Op-Ed: Direct talks are needed to advance peace


NEW YORK (JTA) — In the history of the State of Israel, never have there been preconditions for face-to-face peace talks. While it was not obligated to do so, the Israeli government last November ordered a 10-month freeze in new building projects in the West Bank.

This sign of good faith, the outward stretch of our hands in friendship with the Palestinians, has been rejected for seven months. Now the Palestinians are calling for the freeze to be extended.

The goal of the freeze was to encourage Palestinians to come to peace talks, but rather than embracing this moment, many are foolishly waiting for it to end so another freeze can be used as a “precondition for peace talks.”

Before we can even think about extending the gesture, Israel and the Palestinians must sit down immediately in direct talks. In the past seven months there is no telling what achievements could have been attained for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

While President Abbas and his Palestinian Authority have squandered this opportunity thus far, a few months still remain in the settlement freeze. This is why we need to seize the moment and act now to reach a series of political agreements that will entail the final peace.

While I believe that direct talks must begin as soon as possible, the situation on the ground keeps improving. In the West Bank, more jobs are being created, hundreds of roadblocks and barriers to trade have been removed, and the quality of life for Palestinians is soaring along with their economy.

This is all thanks to the cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian leadership and security forces. By combining Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s plan of building a Palestinian state from the ground up with a political settlement, Israel will have not only a peaceful neighbor but an economic partner next door.

Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, Hamas has made it clear that it does not desire peace and does not wish to be a partner in the peace process. Gaza City and Ramallah are, quite literally, a tale of two cities. Ramallah prospers under the control of moderates and peace seekers, while Gaza City is controlled by a militant terrorist organization that is more concerned with blowing up bridges rather than building them.

As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on his recent visit, he is ready for “President Abbas to grasp my hand, get into a room, shake it, sit down and negotiate a final settlement of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Never before in the history of the peace process has there been such an opportunity as we are presented with today. Mahmoud Abbas can be, and will be, a partner in peace.

To get the train rolling, we need to have direct negotiations. Indirect talks will not produce results and take us back nearly 20 years to Madrid.

Blood has been spilled for decades on both sides to bring us to where we are today: on the cusp of peace, an end to this period of conflict and the beginning of an era of partnership with the Palestinian people and hopefully the entire Arab world.

Direct talks will get the train moving, and for the first time, both sides agree on its destination.

(Joel Lion is the consul for media and spokesperson at the Consulate General of Israel in New York.)

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