It is easy to be sidetracked by the pace of politics in the Middle East and to lose sight of the big picture.
The announcement that 1600 apartments will be built in East Jerusalem is a case in point. It was quickly followed by Israel's Defence Minister threatening to quit, the Agriculture Minister voicing anger at his government and the Social Services Minister making similar noises.
As if on cue, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, declared he would not participate in indirect talks with Israel unless the plan was shelved.
We need to stand back from the heat and dust to be able to assess the reality on the ground.
Surveys by the Palestinian Policy and Survey Research Centre and Tel Aviv University Centre for Peace Research consistently show the vast majority of Israelis and a smaller majority of Palestinians back a two-state solution: the state of Israel living in peace alongside a state of Palestine.
Furthermore, there have been offers on the table which, if implemented, would have delivered a state of Palestine and met the bulk of the Palestinians' historic demands. Tragically, none has been accepted.
That is the nub of the problem - the Palestinian leadership, hamstrung by the bitter war between its Fatah and Hamas factions, is simply unable to reach an internal consensus and therefore to make a deal with Israel.
Abbas, who represents Fatah, is arguably committed to peace; Hamas - as its charter attests - is unequivocally committed to Islam ''obliterating'' Israel, ''just as it obliterated others before it''. Therein lies the problem, not Israel's attitude towards freezing settlement construction.
One has only to glance at the historic offer which the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert put to Abbas in 2008. The pair met about 35 times between 2006 and the end of 2008 - more than any other Israeli and Arab leaders. On September 16 that year, Olmert presented Abbas with an unprecedented offer which included a map and permanent borders between Israel and Palestine.
According to the proposal, Israel would annex 6.3 per cent of the West Bank - areas that are home to 75 per cent of the Jewish population of the territories. Thousands of settlers and dozens of settlements would be evacuated. In return for the 6.3 per cent, Israel would transfer to the Palestinians an equivalent bloc - 327 square kilometres of mostly agricultural land, as well as a safe-passage corridor connecting the West Bank to Gaza.
Jerusalem would be shared so it would be the capital of Israel and Palestine; and the sites in Jerusalem which are holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews would be administered by the US, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine. Agreement on the core issue of Palestinian statehood would have provided a basis for resolving matters such as security, water and refugees.
The negotiations never reached that point. Abbas - like his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, when offered a similar deal by the then US president, Bill Clinton - did not even propose a counter-offer.
The focus today is on so-called proximity talks, where each side speaks to the US, which relays messages back and forth. The tragic irony is that offers were previously on the table that far exceeded what today's proximity talks even aim to achieve.
Which poses the question: why was Olmert's proposal rejected, like previous others that would have resulted in the creation of a viable state of Palestine? If the Palestinian leadership could not seriously consider such an offer, is it realistic to believe it will accept any offer? Is it able to achieve consensus between Fatah and Hamas - which operates on a radical-Islamist doctrine - so Palestine can live in peace alongside the Jewish state?
Or is the civil war between Fatah and Hamas so deep that the Palestinian leadership does not have the capacity to agree to a deal?
Accepting the creation of a state of Palestine through a negotiated deal with Israel means accepting the existence of the state of Israel. That is where the problem starts and ends.Vic Alhadeff is chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies
Thanks for your clear point, Mr Alhadeff. Many people believe that the peace process is a joke, because how can you make peace with organisations who vow to destroy you? Hamas says it openly, and it is still in the charter of the Fatah, even though they pretend to be moderate. If they are so moderate, then why not accept what Israel offers? It is because, as they have told their people in Arabic over and over, negotiations are just a step-by-step approach to weakening Israel till they can destroy it. As for the comment telling us that Israel is a "rogue state", I think this person puts too much store in the UN, which is an organisation intimidated by Arab states into an all-out attack on the State of Israel, exemplified by the Goldstein report. Let"s call the UN a bankrupt rogue organisation. He doesn"t like it if Jews "harp on about the past". He himself is stuck in the past, if he believes the UN is still a credible organisation.
Posted by Ruth on 2010-03-16 13:10:27 GMT
What a great article, explaining the truth and reality of the situation as it is.
Posted by HF on 2010-03-16 07:12:15 GMT
Thanks to some of the posts here I went to the responses to the original article. The astronomical levels of sheer ignorance of both Israel and the history of the region is mindboggling. I"m talking basics, that you could find with the simplest of searches. The world is currently suffering from an epidemic of what is known as "confirmation bias", and that"s what we"re seeing in these responses. It"s probably based in the glut of information/misinformation that permeates our lives now, so big that people simply take a position and only seek information that verifies that bias, which very quickly becomes the levels of prejudice I just saw. It"s frightening because it is entirely impervious to reason. We see it here with Isrel, but it encompasses everything, and is probably the greatest challenge to modern democracies. It"s a major worry, and I would love to see subjects like "clear thinking" returned to schools to try to counter it. Excuse kme while I go and wash off some of the bile that sprayed out of those responses!
Posted by Morry on 2010-03-16 02:33:39 GMT
The comments to this article in the S.M.H. are largely disappointing. Why do so many people who enjoy the freedom of a true Western democracy support the savages who relish the opportunity to destroy them, given half a chance?
Posted by Yaakov on 2010-03-15 10:56:16 GMT
An excellent article, but Vic Aldaheff should always qualify any statement such as \"Israel\"s right to exist\" with the words \"as a Jewish state\". Many of the leftists, particularly Jewish ones, always declare that they support the right of Israel to exist, but will often stop short of insisting that it retains its Jewish character. These word games are designed to impart an air of respectability to their argument, but in reality sneakily cover up the fact that they have no problem accepting a bi-national state called Israel, but one without a specifically Jewish character.
Posted on 2010-03-15 08:13:46 GMT
Clearly Vic Alhadeff has never read the Fatah Constitution, not dissimilar to the Hamas Charter in its call for Israel"s destruction. Nor was he paying attention when Abbas declared at Annapolis (and a number of times since) that there was no way he would ever recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Anyone who has tracked history knows that this conflict (ignoring British meddling) started with one man, Haj Amin el Husseini, Mufti of Jerusalem, responsible for a long line of massacres of Jews beginning in 1920. He passed his unremitting hatred of Jews to two proteges, his nephew from Egypt who was living with him, Yasser Arafat, and his aide, Mahmud Abbas. Neither was ever going to bring peace. Oslo envisaged a Palestinian Authority that would further peace, but Arafat filled it with every terrorist group committed to Israel"s destruction who would come ... Islamic Jihad, PFLP, DFLP etc, 9 in all. Why do we pretend that peace is even a remote possibility with these people, or pretend that, in their wildest nightmare, they would ever recognise a Jewish Israel? These "leaders" prey on and brainwash Palestinian children to martyrdom ... the next generation of Arafat"s "soldiers". If a two state solution is our goal, then for the sake of both Palestinians and Israelis, we must undo the Oslo debacle, get rid of the terrorist overlay, and allow the Palestinians some real choices. If peace is our goal, I would personally be inclined to open a Jordanian option.
by Morry on 2010-03-15 03:24:17 GMT