The single best thing that U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry can do to advance Middle East peace is to press the Palestinians to close the "peace gap." By this I mean helping Palestinian leaders bring their own constituency towards the levels of compromise and moderation that Israeli leaders have successfully achieved in Israel.
As the result of an intensive political-educational push, Israelis have shifted their views tremendously over the past thirty years. They've gone from denying the existence of a Palestinian people to recognition of Palestinian peoplehood and national aspirations; and from insisting on exclusive Israeli sovereignty and control of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip to acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian state in these areas. Israel has even withdrawn altogether from Gaza, and allowed a Palestinian government to assume authority over 95 percent of West Bank residents. Israel has made the Palestinian Authority three concrete offers for full-fledged Palestinian statehood over more than 90 percent of the territory of the West Bank.
The Palestinians, however, have utterly failed to move themselves away from rejectionism and towards peace with Israel. Many Palestinian political and religious figures still deny the historic ties of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, and refuse to accept the legitimacy of Israel's existence in the Middle East as a Jewish state. They continue to demand the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in pre-1967 Israel as a way of swamping and destroying the Jewish state. They support and glorify Palestinian suicide bombers and missile launchers against Israel's civilian population, including Hamas rocket bombing from "liberated" Gaza against southern Israel. The Palestinian airwaves and newspapers are filled with anti-Semitic, viciously anti-Israel rhetoric and warlike propaganda. Palestinian leaders crisscross the globe and lobby every international institution to condemn, vilify, criminalize and isolate Israel.
So there is an enormous gap between the two peoples in their readiness for peace. It is just not true that both Israelis and Palestinians are equally ready to accept one other and to compromise with each other. It is not true that both sides are ready to make difficult sacrifices for peace. There is no balance here.
The truth is that the Palestinians are light years away from being ready to settle amicably with Israel, whereas Israelis are desperately eager to cut a fair deal with the Palestinians.
This asymmetry cuts to the core of the conflict, and explains why PA leaders have religiously avoided entering direct and unconditional peace talks with Israel over the past four years. They know that in real peace talks, they too would have to compromise, and they know that neither they nor their constituency is ready to do so.
What is now needed is an intensive, broad-based and sustained peace education plan in the PA-controlled West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The hearts and minds of average Palestinians must be prepared for peace through a completely different set of messages. Incitement against Israel, anti-Semitic sermons against Israel, and the glorification of violence against Israel have to end. Denial of the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel must be replaced by a nuanced, albeit difficult, recognition of the Zionist dream that goes all the way back to the Bible. The radicalization and the radical Islamicization of the Palestinian national movement must be checked and rolled back.
Without a serious attempt to address the peace gap, any new diplomatic initiative will fail. It will sink into the quicksand of Palestinian rejectionism. It will sink into the peace gap.
The failure of Palestinian leaders to prepare their people for peace is not just a violation of the many accords that have been signed with Israel. It is criminal torpedoing of the entire peace process. Thus, reforming Palestinian in-house messaging entails far more than placation of Israel and the international community. It is an essential prerequisite for the process. Real peace must be built from the ground up.
The diplomacy of Israel’s new government must focus on this peace gap. The problem is that our messaging is not consistent in this regard. Part of the Israeli government has sought to focus international attentions and pressures on Palestinian recalcitrance, incitement and radicalization, while other Israeli leaders have undermined this message by whitewashing the PA.
Just yesterday, President Shimon Peres told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that Mahmoud Abbas was a "real partner for peace," and Tzipi Livni blabbered before the Herzliya Conference about global villages and shared life with the Palestinians. Neither had anything to say about the peace gap. One hopes that Netanyahu, Lapid and Bennett will coordinate their diplomatic messaging and incorporate a focus on the peace gap, and enforce this on Peres and Livni, too.