Steve Hunegs

Steve Hunegs was named Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) in November of 2006. Hunegs has a long association with the JCRC. He served on the Board of Directors from 1993 to 2002 and served as Board President from 1998 to 2000. Read more about Steve Hunegs.

Only Negotiations Will Bring Peace to the Middle East

Posted by: Steve Hunegs Updated: November 10, 2011 - 11:08 AM

In light of the impending vote before the U.N. Security Council, the Palestinians are positioned to achieve far better than a unilateral declaration of independence.  The United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia (the Quartet) have called upon Israel and the Palestinian Authority to resume peace negotiations without preconditions.  Israel has accepted.

For the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian people, and President Mahmoud Abbas, the opportunity for a five-sided recognition of a Palestinian state is materializing. 

This “quint-convergence” offers the resumption of peace negotiations and a final agreement after one year.

As an Israeli government spokesperson noted, “[Prime Minister Netanyahu] is in complete alignment with President Obama, the U.S. administration, and Israel’s many friends in Europe and the world.”  Yet, as demonstrated by the impending Security Council vote on Palestinian statehood, the Palestinian Authority continues to follow a self-defeating path.

In support of a two-state solution, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas hopes the Palestinian Authority will negotiate and that the years 2011-2012 will not join 1937 (Peel Commission Partition Proposal), 1947 (U.N. Partition Proposal), 1970 (Allon Plan), and 2000 (Camp David, Taba) as years of missed opportunities by the Palestinians to establish a state side by side with Israel.

Time is running short for all sides with regional developments working against peace, such as: Turkey’s bellicosity toward Israel, anti-Israel sentiment on Egypt’s streets, and Syrian repression and murder of its citizens seeking democratic change.

In the past, Israel has shown it is willing to make tough compromises for peace.  Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai, Lebanon, and Gaza all demonstrate its desire for an end to the conflict and willingness to sacrifice tangible land for the promise of peace.

That being said, realities on the ground such as missiles from Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon are unacceptable. These realities have taught Israelis that in order to make peace, security must be guaranteed. In recent weeks, these realities have become starker as Gazan missiles have bombarded several Southern Israeli cities resulting in damage, trauma, and school closings.

The Palestinian Authority’s current unwillingness to join Israel at the negotiating table and accept the Quartet’s proposal has real world consequences.  Recent Congressional actions—whether warranted or not warranted—threaten to cut off assistance to the Palestinian Authority and demonstrate the potential consequences of spurning the United States and the Quartet.

Last week, the regrettable decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to grant Palestine full membership status, under decades-old American law, automatically cut off American funding (22% of UNESCO’s total budget) to UNESCO.  It has also been reported that other nations, notably Canada and Israel, are reconsidering how much support to provide UNESCO following this recent decision.  It is unfortunate that UNECSO, an organization which does a great deal of good for so many, has fallen victim to these counterproductive Palestinian efforts.

In recent years, the Palestinian economy has prospered in the West Bank.  Undeniably, increased cooperation between Palestinians and the Israeli and American governments is important.  Moreover, other foreign investors and governments have also begun to heavily invest in the West Bank.  These investments have benefited both Palestinians and Israelis and are part of the infrastructure of a future Palestinian state.  Prime Minister Salam Fayyad should be praised for his economic reform efforts within the Palestinian Authority.

Peace between Israel and the Palestinians would mean greater prosperity for both.  Peace would mean easier access between the two nations, resulting in a situation where a person could live in Ramallah and work in Jerusalem.  Peace would allow collaboration in major industries such as tourism, high tech, and agriculture.  Researchers from the Peres Center for Peace in Israel have concluded that greater economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority could yield an increase in Palestinian GDP by $8 billion in five to ten years.  Most importantly, however, peace would mean children would not know the feeling of having only five seconds to run to the nearest bomb shelter and worry about a suicide bomber on a bus or in a marketplace.

The decision to proceed to the Security Council in the coming week will not advance the Palestinian cause.  It merely creates animosity and worse, places the United States in the unenviable position of having to potentially veto the Palestinian statehood request. 

The vast majority of the American Jewish community and Israelis are committed to a two-state solution.  But this must be a solution which will enable both sides to thrive. This agreement must be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian Authority—not a unilateral decision by one party.

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