A number of Israeli officials presenting at the 14th annual Herzliya Conference suggested that perhaps the time has come to stop viewing a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority as an absolute necessity.
The international community likes to portray the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as not only critical to Israel, but to the entire region and the world. Leaders like US Secretary of State John Kerry routinely insist that if Israel does not in short order conclude a peace deal with the PA, the Jewish state could cease to exist, at least in its current form.
And Israel has traditionally responded in kind, by focusing the bulk of its political energy on this issue.
But is the peace process with the Palestinian Authority really so critical?
Israeli Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar says it is not. “There is no basis to the perception that the status quo is a bad thing,” he told the audience in Herzliya on Sunday.
To the contrary, the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza suggests that upsetting the status quo by facilitating the creation of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria could itself be a very bad thing.
Sa’ar’s position was backed up by former national security advisor Maj.-Gen. Yaakov Amidror, who rejected American and European assessments that for Israel to live in peace with the rest of the region, it must first conclude a peace deal with the Palestinian leadership.
The reality, as Amidror explained it, is that very little will change even if tomorrow Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will shake hands and put their signatures to a bilateral agreement.
“Even if we do the most fantastic thing that people are expecting of us and sign a peace accord with the Palestinians, it will change nothing in terms of the basic gaps that are now leading and driving the behavior and conduct of countries in the area,” said the former military intelligence chief.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has long advocated abandoning talks with an intransigent Palestinian leadership in favor of focusing on improving relations directly with other Arab regimes in the region.