Opinion | Opinion

Abbas buries hope for fresh peace talks

The good news is that Israelis are still willing to sit down and talk with the Palestinians.

The Peace Index, a monthly survey run by the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University, has just found out that “the rate of those who favor renewing the talks (50 percent) is a bit higher than the rate of opponents (44 percent).”

Looking closer, the researchers concluded that “while on the right the rate of supporters of renewing the talks does not exceed one third, in the center and on the left an overwhelming majority supports doing so (78 percent in the center and almost 90 percent on the left).”

The bad news is that the survey was conducted last week, before Mahmoud Abbas’s speech at the U.N. General Assembly.

Today, the pollsters would have found the Israelis less enthusiastic, and not necessarily because of the harsh and sometimes inciting rhetoric of the speech, but rather because of its content.

Basically,  Abbas said that the Palestinians were willing to return to the negotiating table but cannot, because of the Israeli settlement drive and, in his words, the refusal of Israel “to commit to terms of reference for the negotiations that are based on international law and U.N. resolutions.”

While many in Israel think that the settlements are an obstacle to peace, they are resigned to the reality that the big ones have already become accomplished facts, never to be removed.

Therefore, the idea of land swap was introduced, to compensate the Palestinians for this loss.

Then Abbas comes and pushes us back to square one. For him, the preconditions for resuming the talks are that Israel accepts the 1967 borders, and if this is not enough, then it should adhere to U.N. resolution 194 from 1948, which called for the return of Palestinian refugees wishing to do so. These are preconditions most Israelis would not accept today.

There is no point now in arguing who is responsible for the current deadlock:  Abbas, who has never yielded an inch, or Benjamin Netanyahu, who was not sincere about his two-state solution. The question is what Israel, with the lack of a negotiations track, should do now.

One option is to bypass Abbas and turn to the Arab states who, in turn, will hopefully coerce the Palestinians into coming to terms with Israel. Indeed, Netanyahu indicated in his speech that this was his preference. However, if he believes that at the end of the day, Cairo and Riyadh will save him from painful decisions, he is wrong.

The second option, which is preferable, is for Israel to unilaterally pull back to borders that it is determined to keep, and wait until there is a reasonable Palestinian partner. Failing to do so will eventually result in one, bi-national state, in which Israel ceases to be a Jewish and democratic state.

In order to accomplish that, however, one thing is missing in Israel today: leadership. According to the same Peace Index, “a considerable majority of the Jewish public (61 percent) does not currently extend trust to the Israeli leadership.”It is not unthinkable, then, that in one of the next surveys, the pollsters might ask: “Do you support a two-state solution imposed by world community?” The results might be surprising.

Uri Dromi is director of the Jerusalem Press Club.