There isn’t going to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement anytime soon, said former United States Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer. But Israel must stop building settlements and be more welcoming to the idea of a future Palestinian state.
“I don’t come to you today to suggest we rush to the negotiating table,” he told a Washington-area audience Sunday. “But I do urge you to consider what needs to be done to avoid further deterioration of the situation.”
Kurtzer, who served for four years under President George W. Bush, used his remarks at the Jewish National Fund’s annual breakfast at B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville to recall a time when an Israeli-Palestinian agreement seemed more attainable.
Kurtzer recalled the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, which outlined steps to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the creation of a Palestinian state. It also called for Arab recognition of and normalization of diplomatic ties with Israel.
“It basically said the problem was no longer Israel’s right to exist, or the question of 1948,” Kurtzer said. “It was Israel’s occupation of Arab territory, or the question of 1967.”
At the time, Kurtzer said, there was a mutual understanding between the Israelis and Palestinians that Israel would retain the largest settlement blocs in the West Bank such as Ma’ale Adumim and Modiin Illit, but Israel would give up an equivalent amount of territory it gained in 1967. Today, Israel continues to build settlements that some Israelis are determined never to withdraw from, he said.
To improve the atmosphere, the Palestinians must eliminate anti-Semitic language from their media and educational systems, and stop violent protests, Kurtzer said. Israel must stop building settlements, which he called a “significant barrier to the peace process.”
A sovereign Palestinian state is necessary for Israel to remain a democracy, he said.
“If you don’t give the Palestinians full rights, you will have what, not what I call, but what former prime minister of Israel Ehud Barak calls an apartheid state,” he said. “Because you cannot function in today’s world governing people who don’t have full rights. It just doesn’t work.”
That didn’t sit well with some in the audience. One man objected to removing settlements.
“You’ve got 1.5 million Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank,” he said. “Why can’t 1 million Jews live in the West Bank and still have peace?”
Potomac resident Bernie Rod said he thought Kurtzer’s attempt at evenhandedness was misplaced.
“I didn’t disagree with what Kurtzer said, but I think his emphasis on equating the two sides was a little off,” he said.
Silver Spring resident Frederic Messing didn’t see an agreement coming anytime soon.
“There is no one on the [Palestinian] side to negotiate with, and at the present time there doesn’t appear to be anyone in the administration in Israel who would negotiate a reasonable peace settlement,” he said.