The ‘direct talks without preconditions’ that have begun are not in fact without preconditions. There is no doubt that they will be cut short unless the US can force Netanyahu to agree on continuing a freeze on construction activity in Judea, Samaria and (unofficially) East Jerusalem. The concession might be public or private, but the effect will be the same.
There may be other unstated conditions. For example, if Israel were to send the IDF after the Hamas terrorists who are playing ‘bad cop’ in the drama that has so far cost four Israeli lives, or retaliate against Hamas in Gaza, the PA would undoubtedly break off the talks. Israel is expected to show restraint and let the PA handle ‘security’.
If the past is a guide, the script calls for the PA to pick up a bunch of Hamasniks and make a lot of noise. In short order they will all be released. The PA did say that they had arrested the car that was used in at least one of the assaults, but that’s small comfort.
What this means is that Hamas has been given a license to kill for the duration of the talks. Several commentators have already suggested [and I agree] that this is far too much to pay for a process which is designed primarily to boost Barack Obama’s credentials before the coming election, and which cannot possibly have an outcome that’s beneficial to Israel.
Israel has also made some demands, but unlike Palestinian ones, none of them are considered preconditions. But some of them absolutely should be.
First, Israel has asked that the PA stop ‘incitement’. What is incitement? It’s the continuous propaganda being fed to the Arab population — in Israel as well as the PA-controlled areas — to hate Jews, to venerate Arab terrorists who have killed Jewish civilians and to expect that all of ‘Palestine’ will soon be in the hands of its true ‘owners’, the Palestinian Arabs. One can’t expect the PA leadership to have popular support for a real peace agreement as long as this continues. And one shouldn’t expect Israelis to talk to someone who is at that moment calling them pigs and a monkeys.
Second, Israel wants any agreement to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Some say “why insist on a formulation that is objectionable to the Arabs? After all, it’s just words”. But there is a huge significance in this formulation because of what it tells us about the future behavior of the state of ‘Palestine’.
One might think that the purpose of the negotiations is to partition the land into a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, and to determine borders, etc. But the Palestinians are not prepared to admit that the part that they don’t get does not also belong to them. Just look at how Israeli Arab Knesset member Haneen Zouabi talks. Would you buy a car from someone who agrees to take your money, but insists that the car will always belong to him?
Third, Israel wants a commitment that what will be agreed to will end the conflict, that the Palestinian Arabs will have no further claim on Israel. This isn’t an idle demand. In 1974 the PLO adopted a program that views the creation of an “independent national authority” as a step to the complete liberation of ‘Palestine’ (the so-called “phased plan”). Israel has a right to demand that a Palestinian state will not be simply another hostile entity from which to wage war.
These three demands ought to be treated as preconditions. There should be no talks without them, because without them there is nothing to talk about.