President Obama travels to Ramallah on Thursday to meet with Palestinian leaders; the question for many is what message he will bring to them. The tone for his first trip to Israel as president has so far been one of reconciliation.
While there may be a great deal of good intention behind this visit, and the desire to achieve lasting peace is a real one, it must be clear to all sides that we cannot and should not repeat the mistakes of the past. Indeed, an American push to jump-start negotiations is the easy way out. While there is a degree of consensus that resuming talks should be the next step, we should realize by now just how futile that would be. It has come to the point where just holding talks is perceived as an achievement.
The negotiations have all strived to achieve a two-state solution, which now must be considered a fallacy. Its time has passed.
The truth is that a two-state solution was always an unachievable goal because there is no real middle ground between the basic demands of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. From Oslo to Annapolis, the key issues of Jerusalem, refugees, sovereignty, and territorial swaps have never been even close to being resolved.
In his first two years in office, Obama followed the track that led to impasse after impasse. Since then, his policies have come to recognize the complexities of the situation on the ground. There is still a keen desire to bring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an end, but it might not be as others had envisioned. The entire international community needs to shift its focus to goals that can be achieved in the immediate future and bring about true change.
Our efforts must be focused on bringing about improvement in the everyday lives of Israelis and Palestinians. First and foremost, it is time to put an end to violence. Every man, woman, and child has the right not to live in fear. Be it rocks or live ammunition, attacks should not be tolerated and should be severely prosecuted. That responsibility sits squarely on the shoulders of the Israeli security forces and must not be shirked.
It is time to assure that everyone can go about their daily lives in peace. If security conditions permit it, we must begin to lift all travel restrictions, dismantle the remaining checkpoints and, eventually, take down the security barrier Israel was forced to build following the seemingly endless cycle of terror attacks in the early 2000s.
Improving human rights, which have always been sorely abused by Israel’s neighbors, must become the linchpin for improving conditions for our peoples.
We must also address the issue of the Palestinian refugee camps, where conditions have severely deteriorated. The time has come to create proper housing. No one should have to tolerate living in squalor. Moreover, the Palestinians living there should not be considered refugees.
Other areas that need to be addressed are the economy and social services. It is time for the world to put its money where its mouth is and support joint economic projects between Israelis and Palestinians. Today, tens of thousands of Palestinians are employed alongside Israelis. We should aim to double, triple, and even quadruple that number as soon as possible. We need backing to expand health care, improve water quality, and manage environmental hazards, which are in need of immediate attention.
There is much work that needs to be done; the chance for lasting peace grows dimmer with each day that goes by when these issues aren’t addressed.
At the invitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, I was part of a large delegation of decision-makers who had the pleasure of welcoming Obama at Ben Gurion airport upon his arrival on Wednesday. I’m sure that almost everyone there would like to have five minutes alone with the president to share their views with him. If I had that opportunity, I would advise Obama that peace is attainable, but it must come from the bottom up. If he chooses to support that path, he will create tangible change in people’s lives and a game changer for regional dialogue.