As all eyes in the Middle East focus on Iran, the everlasting dispute between Israel and the Palestinians continues, albeit on a low flame on a back burner.
But it flared up orange at the Jerusalem Post conference in New York Sunday, when former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert attacked the current government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We have to speak to the other side,” he said. “We have to be prepared in real life to compromise…to reach an agreement, and this is precisely what is not happening now.
“It is incumbent upon us to go forward to overcome the political considerations, the party considerations and to go right through into the heart of the problems. At this point, we are not doing what we need to do to push it forward.”
“…Even if the Palestinians will not respond to this initiative, we will win support in the international community,” he concluded to a host of boos and shouts of “naïve” and “Neville Chamberlain” from this mostly hawkish, American Jewish audience.
Firebrand cabinet minister Gilad Erdan defended the honor of the government. Olmert, he declared, “offered [Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas whole pieces of] Jerusalem, and it wasn’t enough” to make peace.
Palestinian leaders “have never stood before their people and said the Jewish state, the Jewish state should be recognized.”
“If we are asked to give up parts of our homeland, where Jews have lived for thousands of years, despite the threat to our security,” he said, “we must know we have a partner that recognizes our rights to these lands.”
And so it goes.
Bottom line: no progress towards peace for years, and both sides have hardened their positions.
The Netanyahu government made some good concessions early on, including officially embracing the idea of the “two-state solution” for the first time. But it’s been preoccupied with Iran and has quietly expanded settlement activity.
The Palestinian Authority, still led by Abbas, made an end run around bilateral talks but failed to get a Palestinian state recognized by the United Nations. Now the PA, which controls the Palestinian part of the West Bank, has moved closer to arch-rival Hamas, the Islamist terrorist party that controls Gaza.
And the Obama administration, which pushed hard and clumsily for talks early in its tenure, has backed off in this election year as it, too, focuses on Iran and needs Democratic Jewish donors and Jewish voters in the key swing state of Florida.
Support for peace negotiations has dropped dramatically in Israel since the heady days of the 1990s.
Remember, two Israeli governments—Ehud Barak’s in 2000 and Olmert’s in 2008—offered significant territorial concessions, and the Palestinians never took them up on it.
In fact, former PA chairman Yasser Arafat responded by launching the bloodiest terror campaign ever, as 1,500 Israelis were murdered.
And Israeli withdrawals from southern Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005 resulted in thousands of rockets being fired into Israeli towns by Hamas and Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, Israel erected a huge security fence along its border and a warren of checkpoints in the West Bank that reduced terrorist attacks in Israel by 90% but made daily life for Palestinians far more difficult.
Still, a recent poll showed a majority of Israelis, 55%, support “a mutual recognition of identity…after all issues in the conflict are resolved and a Palestinian state is established.”
The identical percentage of Palestininans reject that step, and that attitude is a huge barrier to peace.
The same poll showed that 64% of Israelis and 68% of Palestinians see the chances for the establishment of a Palestinian state “low or non-existent” over the next five years.
So, the one thing both sides agree upon is pessimism, and that’s not a good sign.