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Despite earnest efforts by American President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas, it will be extremely difficult for a final peaceful resolution to be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians in the near future. The major obstacle to peace is the international community led by the United Nations. The international community has emboldened Arab leaders into believing that Israel can be delegitimated and weakened through international pressure, and that if the Palestinians hold out long enough, they can achieve their ultimate goal: Namely to end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state accepted by the international community.
This was made plain by a statement issued this week from Damascus and signed not only by Hamas but by several secular Palestinian groups that had previously favored direct talks. The current position of these groups is to oppose negotiations and wait for Israel to be isolated even further. Here is the way the statement put it: “Insisting on direct talks throws a lifeline to Israel as its isolation deepens… A return to direct talks serves the US and Zionist aim to liquidate the national rights of the Palestinian people.” By “the national rights of the Palestinian people,” the groups that signed the statement mean the right of Palestinians to “return” to what is now Israel and to turn it into yet another Muslim-Arab state. Hamas leader Khaled Meshall praised the meeting that produced this negative statement as “exceptional,” because it united eleven disparate groups, some religious, others secular, that he claims represent a majority of the Palestinians.
Why negotiate from a position of relative weakness, the signers of the statement ask rhetorically, when the international community is strengthening the position of the Palestinians, while weakening Israel? Delay, it is believed, will help the Palestinians get a better deal, perhaps even preserving their so-called right of return–a “right” no Israeli government could ever accept.
Even the more moderate Palestinian Authority, led by Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, is escalating its demands from what it sees as an increasingly isolated Israel. It is now demanding more than what it was offered by President Clinton and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000-2001. And it is offering considerably less in return. Back then, the Palestinian Authority could have offered Israel real peace on all of its borders. Today it can offer peace only on Israel’s eastern border with the West Bank. Peace with the Palestinian Authority will not bring peace with Hamas on Israel’s southwestern border with Gaza. Nor will it bring peace on its northern border with Lebanon, which is now controlled by Hezbollah, a proxy for Iran. And speaking of Iran, the virulently anti-Israel regime which now controls that country is the 800 lb gorilla in the room.
On a recent month long visit to Israel, I met with every Israeli political and military leader. During the course of our many hours of discussion, the issue of the Palestinians was clearly secondary to the threat posed by a nuclear armed Iran. Unless that threat is eliminated, or considerably delayed, many Israelis believe that they have little to gain from a partial peace with the group that threatens them least, namely the Palestinian Authority. And they have something to lose, because peace with the Palestinian Authority will require the dismantling of most West Bank settlements. This will not be easy for Israel to bring about, because there will be hostile resistance from at least some of the settlers. The vast majority of Israelis support the dismantling of the settlements, even if it requires civil turmoil, but only if they get real peace in return.
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