Western pressure on Israel and praise for Palestine only delays resolution
The West appears to be losing patience for the Arab-Israeli conflict. Some are looking for shortcuts, including many undoubtedly well-intentioned British members of Parliament who recently called for the recognition of Palestine as a state. At the same time, many in the West are escalating their critical rhetoric against Israel, and regrettably, against Israel alone.
Perhaps this focus is understandable. Israel is rightfully seen (and sees itself) as part of the West, as the only democratic “responsible adult” in the area. The Palestinians are seen as children — guiltless and unaccountable — at once victims of and heirs to the Arab world’s tradition of political irresponsibility.
Treating the Palestinians as children, however, is the surest way to perpetuate the conflict, not end it. If there is ever to be a genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians, both sides must make difficult compromises. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has explicitly and repeatedly embraced this basic truth and in turn has taken concrete steps to advance his and his people’s goal of a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. These steps — including an unprecedented freeze on building in West Bank settlements — have typically been met with Western demands for even greater Israeli concessions and risk-taking.
No serious demands are made of the Palestinians, because as “children,” expectations of them are low, and they are never taken to task for their misdeeds. When the Palestinian Authority (PA) signs a pact with extremists who reject Israel’s very right to exist, we are told that the Palestinian leadership is weak and seeking internal legitimacy. When PA leaders demand a “right of return” clearly incompatible with a negotiated peace, the West refuses to confront them for propagating this maximalist fantasy. When the PA officially turns terrorist killers into Palestinian national heroes, we are told not to undermine their narrative. If the West continues to treat Palestinians as children, giving them a pass on these and other issues, what motivation do they have to grow up?
Western restlessness, manifesting itself in exclusive pressure on Israel, validates the Palestinians’ puerile stubbornness. If the Palestinians have their “state” recognized by the United Nations, the United Kingdom or Sweden without having to compromise or even negotiate, what incentive do they have to make peace? Recognition of a Palestinian state outside the framework of negotiations and unilateral Palestinian steps in the international arena will not end the conflict with Israel. They will set the stage for its continuation and escalation. Rather than creating a Palestinian state, they will only generate more theatrical but empty gestures that bring the Palestinian people no closer to genuine statehood.
Western states that seek a real peace between Israelis and Palestinians must choose. They can continue to infantilize the Palestinians and prolong the conflict, or they can play a constructive role in resolving it by demanding that the Palestinians take responsibility for their behavior like grown-ups. The latter requires insisting that extremism will not be rewarded and that there is no substitute for direct negotiations on all the core issues, including settlements, borders and security.
The West should make its generous aid to and diplomatic support for the Palestinians contingent on Palestinian willingness to negotiate in good faith and to compromise, unequivocal rejection of violence and recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. These are the fundamental requirements for a secure and enduring peace. Ultimately, shortsighted diplomatic shortcuts will not bring peace.
Gilad Erdan is a member of Israel’s security Cabinet.