Amid cautious hope and searing skepticism, Israelis and Palestinians launched direct talks this week to forge the true and lasting peace that has eluded our peoples for too long.
Israel looks forward to narrowing the differences on all "final status" issues that must be resolved for any peace agreement. Some of these core issues are well known: Israel's security needs or the vexing question of Israel's settlement communities in the West Bank, for instance. Still, as negotiations advance, we should remember that peace will require compromises and concessions -- not only from the Israeli side, but from the Palestinians as well.
Of critical importance, yet often overshadowed, is the need for mutual recognition and a normalization of relations between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel is surrounded by 22 Arab countries with a total population of over 300 million. So far, only two of these nations have recognized and negotiated a peace agreement with Israel. As we move forward, Israelis cannot be expected to make painful sacrifices unless the Palestinians are willing to offer something beyond a temporary cessation of hostilities -- something more than the unwilling, forced acceptance of Israel that all-too-often masquerades as "peace". To secure a genuine peace, Palestinians must publicly acknowledge Israel as a permanent fixture in the region.
Vital, therefore, is the acceptance of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. Prime Minister Netanyahu has embraced the vision of two states for two peoples: speaking in Washington this week, he recognized the need for a Palestinian state that will serve as the homeland for the Palestinian people. In return, the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Twice in the past decade, Israel withdrew from territory in an effort to attain such a peace: from Lebanon in 2000, and Gaza in 2005. Both times, Israel received thousands of rockets and waves of terrorist attacks instead of respite. The geographic proximity of the West Bank is even more sensitive: at points, Israel's most heavily-populated cities are less than ten miles from the likely future border. Using little more than light weapons, militants could use the West Bank as a launching pad to wreck havoc Israel's financial, cultural, and population centers.
The idea of a two-state solution should result in an end of claims, Palestinians cannot expect that their responsibilities will end upon the mere establishment of a state. Coupled with the hopes of statehood are the responsibilities of self-determination. Just as Israel, upon its creation, accepted responsibility and opened its borders to the hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab states in 1948, any future Palestinian state will have to absorb its own people who are currently languishing in refugee camps across the Arab world and want to return to a state of their own.
These core issues -- along with the emotional trigger of Jerusalem - would be challenging under any circumstances. Setting current talks amidst the looming backdrop of Iran's race to nuclear weapons, and the efforts by radical extremists to undermine the process, it becomes even more imperative for our leaders to swiftly negotiate these issues directly, face-to-face. Our Palestinian partners must remain at the negotiating table, and cannot threaten to leave talks if they are not given everything they demand. As President Kennedy once said, "We cannot negotiate with those who say, 'what's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable.'" A just, genuine, and lasting peace will require bold leadership and painful concessions from both sides.
Jonathan Peled is the spokesman for the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C.