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Stop Patronizing the Palestinians

by Jack Rosen and Norm Kurz

When Ambassador Turki al-Faisal last week wrote an op-ed on behalf of Palestinians (Washington Post, June 12), no doubt his intention was to be helpful to their cause. He even seemed to be reaching out to Israel by acknowledging the shortcomings of his previous approach -- "We Arabs used to say no to peace, and we got our comeuppance in 1967" -- by conceding where blame lies for the Six Day War and its terrible human toll on Israel, and its disastrous aftermath for the Palestinians.

But no true friend of the Palestinian people could, in good conscience, encourage them to seek a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute through a unilateral declaration of statehood by the United Nations. Surely the Ambassador, a one-time diplomat, understands that an agreement will come only after the parties set aside their political excuses and enter into face-to-face negotiations.

There are those who believe President Obama's approach has been to administer a version of "tough love" to Israel and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. While it hasn't produced results to date, it can fairly be asked why a similar brand of direct, unadorned language shouldn't also be employed in explaining to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that there are no shortcuts to achieving a Palestinian state that can live in peace and security along side Israel.

Turki al-Faisal stands in a long line of "friends" repeatedly telling the Palestinian people what they want to hear, and who avoid challenging them to do what is difficult but essential to enhance their cause. In the plain speaking world this is known as patronizing and disingenuous behavior, and it carries the added burden in this instance of being counterproductive. Simply put, President Abbas can listen to Turki al Faisal and end up with a piece of paper in his hand, knowing he is putting even more distance between Palestinians and Israelis, or he can take President Obama's advice to sit down with Prime Minister Netanyahu for the difficult task of working toward peace.

Unsurprisingly, Turki al Faisal assigns all blame for the current impasse to an intransigent Israel and the U.S. Nowhere does he even mention Hamas, the unrepentant terrorist organization openly devoted in both words and deeds to Israel's destruction, now an equal governing partner with the Fatah organization run by Abbas. Nor does he bother to remind his readers that when Netanyahu finally acceded to Obama's request for a suspension of settlement activity, the Palestinians again chose not to negotiate, coming to the table only at the very end of the ten month window of opportunity, highlighting another lapse in judgment.

Turki al Faisal asks with indignation, "why should Palestinians not be granted the same rights the United Nations accorded to the state of Israel at its creation in 1947?" Of course, a better question is "why did the Palestinians not accept the same offer Israel took with the same rights the UN was prepared to accord to a state of Palestine in 1947?" In other words, the issue of accepting a two-state solution has been a settled matter for more than 60 years, and a redundant UN declaration will do nothing to move the ball forward.

If all the putative friends of Palestinians and Israelis told the truth, it might look something like this: With little trust upon which to build an agreement, every day that goes by without hope for an independent state on the one hand, and peace and security on the other, means the fuse that leads to a blow up get shorter. More than in most places, stagnation in the Middle East is not an option; it's a quicksand where either you make progress or conditions worsen. Contrary to how each party views the situation, time is not on their side.

Israel is more isolated, Iran moves closer to becoming a nuclear power, and the Arab spring creates deep uncertainties, especially if Cairo's new leaders renege on the Camp David accords that have governed Israeli-Egyptians relations for 33 years.

Palestinians continue to see Israel through the narrow lens of an occupier -- as a ruler more interested in holding land than making peace -- while their own inept leaders make excuses and promises they can't fulfill, and the Arab world always is ready to bash Israelis, but never honest enough to be a genuine friend or ally.

And to make matters worse, the Obama Administration understandably has grown weary of the inertia and seeming lack of enthusiasm both sides have shown for the effort required. There is nothing in the current political wind that smells like a winner, and in the months ahead, when the demands of a presidential campaign weigh heavily, there is unlikely to be a good answer when the president asks, "why do I need this headache?"

The only way forward is for Israelis and Palestinians to finally conclude that neither side is going away. No matter how firmly they hold on to their respective historical narratives, there is no storyline that concludes with only one side left standing. The U.S., not the UN, is the only possible facilitating party that can help, and anyone who says otherwise is a pretender.

Given that neither party can eliminate the other, the truth is that the two sides actually need each other to grant what is necessary, and what no one else can: a new Palestinian state along side a secure Jewish state of Israel. No one else can do it. Apocalyptic threats by Saudi princes demonstrate anew that there will never be a substitute for the principals assuming the burdens required, and that there's a good reason why the advice of most outsiders is worthless.

Jack Rosen is chairman of the American Council for World Jewry, and Norm Kurz, president of The Kurz Company, is a former spokesman for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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