The Palestinian boycott on settlement goods and Palestinian diplomatic activity aimed at curbing Israel’s acceptance into OCED prompted anger and frustration on the Israeli side. Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed these sentiments in a Likud faction meeting, declaring that these types of actions, after proximity talks had been launched, are unacceptable and reflect the Palestinian unwillingness to proceed with the peace process.
The prime minister’s approach is correct. In his view, the Palestinians should have respected the momentum of the talks and refrained from attacking or harming Israel. There is no doubt that launching the proximity talks demanded complex efforts on Netanyahu’s part in the face of his government’s and camp’s make-up, in order to stimulate a move based on a settlement construction freeze. The last thing he needs is negative Palestinian activity vis-à-vis Israel that would boost his rivals, who claim there is no partner.
However, Mahmoud Abbas’ approach is also correct in his own eyes. We must understand that a fundamental difference exists between the Israeli and Palestinian perceptions in respect to their conduct during negotiations. Around here, when peace talks are being held, they become the most important thing: We no longer offer criticism on any issue, and qualms with the other side in respect to security, economic and social affairs are being avoided, for the sake of “maintaining the positive momentum.” This includes silence in the face of violation of agreements by the other side.
On the other hand, the Palestinians believe that they can engage in proximity talks with us, yet if their interest is to stop us from joining OECD in order to weaken us, they will work towards that goal at the same time. They will engage in talks with us, yet in the same breath they will submit several anti-Israel proposals to the UN, launch a boycott against settlement goods in order to boost the de-legitimization, and continue to utilize all the pressure levers we’re familiar with as if nothing has changed.
It’s important for us to realize that this perception is not exclusively Palestinian. Rather, this is a diplomatic doctrine that is deeply rooted in our region. Jordan too can maintain prolific strategic ties with us in the framework of peace, yet this did not stop King Abdullah from frequently slamming Israel’s policy in recent months. The same is true for Egypt, which was the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with us and serves as a strategic ally in the camp of moderate Mideastern states. Yet at the same time, it slams us publicly on international issues, which it views as serving Egyptian interests.
Arab states engage in a multilayered diplomacy, and this is precisely the point we need to understanding and learn. The Middle East never did and never will be conducted in black and white shades; we should not be expecting the other side to behave like we do. Instead, we must become efficient players in the regional and international diplomatic game.
Israel should engage in proximity talks with the Palestinians while at the same time not letting off for a moment when it comes to violated agreements or the Palestinian Authority’s educational and PR policy, which builds public opinion premised on hatred rather than peace.
We must no longer accept the violation of agreements by the Palestinians for the sake of our desire to maintain positive momentum, as the Palestinians never did it and do not intend to do it in the future. They just don’t know any other way. We must switch our way of thinking and instead of aiming to commentate on their willingness and frankness, become active players who advance the State of Israel’s interests in the regional and global theater. On this front, we would do well to learn to conduct ourselves as they do.
Eli Avidar is Chairman of the Smart Middle East Forum