The French Initiative

by: David Robbins

February 08, 2016

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This article originally appeared on The Times of Israel blog

Here they go again. The French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, has announced a new initiative toward convening an international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The history of such international gatherings, with the unique exception of the Madrid Peace Conference following the first Gulf War, has not been a good one. Most often, they become forums for bashing Israel rather than making real progress to break through on the toughest final status issues that still divide Israelis and Palestinians.

This bad history is compounded, however, in this instance, by the accompanying statement by Mr. Fabius that if such a conference fails to lead to progress toward peace, France will recognize a Palestinian State. What incentive remains for the Palestinians to be forthcoming?

This alone would guarantee the failure of a conference. It is always a challenge to get the Palestinians to be forthcoming toward Israel. If they know for certain that they will be rewarded for inaction, the likelihood of progress is even more remote.

The French position reflects the fundamental fallacy of much of the international community in addressing the conflict. Because they see Israel as the occupier and stronger party, they see pressure on Israel as the way to move the process. In this view, there is nothing expected of the Palestinians.

Make no mistake: Any hope for peace requires actions and compromises by both sides. Israel has to be forthcoming, as well as the Palestinians.

The record, however, shows repeatedly that Israel can negotiate in good faith and offer solutions that give something to each side.

This was true at Camp David in 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state on more than 90 percent of the territory; this was true when his successor Ariel Sharon pulled Israel out of Gaza in 2005; this was true in 2008, when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians even more than Ehud Barak did for building a state. This was true ultimately in the recent effort of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to broker a compromise.

While the Netanyahu government has been less willing to propose an initiative on peace, there is every reason to believe, based on Israel’s history of both the left and the right, that Israel will be there if Palestinians demonstrate they are prepared to truly engage in direct negotiations and willing to make important compromises for peace.

The so-called friends of the Palestinians, who blame Israel for every aspect of the conflict, do the Palestinians no favor by expecting nothing of their friends in return.

A far more productive exercise for the international community, as counterintuitive as it may seem, is to direct its attention toward Palestinian behavior. The focus should be on what changes are necessary from the Palestinian side in order to bring an independent state closer to reality. This does not mean Israel is exempt from expectations that it make serious and sustained efforts to achieve peace. However, the world should expect the Palestinians to compromise as well.

Such compromises that should be demanded of the Palestinians include accepting the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish State; the recognition that Palestinian refugees will be resettled in a Palestinian State, just as Jewish refugees were resettled in the Jewish State; the acknowledgement that a peace agreement between the sides will mean the end of the conflict and future demands; and the cessation of incitement campaigns against Israel and Jews and an end to celebrating to those who commit terrorist attacks.

That’s a lot to ask of the Palestinians, you say, particularly because they are the occupied party.

Maybe so, but it has never been tried. And the Palestinians remain in their difficult situation. Meanwhile, Israeli initiatives have not only gone nowhere, they have often been followed by Palestinian violence.

It is, however, not merely that this approach has not been tried. It is more that it speaks to the root of the problem and to understandable Israeli skepticism that the Palestinian goal has not changed at all from 1947 when it was clear that Israel’s destruction was its primary aim.

However much one seeks to blame Israel for the Palestinian condition, it is Palestinians themselves, with a changed approach, who can bring about a fundamental change in the status quo. Israel’s reaction to a new Palestinian approach will undoubtedly be cautious but will be a response that could move things forward toward a two-state solution.

Having said all this, Israel needs to think about taking its own initiative, not because any such move will ensure that there is peace — that can only happen when the Palestinians engage in the rethinking described above — but in order to credibly demonstrate to the world its commitment to peace.

Internally, inaction has created a vacuum that is being filled by people who are against a two-state solution and who would like to erode Israel’s democratic values.

Externally, boycotts and delegitimization campaigns continue to mount against Israel and one-state ideas gain momentum.

An Israeli initiative — whether on halting settlements, better respecting Palestinians’ rights, or offering a plan — will not bring an end to anti-Israel activity. It will, however, weaken it significantly. It could draw away from it many well-meaning people who are frustrated with the decades-old stalemate and status quo.

Responsibility for peace and for accepting at least parts of the others’ narrative lie on both parties.

It is the Palestinian rethink, however, that could make all the difference.