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The Israeli government is now more conservative than it was in 2000-2001. Yassir Arafat was warned by then President Clinton, as well as by Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, that the Palestinians would never get a better deal. Nonetheless he rejected that generous offer and started the second intifada which caused the death of thousands of people including nearly 1,000 Israeli civilians. How then can the Palestinians expect to get more for less after rejecting a generous offer and starting a mini-war? That is the question many Israelis are asking. The answer has not been forthcoming.
A related reason why peace will be difficult to achieve in the short run, is that life is pretty good both for most Israelis and for most West Bank Palestinians. The Israeli economy is thriving, there has been little terrorism, and recent polls suggest that Israelis are among the happiest and most contended people in the world. I am aware of no polls regarding West Bank Palestinians, but I recently visited Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad, and what I saw was a thriving city with fancy cars, high tech shops, bustling restaurants and many other indications that life is also good in Ramallah, which is the functioning capital of the Palestinian Authority.
When times are good for both sides, neither side may be willing to make significant concessions. For Palestinians, such concessions include giving up any right of return, a demilitarized status and a willingness to accept some Israeli communities on the outskirts of Jerusalem on land captured by Israel during the Six Day War. For Israelis, such concessions, in addition to dismantling the settlements, include a strengthened Palestinian military and some loss of control over the borders of a Palestinian state.
Were the Obama administration able to assure the Netanyahu government that Iran will not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons–even if that required a military strike as a last resort–then Israelis would be more willing to take risks in order to achieve peace with the Palestinian Authority. In the absence of such an assurance, the attention of the Netanyahu government will remain focused on the only existential threat Israel faces: namely, a nuclear Iran.
There are those who theorize that if Israel were to strike a deal with the Palestinians, that would make it easier for the Obama Administration to prevent a nuclear Iran. Whether that is true or not, the Israelis with whom I spoke want more than theorizing. They want an assurance that they can achieve real peace and safety, not only in relation to the Palestinians but also in relation to Iran, if they are to surrender control over territories they won in a defensive war.
To say that peace will be difficult to achieve is not to suggest that the parties stop trying. But in order to succeed, they must take into consideration the risks and realties on all sides.
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