Much to the chagrin of the international community, Middle East peace has remained elusive. Many well-respected diplomats have tried their hand at facilitating peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but none have succeeded.
Secretary of State John Kerry is the latest diplomatic official to take the plunge and attempt to tackle this Herculean task. For months he has engaged in intense shuttle diplomacy and made numerous overtures to the respective parties, all in the hopes that the two sides would agree to return to the negotiating table.
In a sign that persistence may indeed pay off, Kerry got Israelis and Palestinians to agree to sit down with each other face to- ace for the first time in three years. Many, however, are skeptical that the talks will bear any fruit.
In the days leading up to the resurrection of the talks, there was a whirlwind of activity that only served to bolster the doubters.
In order to help bring the Palestinians to the table, the U.S. brokered a deal whereby Israel would release 104 Palestinian prisoners over the next several months. The majority of these prisoners had carried out deadly attacks against Israelis and have the blood of innocent people on their hands.
When the first 26 of these prisoners were released, their homecomings were met with acclaim and adoration by Palestinians. The brother of freed terrorist Hosni Sawalha – who at the age of 16 boarded a bus near Tel Aviv in 1990 and began stabbing passengers, killing one man and wounding several others – echoed the sentiments of many of his fellow Palestinians when he said, “For sure, they are heroes.” Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said “we shall not rest until they are all with us,” referring to his desire to see all Palestinian terrorists freed from Israeli jails.
In recent weeks, rock attacks by Palestinians targeting buses traveling in and around the Old City of Jerusalem have become more prevalent and a number of Israeli passengers have sustained injuries as a result.
Hizbullah boasted that it was responsible for planting the explosives that recently injured four Israeli soldiers near the Lebanese border. “We will cut the legs of Israeli soldiers who enter the Lebanese lands,” said Hizbullah leader Hasan Nasrallah.
Israeli civilians were forced to run for cover when a rocket was fired at the southern city of Eilat. In response to the ongoing rocket fire from Hamas, Israel carried out an air strike on Gaza. Referring to the incessant rocket barrage targeting Israeli citizens, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israel Defense Forces spokesman, said “this is an absurd situation that would not be tolerated anywhere else in the world.”
Adding to the drama that threatened to derail the peace talks before they even began was the announcement that Israel had approved 890 new housing units in Gilo. That news followed the Israeli Housing Ministry’s recent approval of 1,200 new apartments in parts of Jerusalem and in Yehuda and Shomron.
The uproar that ensued was incredible. Although Secretary Kerry publicly acknowledged that he had conferred with Prime Minister Netanyahu and had been assured the new construction would not affect the peace map, he nonetheless felt compelled to reiterate the American policy with regard to Israeli settlements, declaring them “illegitimate.”
Israel determines that it requires more housing for its citizens, announces plans to construct new housing on Israeli soil, and is the target of widespread condemnation. What other nation in the world is told that it cannot build housing within its own borders?
Let us not forget that Israel has historically made great concessions in an effort to achieve peace. It reluctantly released Palestinian terrorists and put them back on the streets. Eight years ago it uprooted the families of Gush Katif and forced them from their homes in an attempt to realize peace. It has instituted moratoriums on new construction in order to seek peace.
And what concessions have the Palestinians made? They continue to refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. They continue to call for the destruction of Israel. They continue to breed incitement and teach their children to hate Jews. They continue to carry out heinous acts of terror against Israelis. They continue to mercilessly fire deadly rockets at Israeli cities.
Again, what concessions have they made? Absolutely none.
There are several fundamental issues that must first be addressed before a substantive and enduring peace agreement can be reached.
During a recent visit to Israel, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the highest ranking Jewish member of Congress in history and the cousin of a Tel Aviv terror victim, observed that peace will only occur when the Arab world goes through a “cultural mind-shift” regarding Israel and accepts Israel’s right to exist.
The problem is that Secretary Kerry is trying to force-feed peace to Israel and the Palestinians. Yes, peace is an admirable goal. But trying to compel the two sides to make peace is unreasonable in light of the great divide that unfortunately still exists.
We all yearn for peace. We want nothing more than for our Israeli brethren to be able to live in peace and harmony with their Arab neighbors. But the peace we crave is a lasting and legitimate one, not some half-baked agreement rooted in mistrust and misguided principles.