Tel Aviv Diary: Israelis Hunker Down To a Future Without Peace

This past week it became crystal clear that despite the hopes of many, the chances of Israel reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians any time in the near future have gone from low to zero.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave two speeches over the course of the past week — first, on Sunday in Ramallah, at a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council, then on Wednesday, in Cairo at the Islamic Conference.

In both of these addresses, Abbas rebuked the United States and President Donald J. Trump, as well as attacked the right of Israel to exist.

Abbas made it exceedingly clear he was not willing to meet with any representatives of the US government, under any circumstances, certainly not to discuss peace.

But the meaning of Abbas’s speeches and the falsehoods and slanders they peddle are much worse than merely not being willing to meet with David Freedman the current US Ambassador to Israel or any other American representative.

It was what Abbas said about Israel that makes peace practically unattainable. In his Ramallah speech, Abbas said: “Colonialism created Israel to perform a certain function. It is a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism, but rather used the Jews as a tool, under the slogan of the Promised Land.”

The Palestinian President went on to assert: “The Jews of Europe preferred dying in the Holocaust than coming to Israel,” conveniently forgetting that it was the Arabs of Palestine who rioted to stop immigration.

GettyImages-893466446 A Palestian protester moves burning tires during clashes with Israeli security forces in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 15, 2017. ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty

And he claimed that David Ben Gurion had not wanted Jews from Arab lands to come to Israel but decided he needed them, so he forced the Arab governments to start riots to drive them out.

Abbas continued, alleging that Herzl, considered the founder of modern political Zionism, had called for the ethnic cleansing of the Arabs of Palestine.  

I could go on, but what is evident from the Abbas’s speech is that the issue between Israel and the Palestinians is not a matter of the 1967 borders, but, rather, condemnation of the very existence of Israel.

Abbas admitted as much when he could not provide any real excuse for not accepting the peace plan extended by Ehud Olmert in 2008, which offered Palestinians 100 percent of the West Bank, with 1:1 land swaps, and control of East Jerusalem.

Israeli politicians of all stripes were quick to denounce Abbas’s speech. Defense Minister, MK Avigdor Lieberman said that Abbas had “lost his mind”.

Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party said, “The speech clarified that Abbas didn’t reject the proposed US initiative because of President Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem, but rather that he used the announcement to reject another attempt to find a just and lasting solution to the conflict.”

Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and current MK from the Zionist Union said,  “Let’s take a moment and a breath over all the terrible things we can say about Abbas’ speech … Ok, we said them … but now what?”

“Now what?” is the question on everybody’s mind. For Israel’s right-wing, Abbas’s speech did not change a thing. They never believed the Palestinians would agree to any type of peace, and for some in the right-wing camp holding on to the West Bank — i.e. biblical Judea and Samaria — is more important than anything else.

For the rest of Israelis, who make up the majority, from center-right to left, Abbas’s speech, while in no way a surprise, brought home a truth most prefer to ignore.

Most Israelis, since the founding of the state, have accepted that they will have to serve in the military, both in regular mandatory service and in continued army reserves. However, all have held out the hope that the next generation would not have to do so. Of course, Israelis have been repeatedly and categorically disappointed over the past 70 years, as peace remains elusive.

The majority of Israelis know that ruling over 1.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, in addition to having some responsibility for the 1.5 million in the Gaza Strip, is not healthy for Israel’s society— not to mention for those over whom we rule.

Nevertheless, this week, most Israelis are asking themselves the question Tzipi Livni posited: What now?

President Trump’s clumsy diplomacy over Jerusalem may have set in motion the series of events that resulted in Abbas’ delivery of these two speeches. However, similar to Camp David in 2000, and to Olmert’s offer in 2008, Abbas’ latest utterances have clarified that regardless of how much we may want peace, and the copious number of times the UN condemns us notwithstanding, it requires two parties to make peace — and sorrowfully, peace today seems further away than ever.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

Join the Discussion