In a speech this weekend, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon stated that his country has no partner for peace. “As someone who supported (the) Oslo (peace process), I'm learning that on the other side, we have no partner for two states for two peoples. There is no one on the other side,” he said, according to the Jerusalem Post. The implication of this statement is obvious: No partner means no need for compromise.
Ya'alon's assertion runs counter to his own government's policy, articulated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is that the Palestinian Authority, under President Mahmoud Abbas, is a legitimate partner for peace talks.
Ya'alon's statement also strikes me as untrue — or at least partially untrue. The Gaza Strip, which would be a crucial part of the yet-unborn state of Palestine, is still under the control of Hamas, an anti-Semitic terrorist organization devoted to Israel's destruction. The Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, is weak and fairly corrupt, but it is also populated by officials who are relatively moderate and reasonably realistic. These officials are negotiating with Israel, in peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry. They are negotiating even while Israel's government expands settlements on territory that will have to be part of the future state of Palestine for it to be at all viable.
I'm skeptical about these peace talks, and I'm skeptical that a final agreement can be reached in the near future. Nevertheless, I think that among the Palestinians, there are partners for peace.
But let's say that Ya'alon and the many members of the ruling Likud Party who share his view are entirely correct: Israel has no partner. If this is the case, the path for Netanyahu's government is clear. It should, as an opening gambit and in public, offer the Palestinian Authority most of what the international community wants it to offer: 100 percent of the West Bank, with appropriate land swaps so that the large settlement blocs could remain part of Israel; a capital in East Jerusalem; and the symbolic right of return, and compensation, for the descendants of Palestinian refugees.
If the Palestinian Authority is no partner for peace — in other words, if it is not actually seeking an equitable two-state solution, but is seeking instead Israel's destruction — then what harm could come from such an Israeli offer? The Palestinians would certainly reject it. They would never agree to stop making claims against Israel, which would be one condition of an internationally recognized peace deal. They would never agree to a state that included only the West Bank and Gaza, because such a state, as Ya'alon is implying, is not their goal.
Such an offer would actually benefit Israel in many ways. Most of the world already endorses the idea of a Palestinian state centered on the West Bank, and much of the world is angry at Israel, blaming it for blocking the birth of such a state. Israel could, in a single moment, shift the narrative entirely, placing the onus for the continued impasse on the Palestinians. And if Ya'alon is correct, there would be no danger that the Palestinians would accept the deal.
The Netanyahu government will not do this because it is not particularly brave. Because doing this will cause the settlers and their sympathizers, who represent a core constituency of the ruling coalition, to erupt in fury. And because secretly the Netanyahu government understands that some Palestinians might, in fact, be ready for such a historic compromise.