider what the "Israelis" should accept. At this moment there is no need to solve all the problem, but the needs are:

1) Israel must stop the settlement and bring a clear respectable border for the Palestinian state to be. Israel should recognition that Palestine National State is here and a workable agreement is possible.
2) Palestine society must find a way to unite under recognition that Israel is here and a workable agreement is possible.

we will need to do many other compromises in the future, but we need to start with that NOW.
Mr. Neri,
I do agree with you, I strongly believe that, parties to the conflict, have no other choices, but to
reconcile and compromise.
I think it is very well noticeable that we all agree that we are going through the most critical time in our conflict history. Never in my life time nor through the history of the conflict there was an opportunity for peace to be achieved, like now, while in the same time there is a real danger of this conflict to blowup wide open, like no one imagined before nor the brightest minds of Israel’s strategist would think of, and if it does blowup no one can predict how it will be stopped nor how long it will last bringing death, and disaster to our kids and putting the future of the Middle East in turmoil. I agree with Fred that There's a tension building on the Palestinian street, but I add that it is building up in all Arab streets, if we do not move towards peace now, we will see soon total unstable region , leaders and regimes falling in many countries, extremist coming to power on both sides of the conflict, leading us to complete disasters.
I see Israel at this point being the complete negative side refusing to take the Arab peace initiative seriously and to see it as an opportunity that will not see again for decades to come, if it let it pass by, Israel position now reminds me of the famous Arab’s 3 No's during their summit in Khartoum in the sixties. In my opinion that the overwhelming military power of Israel giving it the false feeling of security and the feeling that it can drive the Arabs into more and more concessions, which is completely wrong. We are at the most critical road intersection in our times that it can lead us to peace and prosperity for all, or to fall again into the never ending cycles of violence and counter violence, that no one will be spared from it.

Classic reasons why peace will never be accomplished. It is not you or anyone else that will dictate how peace is to be achieved, to the Israeli people. Your denial of Jews as a people and their land is a throwback to the most vicious lies throughout our history and not even the nazis promulgated this.

I would debate your points but suffice it to say that it would just be a gigantic waste of time and in the end you would still hold on very tightly to these lies and misinformed opinions.

The Palestinian true destiny or oblivion lies within themselves as well as within the Israeli electorate. Time is running out as more and more Jews and Israelis are coming to the conclusion that maybe the annihilation of Israel as a Jewish state is more important that a Palestinian state.

Many Israeli leaders since Ben Gurion have been waiting for the Palestinians to come to the table and all of them have been disappointed.

LUC do not be so smug with the lives and destiny of the Palestinians and Israelis while living the good and peaceful life in far off New Zealand.
It's interesting how people often talk past each other. Luc did not deny the Jews as a people, but rather he questions the right of a single ethnic/religious group to control a state, rather than developing democratically with the other peoples who live here. That is a legitimate point for debate on this forum, not a reason to send him flames.



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