Yes, there is reason for skepticism about this new round of negotiations. But we should follow the lead of the majority of Israelis and support the effort.
It’s hard not to be skeptical about the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that got off the ground in Washington last week and are expected to continue in Israel next week.
Both here and abroad, there are many unanswered questions surrounding the nature of the talks, as well as what kind of pressure was exerted and what promises were made to get the parties back to the table. But that justifiable skepticism should not be used to try to derail the talks, not when the Israeli government has decided to negotiate in good faith.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long offered to return to peace talks, has made a bold move — fulfilling his promise to let anyone who questions his stated desire for a two-state solution to put him to the test at the negotiating table.
He is presenting the right stance: Let no one accuse Israel of not being serious about seeking peace and let no one doubt that the country is ready to make painful compromises — even agreeing to the highly controversial and questionable demand to release 104 Palestinian and Israeli Arabs involved in terror attacks.
Most Israelis want peace but they are ambivalent about the latest round of talks and doubt they will lead to a genuine peace any time soon.
A poll released this week found that 79 percent of Israeli Jews believe talks have a low chance of success, as opposed to 18 percent who believe the chances are high. Despite the overall pessimism among Jewish respondents, 61 percent of those surveyed by Tel Aviv University and the Israel Democracy Institute said they were in favor of the peace talks, as opposed to 33 percent who said they were against them.
The bigger question is: How serious are the Palestinians?
While Israel’s diplomatic corps puts out talking points about why peace is important for the country’s future, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas makes provocative statements, as he did last week to Egyptian journalists, about how no Israeli would be allowed to remain in a future Palestinian state.
The culture of violence against Israel that pervades Palestinian society, as highlighted in a front-page New York Times story this week, also does nothing to encourage optimism that the Palestinians are interested in peaceful co-existence.
So yes, there is indeed reason for skepticism. We, like most Israelis, are not going to make bets that these talks will go very far. But we, like most Israelis, support the effort. It will be up to both sides to stick it out when the going gets tough, as it inevitably will. And if, by some miracle, a deal is reached, the Israeli people will decide through a referendum whether it should be implemented. That’s how it should be.