The problem, from the point of view of the Palestinians, is how to put an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. That occupation has been marked by the harshest oppression you can imagine.
On the other hand, from the point of view of the Israeli government, the problem is that Palestinians do not recognize the right of Israel to exist. Hence, a Palestine that is free to do what it likes is an existential threat to Israel. To keep that threat in check, Israel continues to occupy Palestine and to deny Palestine’s right to establish a state in its own homeland.
If one says to the other: you have no right to live; and the other replies: no, it’s you who have no right to live, how can the two live side by side in peace? Each will always be at the other’s throat until one of them is forced out of existence.
The only way this vicious cycle of hate can be broken is for both sides to suffer a massive attack of sanity. In their right minds, both will admit to the other’s right to live. And they will then be able to live side by side without either of them worrying about what the other is up to.
Late last week, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, met with a group of rabbis and spoke to them like the sane person that he is. He was quoted as saying: “Israel was founded in order to remain [in existence] and not in order to vanish. Its continued [existence] should not be at the expense of the absent Palestinian state.”
That is the voice of reason and it merits the applause of the reasonable and the sane. Naturally Hamas, the militant faction in Palestine, went ballistic and called upon the Palestinian people to kick Abbas out of office — and they just might.
To many of them, Abbas had no business being conciliatory to the golem that had no right to exist.
The timing of the attack couldn’t be worse for Abbas: the Palestinian economy is near rock bottom because of the Israeli squeeze on Palestinian trade. There has also been a crunch on the flow of donor funds to Palestine. Naturally Abbas gets most if not all the blame. There is a chance his presidency may not survive the backlash.
Meanwhile, some Western pundits assert that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has not moved because US President Obama has been too soft on Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu: he did not lean hard on Netanyahu on the issue of the illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory. While the Israelis kept building those settlements, no negotiation was possible.
Actually Obama pressed hard on Netanyahu, but if Netanyahu had accommodated him, the Israeli prime minister would be in the same hot water that Abbas is in today.
It takes strength to make peace. In 1996 the Philippine government could make peace with the Moro National Liberation Front because Fidel Ramos was president and he wanted peace and the Philippine military would agree to anything he wanted. Likewise, the MNLF supremo, Nur Misuari, had full control of the Front.
In 2005, the government of Indonesia could reach a peace agreement with the Acehnese separatists because President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in the early months of his first tenure had plenty of political capital, while the rebels who wanted to make peace had no opposition. The separatists lay prostrate in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami of December 2004. Having lost appetite for conflict, they totally supported their negotiators.
In contrast, Israel and Palestine cannot move toward peace today because neither Netanyahu nor Abbas has the full support of the nation he leads. Both are weak. Only strong leaders can make peace.