It has long been said that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are sensitive to each other’s narrative, and that there cannot be a true peace process without the willingness to appreciate the other side’s history, pain, suffering, hopes and dreams.
In simpler terms, negotiations cannot go anywhere without a mutually agreed baseline of truth. Sadly, a shared truth has always been one of the missing ingredients between Israelis and Palestinians, and the U.S. as would-be mediator is not helping.
Take the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision supporting the right of the President to decide that Israel does not have sovereignty over Jerusalem. I have no issue with the constitutional matter of who gets to make those decisions; every President asserts his right to make foreign policy decisions without Congressional meddling.
The problem is that the U.S. position reeks of political correctness and a refusal to tell the truth. Under any final-status agreement, Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital, even if one day East Jerusalem ends up being the capital of a new Palestinian state. U.S. unwillingness to state this forthrightly only serves to patronize Palestinians, to unnecessarily antagonize our Israeli neighbor, and to illustrate why U.S. mediation has not been particularly effective.
The U.S. administration’s position on Jerusalem is inconsistent and even contrary to its general policy towards Israel / Palestine. When Israel declared its independence following the 1947 U.N. partition plan that called for two states, Palestinians and the Arab world rejected the partition plan and attacked Israel with the intent to destroy it.
Israel not only survived, but the war ended with Israel holding territories beyond those allocated to the Jewish state in the Partition Plan. Those 1949 Armistice lines are now referred to as the 1967 borders, or the “green line.” If West Jerusalem, which has been inside the green line since 1949, is not recognized as part of Israel, then none of the territories beyond the U.N. plan can be recognized as present day Israeli territory; if that is U.S. policy, Washington should say so openly.
Of course, the U.S. is not about to change its general policy on Israel / Palestine, but its stated policy on Jerusalem is an unsavory mix of evasions and falsehoods that hurt U.S. credibility. Here in my opinion are the hard but necessary steps that the three main protagonists in this conflict should take:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas openly admitted that Palestinian rejection of the U.N. partition plan was a mistake, but then he asks why Palestinians have been punished by Israel ever since. Instead of finger-pointing, Abbas must acknowledge that Palestinians should have demanded that Jordan turn over the West Bank territories and East Jerusalem when it was under Amman’s control between 1949 and 1967. Abbas should add that the 1967 Six Day War also was a big mistake, just as the late King Hussein did. And Abbas should continue by saying that the two, deadly and years-long Intifadas that killed thousands of Palestinians and Israelis were also wrong, and that Palestinians should have taken seriously Israel’s peace offerings over the years. After all, he now bemoans the opportunity he squandered when former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert proposed what Abbas now calls a genuine peace plan.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserts that he supports a two-state solution. If that is true, he should say that while disposition of existing settlements will be left for negotiations, there will be no new settlements in the West Bank. He should state that he does not want Israel to have to choose between maintaining its Jewish character and its democratic ideals. To be a peacemaker, though, he must go further, saying that he understands the need for Palestinian dignity and freedom, which must come about in the context of assuring Israel’s security. In fact, he must tell the Israeli public that Palestinian statehood is in Israel’s security interest.
If President Barack Obama wants Israel to appreciate the purity of his motives as he delivers his messages of “tough love” to Israel regarding settlements, he should share similar expressions with Palestinian leaders by calling them out on their undiminished culture of hate that vilifies Israelis and Jews, extols terrorists and murderers, and refuses to prepare their people for peace and reconciliation. He must tell Abbas that Jews should have every right to live in a future Palestinian state, just as 20% of Israelis today are Palestinians. And he must end the fiction that Jerusalem – at least its western half – is not the capital of Israel, so that Palestinians have no doubt about the parameters of what the two-state solution can accomplish.
This would be a good start towards a shared truth and therefore towards peace, though no doubt there are many other things that Obama, Netanyahu, and Abbas should tell each other and their people instead of following the advice of fearful political operatives. In addition to finding it liberating to speak so honestly, they might be surprised at how much good it can accomplish.
* Bassem Eid is a Palestinian human rights activist, political analyst and political commentator. He has agreed to write periodic commentaries for Israel Today Magazine. Don't miss out - SUBSCRIBE NOW >>