In response to the latest Palestinian attempt to squeeze Israel, Israel's government should remind the Palestinians, through tough countermeasures, that adhering to maximalist political goals is counterproductive.
Last week, Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas blew off the US-brokered peace talks with Israel and slapped Washington in the face by re-launching a diplomatic war against Israel through international institutions.
Several lessons should be drawn from this turn of events. First, the breakdown of the talks is a reminder of the stubborn reality that so many prefer to ignore: The gap in the positions of the two sides is too large to bridge even by a creative diplomacy backed by a superpower. Both Israel and the Palestinians still possess tremendous energy to fight for things that are important to them. Peace and coexistence are not the most important goals of the two warring societies.
Therefore, the conclusion to be drawn from this is that attempts to broker conflict resolution between the parties needs to be replaced by a more realistic approach of conflict management. The good intentions of the international community should be directed towards attaining partial understandings and minimizing the suffering on both sides, rather than pursuing an elusive end to the conflict.
At the same time, Israel should seriously rethink the wisdom of continuing to go along with the preferences of the international community – implementation of the two-state paradigm – when evidence mounts that this paradigm is not workable. The attempt to impose a statist rationale on the Palestinian national movement in the hope that a proto-statist structure, such as the Palestinian Authority, would behave like Jordan or Egypt, has failed.
The opposite is true. The PA has failed to meet the main test of statehood – monopoly over use of force. It lost control over all its territory to Hamas rule in Gaza, where radical terrorists are hardly building a friendly state. Furthermore, the PA has developed into a dictatorial and corrupt political entity, hardly deserving the aid of enlightened states. More importantly, it is educating its children to hate Jews, with suicide bombers the role model for Palestinian youth. Thus, the chances of the PA developing into a responsible and peaceful state are slim.
In fact, a huge majority of Israelis fully understand that the current Palestinian leaderships in the West Bank, and obviously in Gaza too, are not real partners for peace.
Under such circumstances, Israel's interest in making concessions to the Palestinians just to maintain their participation in useless talks – is questionable. After all, the Palestinians need Israel more than vice versa. Abbas is still ruling primarily due to the efforts of Israeli forces in ridding the West Bank of Hamas and jihadist elements that are trying to take over the PA. Moreover, without its economic umbilical cord to Israel, the PA is not viable.
Therefore, Israeli concessions and gestures to keep the Palestinians talking without any Palestinian quid pro quo make little sense. Releasing convicted terrorists, in particular, is counterproductive. It undermines Israel's deterrence and justice system; it puts back on the streets individuals intent on harming Israelis; and it radicalizes Palestinian society that welcomes them as national heroes.
Furthermore, since 1993 the Palestinians have shown zero diplomatic flexibility, refusing to budge from their maximalist demands. They still insist on a division of Jerusalem, they reject key Israeli security requirements, and they refuse to acknowledge Jewish national rights and commit to an end to the conflict.
Unilateral measures and threats should be answered in kind. After all, Israel is the stronger party and can inflict much greater pain on the Palestinians than the PA can inflict upon Israel. Perhaps the PA needs to be reminded of this. Raw power politics is what everybody understands in the Middle East. In this region, fear is a better political currency than compassion and fairness.
The Palestinian threats to challenge Israel at the UN and in international organizations are empty. Nothing can change the reality on the ground without the acquiescence of Israel. For example, the acceptance of Palestine by UNESCO did not change the lives of the Palestinians one iota. Israel should also stop fearing Palestinian accusations at the International Criminal Court. Regular concessions to the Palestinians for not taking this course of action expose Israel to continuous blackmail. It is time to call the Palestinian's bluff and make the PA face the consequences.
Hopefully, Israel's government will kick the habit of paying the Palestinians for their participation in sham peace talks. Rather it is high time to remind the Palestinians that decisions in Jerusalem, to a large extent, determine their fate, and that only real negotiations and compromise with Israel can give them the state they desire.
Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.