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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Editorial: U.S. Must Urge Abbas to Advance Peace

President Donald Trump will visit Israel and the West Bank next week and is expected to seek a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. For decades, Israel has made clear its desire to negotiate peace and it continues to do so. America must urge the Palestinians to similarly commit to meaningful, direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions, to end incitement to violence, and to seek a lasting resolution to the conflict that would lead to two states living in peace.  

The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected Israel’s peace overtures.

In December 2000, Israel agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and Israeli withdrawal from 94 to 96 percent of the West Bank, with land swaps to compensate the Palestinians. The agreement, negotiated with the assistance of President Bill Clinton, was ultimately rejected by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

In September 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas a Palestinian state on 93.5 percent of the West Bank with land swaps. In a recent TV interview, President Abbas said that he “rejected [the offer] out of hand.”

And in 2014, President Obama proposed a negotiating framework for an agreement that Israel accepted, but President Abbas never responded. Instead, he effectively ended peace talks by signing a unity deal with Hamas.

Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to support direct talks.

Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to call for direct negotiations without preconditions, but has been rebuffed by President Abbas who makes numerous demands in exchange for coming to the negotiating table. In 2013, Israel made painful sacrifices to secure the resumption of peace talks, including a moratorium on settlement construction and the release of 78 convicted Palestinian terrorists. Ultimately, the talks failed to yield any tangible results and broke down when President Abbas entered into a unity government with Hamas.

Nevertheless, the prime minister has reiterated his commitment to achieving peace with the Palestinians. In his 2016 U.N. General Assembly speech, he offered a positive approach, reaffirming: “I remain committed to a vision of peace based on two states for two peoples. I believe as never before that changes taking place in the Arab world today offer a unique opportunity to advance that peace.”

On May 7, 2017, ahead of President Trump’s visit to Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “The president wants to examine ways to renew the peace process with the Palestinians. I share this desire and the citizens of Israel share this desire; we want peace.”

Israel is taking concrete steps to better Palestinian lives and foster an environment conducive to peace.

On Jan. 16, 2017, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Affairs in the Territories (COGAT) and the PA’s Minister of Civil Affairs signed an agreement to renew the Joint Water Committee, a move that will help promote improvements to Palestinian water infrastructure.

Israel has also approved several yet-to-be-implemented infrastructure projects, including an electric line to double the supply of electricity from Israel to the Gaza Strip; a natural gas project to connect Gaza to Israel’s natural gas infrastructure; and the provision of 17 million cubic meters of water per year to the West Bank pursuant to the Red-Dead Canal Agreement.

In April 2017, Israel’s cabinet reportedly drafted a series of goodwill and trust-building measures to include, reportedly, granting Palestinians permission to build in Area C in the West Bank—a move that would help bolster the Palestinian economy.

Also in April 2017, Israel and the PA signed an agreement to allow Palestinian mobile service providers to offer 3G services for their Palestinian customers, and Israel announced that nearly 300 Palestinian businesspeople were given permits to drive their cars into Israel.

While remaining vigilant against attempts to attack Israel, the Jewish state is taking steps to improve the lives of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Israel supplies Gaza with 125 megawatts of power daily to help meet the coastal enclave’s electricity needs. Israel permits the transport of approximately 850 truckloads of goods into Gaza every day. On a typical day in May, five ambulances, 612 individuals and more than 27,000 tons of goods cross the Israel-Gaza border. Gaza’s exports also doubled in 2016 compared to the previous year with Israel’s facilitation. In addition:

  • From October 2014 to February 2017, over 7.5 million tons of construction materials entered the Gaza Strip via Israel as part of reconstruction effort, even as the Gaza-based terrorist organization Hamas diverts some of these materials to rebuild its military infrastructure.

  • In March 2017, Israel facilitated the transfer of $82 million to Gaza to pay the salaries of PA employees.

  • On May 3, Israel expanded Gaza’s fishing zone off part of Gaza’s coast from six to nine nautical miles.

The United States must urge the Palestinian leadership to advance peace.

A durable peace—two states, a Jewish state and demilitarized Palestinian state living side-by-side—will require difficult concessions from both sides. This can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties. President Trump should urge President Abbas to return to direct, bilateral talks with Israel without preconditions, and to cease efforts to achieve his objectives at the United Nations.

America must also encourage President Abbas to create a culture of peace. The Palestinian leadership must stop incentivizing violence through payments to terrorists and their families, and end incitement to violence against Israelis. It must stop teaching hate in schools and glorifying violence by naming public buildings, sporting events and children’s summer camps after terrorists.

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