Ahead of this week’s negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, carefully overseen by Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, it might be time for a change in strategy. After all, the Palestinians have already made a "non-negotiable demand"—that Israel not build additional apartments in Jerusalem (a.k.a., “settlements”) or Fatah will pull out of the talks. Hamas refuses to talk and has instead reiterated its firm position that Israel cease to exist. Oh, well.
In past negotiations, Israel has been asked or coerced into concession after concession. The Palestinians, on the other hand, come to the negotiating table and make demands (similar to the “settlement” demand they’re making this time). They do this from a position of weakness, and that, in itself, seems to be a bit odd, but whatever. After making their demands, they offer very little or nothing in return. Since the President views himself as a man with unique negotiation skills and has worked very hard to establish himself as a friend to the Muslim and Arab word, it would seem reasonable that he try something new.
He might begin by suggesting that the Palestinians offer one or more tangible concessions as an act of goodwill. That is, a concession that can be counted or measured in some way.
After all, the Israelis have made numerous tangible concessions in the past. All of them were either rejected by the Palestinians or executed unilaterally by the Israelis (think: the unilateral departure from Gaza).
Of course, those who characterize the Palestinians as an “oppressed” people might argue that they certainly can't offer land for peace as the Israelis will have to do. They would also argue that as a "poverty-stricken” people (don't bother mentioning the upscale restaurants, the overflowing food bazaars, or the luxurious shopping mall that all appear in the "refugee camps" in Gaza), they cannot offer financial concessions as the Israelis will have to do.
Here are a few things that President Obama can suggest in the way of tangible concessions that might demonstrate goodwill on the part of the Palestinian people and also demonstrate to the American people that Barack Obama truly does have some degree of influence in the Arab world.
Concession 1: The Palestinians would be asked to remove all school books that contain virulently anti-Semitic references from all of their schools and universities. It's a relatively small thing, I know, but meaningful nonetheless. The cost of replacement books could be borne by a coalition of NGOs and European countries who care so deeply about the plight of the Palestinians.
Concession 2: The Palestinians would be asked to remove any children’s television program that contains virulently anti-Israel rhetoric or suggests that the murder of Jews is something to be admired. Because this might leave significant holes in Palestinian TV programming, the United States would offer any of a number of syndicated cartoon shows as replacements. Each would be carefully censored to eliminate any situations that would be offensive to Muslims.
Concession 3 (the big one): Palestinians would be asked to turn over 50% of their rockets and other heavy weaponry to the UN. If, in fact, they are, as they profess, truly interested in a peaceful resolution, it would seem reasonable that reducing their ability to purposely target innocent civilians (a clear violation of international law) would reduce their liability in the court of world opinion. Oh, wait, world opinion never seems to worry about the targeting of Israeli civilians. A useful concession, nonetheless.
Three simple concessions—none very expensive or onerous—might do wonders. In fact, they might help to convince many of us in the Center that the Palestinians are serious this time.
Okay, Mr. President, time for you to work your magic with our friends in the Arab world.