The Hamas deal poisons peace talks

Longstanding conflicts can be resolved only when deeds lead to trust

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A prominent Israeli philosopher once taught me that one should be able to discuss any issue, no matter how complex, in simple though not simplistic, language.

Allow me, then, to try to explain in simple terms the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what makes it so difficult to resolve.

At the heart of the dispute are two diametrically opposed national movements and narratives, both claiming ownership to the same piece of land. Questions of who came first or who has stronger religious, emotional and historical ties to that land further deepen the divide and complicate the task of reconciling the two narratives.

In order for reconciliation to occur and a path toward peace to be forged, both sides need to make painful compromises that include giving up parts of their narratives.

This is an excruciatingly difficult and long process. In order for it to succeed, it needs to be constantly fueled with confidence-building measures that instill in the peoples on both sides a clear sense that the other party’s intentions are genuine, and that difficult measures which they are required to take today will pay off in the future.

Long before maps are unfurled and borders discussed, it is critically important that a basic pillar be firmly established on both sides: recognizing the fundamental right of the other side to exist, whatever the final borders.

That recognition must start from the top, but it has to trickle down and become embedded in the collective mindset of the people. It is the basis that will support any future agreement. Without it, no agreement can hold.

This is why when one party chooses to align itself with a terrorist organization that does not recognize the right of the other to exist, and which openly calls for its destruction, it deals a death blow to attempts at reconciliation and to any prospect of peace.

That is exactly what Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Israel has been negotiating, did last week when he entered into an agreement to form a unity government with Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for Israel’s destruction and that has, regrettably, an impressive track record of raining down thousands of rockets and missiles on Israeli civilians in towns and cities, proving it means what it says.

How can Israeli citizens be seriously expected to feel comfortable with Palestinian leadership and have confidence that it really wants peace, when it teams up with an organization that repeatedly calls for their death?

For the past week I have been grappling with this question and searching for an answer that can be conveyed straightforwardly. Here’s what I have come up with:

Confidence is measured in deeds and not words. Let President Abbas disassociate himself from Hamas, stop celebrating murderers as heroes and begin to teach his people the need for co-existence and mutual respect. He, and the world, will then see Israeli citizens ready and willing to meet him halfway.

Yaron Sideman is consul general of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, which comprises Pennsylvania, Ohio, Delaware, West Virginia, Kentucky and southern New Jersey. He is based in Philadelphia.

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