High on the list of questions I get when promoting the pro-Israel, pro-peace message is who I’m proposing that Israel make peace with.
The question in short: Is there a Palestinian partner?
Last night, I had dinner with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a small event for leaders of American Jewish organizations.
And to my mind the answer in short is yes — and his name is Abu Mazen.
It is time for the American Jewish establishment to stop looking for flaws and faults in the present Palestinian leadership and to realize that there may never be a better partner. It’s in the self-interest of Israel and its friends to ensure this opportunity doesn’t slip away and to do what we can to strengthen him and his chances of success.
In a wide-ranging, nearly two-hour roundtable discussion, Abbas told us plainly that the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two states living side by side in peace and security, with the 1967 borders as a basis and land swaps to account for on-the-ground developments. The capital of Israel would be in Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods and the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would be the capital of the Palestinian state.
He recognized Israel’s right to exist and expressed real understanding of its security needs. He affirmed the historic ties of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, citing the Koran, and stated that it’s up to Israel to determine the character of the state — whether it’s a Jewish state, a state of all its citizens, or if it prefers to use some other formulation. To those who ask why he won’t recognize Israel as the Jewish state, he asks — rightly in my opinion — why Israel should need the Palestinian imprimatur to determine its character.
He also rightly admitted that there is incitement in the Palestinian Authority and that it is wrong. He asked — justifiably to my mind — why the Israelis refuse to revive the mechanism for addressing incitement that they agreed to in the Wye River agreements, signed during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s last term in office. The Wye River agreement created a trilateral committee of Israel, Palestinians and the United States to review charges from both sides of incitement. Abbas is prepared to address all instances that are judged to be incitement by such a committee and asks that Israel do the same.
He is ready to negotiate directly with Israel, he says, once the Americans establish clearly that Israel is ready to present serious proposals on security and borders as has been requested by the United States. He says he has presented ideas and proposals on both topics to Mitchell and they’re waiting for Israel.
He’s gone on Israeli TV to establish directly with the Israeli people that he is serious about ending the conflict. He’s asked Prime Minister
Netanyahu to do the same, but he has refused so far.
Finally, he quoted back to the group the old adage that the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. While that may have been true about the Palestinians at one time, he said, today it’s the Israelis who are missing the opportunity -– not simply for a two-state solution but for comprehensive peace under the Arab Peace Initiative.
I think he is right.
Last night said clearly to me that there is a partner for peace. Now the question is whether there are two.
(Jeremy Ben-Ami is the President of J Street.)