Israeli Deputy FM: Time for Palestinians to Make Concessions

by Seth Mandel

Israel’s deputy foreign minister told me this week that Israel must change the dynamic of the peace process with the Palestinians away from a formula that focuses solely on Israeli concessions toward one that challenges the Palestinians to finally make concessions of their own.

I was among a group of journalists speaking with MK Danny Ayalon in Jerusalem about the future of the two-state solution. He told us that since the beginning of the peace process, Israel’s concessions have dramatically increased to now include all of Gaza and 94 percent of the West Bank (plus land currently inside Israel’s 1967 border), whereas the Palestinians haven’t budged. I asked Ayalon why, if Israel continues to make concessions without reciprocation, the Palestinians would come to the negotiating table.

“That is why this government is trying to put a line in the sand saying: No more,” Ayalon responded. “The Palestinians have their maximalistic views, you know: Fourth of June [1967] line; they want Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount; refugees; settlements. Maximal demands, with minimal — if at all — concessions from the Palestinians. So far it has worked. We need to change it.”

We were in Jerusalem as part of a weeklong media fellowship organized by Act for Israel. Ayalon told us that there are basic elements any final-status agreement must contain: an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, and resettlement of Palestinian refugees in the Palestinian state, not inside Israel. These are necessary, he said, because the deal must bring about real peace, not just a piece of paper.

He said the slogan up until now has been “a two-state solution: this is the goal. And I say no, this is the means. The goal is peace. The goal is peaceful coexistence.” That is why Israel is willing to part with most of the West Bank — “the heart of our homeland … the cradle of our civilization.”

Currently, he said, the Palestinian side is overwhelmingly rejectionist. He continued:

I don’t see a peace-style movement in the Palestinian Authority. On the contrary. They are just speaking one mind, one message, and they are on message all the time. And if anything they are extreme and more extreme. There are those who say we should exterminate Israel right away, like the Hamas says. There are others who say: let’s do it in stages. That’s the extent of pluralism on the other side. And we are different. And they take it to their advantage, unfortunately.

But this won’t ever push Israel toward the same type of monolithic thinking, he said; Israel’s leaders strive for peace because the Israeli people want peace, and democracy will always be the way forward for the Jewish state.

“We have a major flaw, which I am proud of,” he said. “We are democratic, we’re pluralistic. You have so many views here in Israel. You have Haaretz, you have NGOs which are siding with the Palestinian cause, and all that. It’s all within the realm of free speech. This is our country; we will never change it.”

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