Peace Requires Direct Negotiations Between Israel and the Palestinians by Shimon Fogel

This article by Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Canada-Israel Committee, was published in Embassy Magazine:

In US President Barack Obama’s May 19 speech on the Middle East, many analysts focused on his explicit reference to the “1967 lines.” However, the president did not call for a “return” to these lines, which are the armistice lines of 1949. Rather, he noted they should be a basis for negotiations with “mutually agreed” land swaps.

Essentially, President Obama did not signal a departure from positions articulated by previous US governments, including the Bush and Clinton administrations. All have used the '67 lines as the starting point for negotiations, and each has reflected the reality of certain facts on the ground -particularly the settlement blocs – as considerations to be factored into the negotiated agreement.

UN Security Council Resolution 242, which has been the basis of all Arab-Israeli peacemaking since the 1967 war, does not call for Israel to return to the precise '67 lines. Those lines are not even mentioned.

Instead, 242 affirms that a "just and lasting peace" can only be achieved if any Israeli withdrawal “from territories occupied in the [1967] conflict” occur in the context of, among other things, establishing “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” (242 also calls for the “Termination of all claims or states of belligerency” – in short, for peace based on the “end of conflict.”)

Internationally recognized borders (boundaries) can only be drawn through direct negotiations between the parties.

In Yasser Arafat’s Sept. 9, 1993 letter to Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin – part of an exchange of letters that inaugurated the Oslo Declaration of Principles – the PLO chairman committed the Palestinians to the following: “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security; the PLO accepts United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338; the PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.”

Significantly, Canada’s policy on key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as published on the DFAIT website, includes “the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel.” Canada specifically draws attention to the fact that “the 1993 Israel-Palestine Liberation Organization Declaration of Principles continues to provide the basis for a comprehensive agreement based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.”

However, the recently stated determination of PA President and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to avoid direct negotiations with Israel (though Israel has repeatedly implored him to enter into talks without precondition), and instead seek a recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly in September, violates accepted Israel-PLO peace-making agreements.

Canada, along with the US, opposes Mr. Abbas’ unilateral moves. Palestinian statehood cannot legitimately be established without recognizing Israel and its right to live in peace within secure and recognized borders.

Moreover, a unilateral declaration of statehood is counterproductive even to Palestinian aspirations. As Obama observed in his May 19 address: “Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.” Again, that can only be realized through negotiations based on mutual recognition.

In this respect, it was significant that President Obama declared Israel needs to be recognized as the “Jewish State.” This is consistent with the UN Partition Resolution of Nov. 27, 1947, which called for the creation of an “Arab” state and a “Jewish” state in Palestine.

It is also heartening that Canada’s new Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has expressed the government’s commitment to the two-state solution that takes full account of Israel’s Jewish character and its security requirements.

Successive Israeli governments, including the current one, have accepted this principle of two states for two peoples. Israelis, however, are dismayed by the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to acknowledge Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. This rejection remains the core of the Palestinian-Israeli impasse.

While the PLO recognizes the “right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security,” the Palestinian leadership insists that Palestinian refugees have a “right of return” to Israel. But this would result in the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

As renowned Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh courageously explained in the New York Times in October 2001: “The Palestinians have to realize that if we are to reach an agreement on two states, then those two states will have to be one for the Israelis and one for the Palestinians, not one for the Palestinians and the other also for the Palestinians.”

We also hope that, consistent with its commitment to finding a “just solution” for the Palestinian refugees, Canada will clarify that any “return” of refugees must be confined to a future Palestinian state, not to Israel; and that Canada will acknowledge the need to compensate the approximately 800,000 Jews who were made refugees from Arab lands following Israel’s creation.

Today, unfortunately, the Palestinians have decided to move away from a peaceful resolution with Israel. Mahmoud Abbas’s faction, Fatah, has chosen to align itself with Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Canada, the US and the EU. Hamas explicitly rejects the commitments the PLO made with Israel during the Oslo process.

Unless it changes course and accepts the Quartet’s negotiating conditions of recognizing Israel, foreswearing violence and endorsing PLO-Israel agreements, Hamas will remain, as Obama noted, “on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.” That would be a tragedy, not only for Israelis but also for the Palestinians themselves.