Does Israel Want Peace?

From time-to-time we hear the allegation from critics of Israel that “Israel doesn’t want to make peace with the Palestinians.”  The premise is that all we need for peace is for Israel to retreat to its pre-1967 lines and all would be solved – the Palestinians would be happy, the Israelis would get peaceful and secure boundaries, and the world would be satisfied and stop vilifying Israel in international fora.

Of course, there is no evidence for the premise, but there is plenty of evidence that refutes the allegation.  The following outlines Israel’s attempts for peace.  It does not include the Israeli offers of 1937, 1949, 1956, and 1967, when the Arab states said “no.”  A StandWithUs video illustration of the various attempts for peace by the Israelis can be found at the end of this webpage.  It also notes that the Palestine LIberation Organization was only formed in 1964, and had little political force in 1967.  Remember that in 1964 the Israelis had no presence on the West Bank or in Gaza – so the purpose was to take over all of historical Palestine – including Israel.

Peace Treaties

First, Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt.  Since 1979 Israel has demonstrated its willingness to make peace with its neighbors.  It did so first with Egypt, including a complete withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula and the forcible eviction of Sinai residents living in 18 settlements, including the largest, Yamit, with a population of approximately 3,000.  The Egyptian peace treaty, though often a cold one from the Egyptian side, has now warmed up a bit, with more cooperation between the two countries, particularly since after the current president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, took power back from the Muslim Brotherhood, and since ISIS has gained a foothold in the Sinai.  Both Egypt and Israel are threatened by ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood, including its surrogate in Gaza, Hamas.  Egypt is directly threatened on its own territory and through the southern border of the Gaza Strip; Israel is threatened by ISIS and Hamas based on the long border between Israel and Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, and from the northern border of the Gaza Strip by Hamas.

Israelis embraced the peace treaty, with Israeli tourism surging until the second intifada that began in 2000.  At its peak in 1999 over 400,000 Israelis visited Egypt, including  favorite summer tourism spots in the Sinai Peninsula.  Enthusiasm was less for Egyptians:  at its peak in 1995 28,000 Egyptian tourists visited Israel.  [Note that the estimated populations in Israel and Egypt from 1995-2000 were 6.3 million  and 60 million respectively.

While the average Egyptian still harbors animosity toward Israel, it may be softening a bit.  As Marc Sievers of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote recently (“Riding the Egyptian-Israeli Roller Coaster 2011–2015“):

strong Egyptian antipathy toward Hamas, support for the military’s hardline position on Gaza, and Sisi’s repeated public statements defending the relationship with Israel may encourage a more moderate, realistic Egyptian attitude. One sign of this realism can be found in the relative lack of public opposition to Egyptian statements of interest in buying natural gas from Israel’s new offshore fields.

Second, Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan.  Signed in 1994, this treaty brought peace and stability with Israel’s eastern neighbor.  Both parties have had relatively strong military and economic cooperation since then.  Again, Israelis have embraced the treaty; “218,000 Israelis reportedly visited Jordan, while just over 18,000 Jordanians traveled to Israel” wrote David Schenker in 2014 at the 20th anniversary of the treaty.  He further noted, “While the treaty was celebrated by Israeli civilians and politicians alike, it has not been popular with the Jordanian public. In a 2011 poll, 52 percent of Jordanians said their government should cancel the agreement.”

While the King of Jordan has occasionally criticized Israel for its actions regarding Hezbollah and Hamas, for the most part the relations at the upper echelons of both countries have been strong.

Both the Egypt and Jordan peace treaties with Israel have shown Israel’s willingness to take risks for peace – in the case of Egypt Israel gave up a large security buffer zone (the Sinai) and showed its willingness to give back settlement lands as well.  In the case of Jordan, cooperation in water security has been a key component of the treaty.  Again, Schenker notes:  negotiations between Israel and Jordan  “culminated in the signing of an historic agreement last December [2013] stipulating that Israel would provide Jordan’s capital with 8-13 billion gallons per year of fresh water from the Sea of Galilee, while Jordan would deliver the same amount of desalinated water pumped from Aqaba to Israel’s Negev desert region.”

Israeli Peace Offers

Third, Israel’s attempts to make peace with the Palestinians.  This issue seems to be the one on which Europe, the UN, and other entities focus.  Since the Oslo Accords of 1993 were signed by Yitzhak Rabin and Mahmoud Abbas, Israel has revised its offers to the Palestinians three times to make even more enticing the possibility of peace.

In October, 1995 Rabin presented to the Knesset his vision for a permanent settlement with the Palestinians, including a withdrawal of 70% of the disputed territories of Gaza and the West Bank:

We would like this to be an [Palestinian] entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.

And these are the main changes, not all of them, which we envision and want in the permanent solution:

a. First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’aleh Adumum and Givat Ze’ev…

b. The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.

c. Changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities…

d. The establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif.

…We are embarking upon a new path which could lead us to an era of peace, to the end of wars.

In April, 2000, the Ehud Barak government proposed a permanent solution on 86% of the territories, with Israel annexing 14%.  As a follow-up, at Camp David in 2000 Barak offered 92% of the territories to Arafat, who rejected or failed to respond to every proposal offered by Israel.  A similar result was obtained in additional discussions in the Taba talks in 2001, when 95% of the territories were offered, including sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and a defined amount of Palestinian refugees who could return to Israel.  It was assumed that this two-state solution would include one state for the Palestinian people, and the other “as the homeland of the Jewish people.” [See the notes from the meeting here.]

Between the Barak offer of 2000-2001 and the Olmert offer from 2007-9, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, evacuating over 9,000 settlers, and forcibly evicted four Jewish settlements in the northern West Bank in the summer of 2005.  This was done without any political agreement with the Palestinians.   The hope was that the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was given full autonomy over the Gaza Strip “except for the borders, the airspace and the territorial waters.” (reference:  Israeli disengagement from Gaza), would show its ability to peaceably rule with a liberal democracy and under contemporary human rights law, without Israeli intervention, and to show the world that it could do so in a democratic, not-corruptible way.  Unfortunately this failed, as Hamas took over Gaza and expelled the PA, amassing homemade and Iranian-provided weapons and beginning the process of building tunnels to attempt to infiltrate Israel surreptitiously.

Finally, in September, 2008, Ehud Olmert changed the Israeli negotiating position once again to be even more favorable to the Palestinians, giving up even more territory, offering essentially a 1:1 land swap of 6.3% Israeli annexation of the West Bank, and returning 5.9% to the Palestinians from within the “Green Line” (the pre-1967 armistice lines) along with another 0.5% for the needed safe passage corridor between the West Bank and Gaza.  He also indicated a “willingness to concede Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem (to international control over the Holy Basin), even though according to the Clinton parameters of December 2000, this area would remain under Israeli control. Olmert agreed to concede Israel’s military presence in the Jordan Valley in exchange for the presence of a multinational force.” [From Shmuel Evan’s “‘Peace, Peace, but there is no Peace'”:  Do Israel and the Palestinians Share a Political Horizon?” in Strategic Assessment January, 2016;18(4):69-83]  He also agreed to the return of 5,000 refugees to Israel (as an opening position), that Saed Erekat informally took Olmert to mean up to 50,000-60,000.  Erekat and Abbas wanted 100,000-200,000.

Finally, while Arafat had accepted Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas has withdrawn that recognition and refuses to do so, while at the same time demanding that any Palestinian state have no Jews within its borders.

The Netanyahu Government

Does the Netanyahu government refuse to negotiate?  This is one of the most libelous of allegations by some in the anti-Israel community.  Even many pro-Zionists dislike the Netanyahu government because they believe this shibboleth.

Besides unprecedented concessions by Netanyahu and his government in 2009 (at the insistence of the Obama administration and PA president Mahmoud Abbas to get talks started again), Netanyahu has repeatedly stated his willingness to sit down and negotiate with the Palestinian leaders.  Indeed, just last month (March, 2016) at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington, DC Netanyahu repeated his offer to sit down with PA President Mahmoud Abbas “without preconditions, anytime, anywhere.”[specific language at ~13:30 into his talk]  Abbas has refused to sit down with Netanyahu “even for a minute” for the last 5.5 years.  Instead he has continued to incite his people with terrorism in the latest wave of Palestinian stabbings, shootings, and car rammings.  Look at this video at ~15:30 into it re: the incitement and hatred the PA foments in its children.

Shmuel Evan in his piece cited above gives the reasons that Olmert negotiations with Abbas did not end with a permanent agreement:

  1.  Abbas will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state.  This is contrary to the Oslo Accord understanding with Arafat.
  2.  Abbas demands the right of return of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian “refugees; and that all 6 million Palestinians should have the right of return – “giving every ‘refugee’ the ‘right to choose’ between immigration to Israel or compensation.” This is instead of their right to return to a new state of Palestine (negotiated land of the Gaza and West Bank).  This is contrary to the Oslo Accords.
  3.  The Palestinians believe that if they wait even longer then they will get even more concessions from the Israelis than even Olmert offered.  Here is some insight on the Palestinian thinking, as reported by Evan (p. 76):

In June 2009, in an interview with the Jordanian newspaper al-Dustur, Saeb Erekat said that Israel has in any case retreated from its positions in the talks, so why should the Palestinians be in a hurry (to compromise on an agreement)? “Where have the talks with the Israelis gotten us? At first they [the Israelis] said that we have the right to run our hospitals and schools; after that, they were willing to give up 66 percent [of the territories], at Camp David they offered us 90 percent, and just lately [during Olmert’s term in office] they offered 100 percent. In that case, why should we hurry after all the injustice that has been inflicted on us?

In other words, the Palestinians would rather keep their people in limbo, in refugee camps, and without a state, rather than better their own people’s position in the world with reasonable compromise.

Summary

So, Israel has proposed, and the Palestinians have disposed, without meaningful concessions, willingness to respond (in some instances), or further proposals of their own other than the demand for complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, a complete right of return of Palestinians to their homes in even pre-1967 Israel, a refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state (and a refusal to allow Jews to remain in Gaza, the West Bank or East Jerusalem), and no reconciliation of the existing Jewish settlement blocs.

The evidence of Israel’s willingness to create peace with its sovereign neighbors, Egypt and Jordan, including the removal of settlements; its “experiment” to let the Gazans govern themselves, showing Hamas to be an intractable militaristic and uncompromising presence there even while forcibly removing Jewish settlers from Gaza; and offers by Barak and Olmert essentially conceding to most of the major demands of the Palestinians short of complete right of return and security control, shows Israel’s willingness to go to great lengths for peace.

And, of course, it’s unclear for whom the PA can negotiate – it doesn’t control the Gaza Strip or Hamas, which proclaims its unwillingness to ever conclude a peace settlement with Israel.

So Israel needs to be sure that peace with the Palestinians does not create another Hezbollah or Hamas on its eastern border – Israel needs and demands security for its people – free from rocket attacks or invasion over land or through tunnels on the ideological/religious whim of the Palestinian governing bodies.

We guess we’d ask, given all of this evidence of Israeli proposed concessions, and Palestinian intransigence, “Who doesn’t want peace?”


For those who prefer a video explaining all of these, here you go: