In the days leading up to the initial meeting between President Obama, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, the op ed pages and blogs have been filled with opinion pieces about the dynamics of the upcoming peace process. Most of these analyses have simply provided an opportunity for advocates to argue that their preexisting positions are valid. Many of these positions are mythical and bare little relationship to the realties on the ground. Let me identify three pervasive myths.
Myth number 1: Securing peace with the Palestinians based on a two state solution and the end of the Israeli settlements is will bring about peace in the Middle East.
The reality: Myth 1 may have been true back in 2000-2001 when then President Bill Clinton and then Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state in all of the Gaza and on more than 95% of the West Bank, with a divided Jerusalem and a $35 billion "reparation" package for the so-called refugees. It is far less true today. A decade ago, the Palestinians could offer Israel the promise of real peace on all of its borders. Today, all the Palestinian Authority can offer is peace on Israel's eastern border with the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has no control over Israel's southwestern border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip or with its northern border with Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon. Most importantly, over the past several years, Israel's greatest threat does not come from the Palestinians; it comes from Iran, over whom the Palestinians have little influence. The reality is that the Palestinian Authority has managed to marginalize itself since Yassir Arafat turned down the Clinton/Barak offer. The Palestinian Authority can now give less, but wants more.
Nor would an Israeli agreement to dismantle the settlements bring about a full peace. Indeed, when Israel dismantled every single settlement in the Gaza, that action only stimulated Hamas to redouble its efforts to make life miserable for Israelis by using the abandoned settlements as launching pads for rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. The goal of Hamas, and of an increasing number of anti-Israel extremists, is not a two state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, but rather a one state solution to what they see as the problem of Israel's existence as a Jewish democracy. Israel will never agree to a one state solution and the extremists will never accept Israel as a Jewish state. That is the sad reality.
Let me be clear that I hope the Israelis and the Palestinians do achieve peace and that the Israelis do dismantle the settlements (other than those which both sides agree should remain part of Israeli territory.) This would be good for Israel and for the Palestinians, and would contribute somewhat to overall peace in the area. But as long as Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran--none of which recognizes Israel's right to exist, and all of whom oppose the ongoing peace process--continue to pose military threats to Israel, there will be no real peace in the Middle East.
Myth number 2: The second myth is if Israel were to make peace with the Palestinian Authority, the threat from Iran would diminish, because the United States would have more leverage over the Ahmadinejad regime and could do more to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. There is no truth to this linkage, and even more important, I have never met an Israeli leader who believes it.
The reality: The reality is precisely the opposite. If the United States could prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, Israel would be much more willing to accept significant compromises in its negotiations with the Palestinians. As Israel's Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, recently put it:
"In practical terms, if Iran gets the bomb it will deal a monumental blow to the peace process."
For Israel to be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve peace with the Palestinians--sacrifices that will rip the country apart if force is required against recalcitrant settlers--Israel's security must be assured. It cannot be assured if Iran is allowed to develop the deliverable nuclear weapons it has repeatedly threatened to use against Israel.
Myth number 3: The Palestinians will offer real compromises for peace, because their current situation is intolerable.
The reality: The reality is that many, if not most Palestinians, believe that time is on their side because recent efforts, by the international community and radical academics to deligitimate Israel, are working. Read the statement recently issued by Hamas and several secular Palestinian groups, some of which had previously favored direct talks. The current position of these groups is to oppose negotiations and wait for Israel to be isolated even further. Here is the way the statement put it: "Insisting on direct talks throws a lifeline to Israel as its isolation deepens... A return to direct talks serves the US and Zionist aim to liquidate the national rights of the Palestinian people." By "the national rights of the Palestinian people," the groups that signed the statement mean the right of Palestinians to "return" to what is now Israel and to turn it into yet another Muslim-Arab state. Hamas leader Khaled Meshall praised this statement as "exceptional," because it united eleven disparate groups that he says represent a majority of the Palestinians.
Why negotiate from a position of relative weakness, the signers of the statement ask rhetorically, when the international community is strengthening the position of the Palestinians, while weakening Israel?
The sad reality is that an overarching Mideast peace is not entirely in the hands of the Israeli and Palestinian leaders who are meeting in Washington. That is no reason for not trying. But unless the threats posed by Iran and its surrogates, Hezbollah and Hamas, can be neutralized, the best that can be expected is what the Bible described as "peace, peace and there is no peace."