Due to settlement construction, checkpoints placed between West Bank cities such as Hebron and Bethlehem, as well as inflammatory statements by settlers and their representatives in the Knesset, many pro-Palestinian activists in the West are convinced that Israel is acting in bad faith. Some ask why Israel has not accepted the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, or why peace negotiations have repeatedly failed. Rather than research the history of past talks (as David Brog does in this PragerU video) they simply concluded that Israel must not be interested in peace.
Consequently, they have supported efforts to delegitimize Israel such as the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) Movement. Palestinian activists assume that the pathway to peace between Israelis and Palestinians requires additional pressure on Israel to recognize a Palestinian State and withdraw from the West Bank.
This assumption ignores two important points about the current state of negotiations. First, the Arab Peace Plan and other Palestinian proposals contain demands that would threaten the existence and historical legitimacy of the Jewish State of Israel. Secondly, Palestinian leadership has not prepared the Palestinian people to accept a final peace agreement and, Palestinian negotiators may not be capable of winning the two-level game for peace in the near future.
I recently visited Israel, and it was readily apparent that the status quo was unacceptable to most Israelis. When I saw that most Israeli playgrounds included a bomb shelter, painted with comforting images to hide the horrifying implication of its presence, I knew that Israeli parents desperately wanted an end to the missiles. They want an end to stabbings in the street, suicide bombers on buses, firefights on the Temple Mount, and members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad emerging from tunnels to kill them. Despite this, negotiations have failed.
The Western Wall and the Right of Return
Consider this for a moment: Palestinians would immediately reject any plan for peace which left an independent Palestine divided up into small territories separated by innumerable Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Palestine could not flourish economically in such a situation and the Palestinians would not accept foreign checkpoints between Hebron and Bethlehem, Ramallah and Nablus. This is why Israeli offers to the Palestinians have attracted significant pushback from the settlers and their representatives. Yet Israel has offered land for peace to assuage these concerns. Palestinian negotiators have not shown similar courage and consideration.
Palestinians and their supporters continue to insist on two unreasonable demands of their own. The first unreasonable demand is the Palestinian “right of return,” which demands that all descendants of the Arabs who fled from Israel or the West Bank, whether at the request of Arab armies or from fear of the Israelis, be allowed to resettle in the towns they initially fled from. Such a policy would undoubtedly result in millions of non-Jewish descendants changing the demographic character of Israel. While Israel is not opposed to a “right of return” to the West Bank nor to compensating these people financially, the Jewish State of Israel cannot afford to negotiate away its existence. The Arab Peace Initiative, however, ignores this concern by demanding adherence to U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, which supports the “right of return” for the Arabs who fled from Israel, a provision which doomed the Arab Peace Initiative.
Israelis are also determined to retain possession of the Western Wall, the last remaining portion of the Temple. This wall is a powerful reminder of the presence of the Jewish People in this land before empire after empire subjugated and expelled them, from the Romans to the Persians, to the Byzantines, to the Arabs, to the Crusaders, to the Ottomans, to the imperialist European powers. Every time I came near the Western Wall, I saw great crowds gathered there to pray. They fulfill the dream of the Jewish People who, for over a millennium in exile, prayed for “next year in Jerusalem.”
The Palestinians also claim the entirety of the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem. Jews are forbidden to pray atop the Temple Mount due to the presence of al-Asqa and the Dome of the Rock, two mosques the Arabs claim are important to the Muslim religion.
It is not reasonable to ask Israel to give up the entirety of its ancient capital and the last remains of the Temple. By doing so, Israel would concede that the Temple Mount was not a Jewish holy site, and that the Jewish People did not even have the right to control their ancient capital.
Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations and Two-Level Game Theory
In addition to making unreasonable demands, the Palestinian leadership has left the Palestinians fundamentally unprepared to make a final peace agreement with Israel. Israel has repeatedly offered to make concessions and to agree to the creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, despite the wishes of the settlers who would lose their homes in such an arrangement.
The wishes of these settlers, in addition to terrorist attacks and Palestinian rhetorical hostility, present Israeli leaders with the unenviable task of convincing the Israeli public to support a lasting peace agreement. This difficult two-level game requires that they convince both the Israelis and the Palestinians to accept their terms.
Two-level game theory, created by Robert Putnam, holds that anyone who negotiates on behalf of a country must simultaneously take into account the available options presented by the negotiators of the other country and the options which are acceptable to his constituents. The acceptability of certain options can either prevent the negotiator from successfully negotiating a deal or provide an excuse for the negotiator to ask for better terms. If the range of options acceptable to a negotiator’s constituents does not overlap with the range of options acceptable to the other country, the negotiation will fail.
In this case, it is the Palestinian negotiators who have failed to convince their constituents to do all that is necessary for peace. Since their government pays the families of martyrs (better known in Israel as suicide-bombers) and teaches anti-Semitism in the schools, the Palestinians are unprepared for peace. In fact, many of the Palestinians and their supporters throughout the region believe that it is not their place to ever make a final peace with Israel, only to extract more concessions over time until Israel is no more. Even Yasser Arafat was wary of accepting a final peace solution which guaranteed Israel’s existence. Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh wrote that Yasser Arafat said he rejected a peace offer because “he did not want to end up drinking tea with assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the first Arab leader to make peace with Israel.” As Khaled Abu Toameh asked, is current Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas more respected among Palestinians than Arafat?
Additional pressure on Israel and calmer rhetoric from Israeli political parties will not solve these problems, nor lead to the end of Palestinian demands for the unlimited right of return and all of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall. Those who back Palestinian statehood should support efforts to eliminate support for terrorism and anti-Semitic education in the West Bank. Palestinian negotiators will have great difficulty reaching a lasting peace with Israel until both parties represent constituents seeking peace between the Jewish State of Israel and Palestine.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.