Ambassador Avi Primor

Ambassador Avi Primor
President of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations (ICFR)

Security as the Key to Peace in the Middle East

OPENING REMARKS

The problem concerning the boats that wished to break through the blockade of the Gaza Strip is part of the larger problem of the Gaza Strip itself. That problem is part of the Palestinian problem, which is at the center of all problems in the Middle East. Although we must address the boat problem as part of the problems preventing peace between Israel and its neighbors, we also must address the problem of Israel and Syria and indeed that of Israel and the Arab world.

In January 2002, a peace plan was published by Saudi Arabia. This plan was published again in January 2007 and accepted as part of the plan of the Arab League.
Today, however, negotiations are taking place again, but what kind of negotiations are they? They are proximity talks, like the talks between Israel and Syria that were held two years ago under Turkish auspices in Turkey. These talks are supposedly preparatory talks to enable Israel and the Palestinian Authority to negotiate directly, but needing to have preliminary talks between Israelis and Palestinians to prepare for direct negotiations is grotesque and ridiculous. We have been negotiating with the Palestinians directly for more than15 years; negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians actually took place constantly since the Oslo Agreements of 1993.

If we want to be serious, we have to admit that there is only little to negotiate. Everything is known, and all the details on all sides have been worked out. If you look at not only the negotiations or their results but at all the peace propositions and all the plans that have been published since the so-called Clinton Parameter of December 2000, you can see that all of them, including the American plans, the Israeli plans, the European plans, and the Palestinian plans, are the same. They have the same principles, the same ideas, and the same components.

THE ELEMENTS THAT HAVE PREVENTED PEACE

The issue, then, is not to determine what a peace plan should look like. We know what it should look like. The issue is, why do we not implement a peace plan? Is it because the former Israeli government of Ehud Olmert did not want it, or because the public does not want it? Most people would answer yes to both questions, and conclude that peace is not possible. However, I say that peace is possible, and, furthermore, that the populations of the region have never been as ready for peace as they are now.
The basic elements that have prevented not only peace but peace negotiations, the unwillingness to accept the very existence of the State of Israel and the belief that the elimination of Israel is possible, were once the elementary position of the Arab and the Palestinian side. As long as Arabs and Palestinians believed that they could get Israel out of the region, there was no reason to negotiate peace with it. Temporary arrangements such as cease-fires could be negotiated, but not real peace.

Then, in 1967, the Palestinian territories were conquered by Israel in the Six-Day War. Once this occurred, the majority of the Israeli people believed that Israel should never give these territories up, that they are part of Israeli history and heritage and for some they are even a God-given promise. If Israelis are not willing to give the territories back, how can there be a Palestinian state? As a result of this problem, negotiations could not move forward--first because of the Arab side and later also because of the Israeli side.

A NEW OUTLOOK

Now, however, I believe that the basic elements preventing peace, although they have not disappeared, have changed. The majority of the Arab population and the majority of the Palestinian population have concluded that although they would have been very glad to have a Middle East without the State of Israel, the State of Israel is a fact that they have to live with. Just as well, the majority of Israelis today knows that Israel cannot keep the occupied Palestinian territories: Some think that Israel simply is not capable of keeping them, others think that keeping them would be immoral, and yet others say that keeping them would be a demographic danger for the future of the country. Whatever their reasons, the majority of Israelis today are ready or even wish to separate from the Palestinian territories and put an end to the occupation and to the settlements. We must ask again, then, why do we not implement a peace plan?

THE NEED FOR THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY

We do not implement a peace plan because the majority of Israelis believe that the one and only issue that truly interests them, which is the issue of security, has not been resolved in any of the peace propositions that have been published. When we negotiated with Egypt and with Jordan, we knew that those partners, if willing, were capable of guaranteeing us security. We do not think that our Palestinian partner, although he is willing, is capable of guaranteeing us security. We fear that if we leave the West Bank under the present conditions, even within the framework of a peace agreement, that the situation in the West Bank will develop as it did in the evacuated Gaza Strip. If we do not find a solution that convinces Israelis that leaving the West Bank will guarantee their security, then there will be no public opinion to support or put pressure on the Israeli government to accept a peace agreement. I think that the solution only can come from the international community.


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