It shouldn’t have to be said at this point, but let’s say it anyway: After too many wars, Israelis want nothing more than peace. One would be hard-pressed to think of any “gestures” for peace that Israel was asked to make that weren’t made, most recently this past week’s approval of the release of 104 Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails.
Lost in all the “gestures” is the fact that the Israeli people could use some gestures, too; they need “a confidence-building measure,” too. Being pressured to release 104 prisoners was a worrisome way to start, followed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announcing that “in a final resolution we would not see the presence of a single Israeli,” not even civilians, “on our lands.”
Most notable, and disturbing, is the expectation that Israel is the party to make sacrifices even before the talks begin — seeing murderers of their children go free — while not a ripple of criticism is made of Abbas’ overt racism for fear of offending the PA and ending the nascent negotiations.
There are those who fear an apartheid West Bank under Israeli rule, but a Judenrein one is morally vulgar, particularly when Jews are an indigenous people who, if this is indeed about peace, ought to be able to live without fear under a Palestinian flag. All the more when two million Arabs are citizens in Israel with all the rights that entails.
Israelis welcomed new peace talks, but Palestinian demands and threats have led 85 percent of Israelis to object to the prisoner release. And more than half say they would vote against territorial concessions and some variable of return to the 1967 borders, despite foreign insistence that an Israeli refusal to do would be disastrous. Of course we are a long way from a referendum, which would come at the conclusion of successful negotiations. The odds against a full peace deal are still sky high. Perhaps during the nine months both sides have committed to these talks a more practical goal, to agree on borders and security issues first, will emerge.
Now is the time for Palestinian gestures to soothe Israeli fears. Now would be the time for the PA to make good on a key provision it agreed to in the Oslo Accords — to end the Nazi-like (it is nothing less than that) anti-Semitic incitement in the Palestinian media, as exposed almost daily by the Palestinian Media Watch. Perhaps there could be grass-roots interaction in positive settings, such as the Palestinians asking for 104 scholarships to Israeli universities.
Peace negotiations are rooted in each side believing there is something to gain from the process. Israel has already made a painful move in agreeing to the prisoner release. But both sides need confidence-building gestures, the Israeli people as much as anyone.