In 1974, PLO leader Yasser Arafat stood before the United Nations General Assembly and famously declared: “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”
While Arafat’s words suggested that the Palestinians were interested in making peace with Israel, his actions indicated otherwise. He delivered the speech while in military uniform and, infamously, with a pistol strapped to his belt.
Throughout our history, Israel has always welcomed efforts toward finding peace with our neighbors. Today, as always, we welcome any initiative that provides a chance for peace. Is now the time the Palestinians finally let the gun — and not the olive branch — fall from their hands?
If history is our guide, the answer is likely an unequivocal “No.”
This past February, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech before the U.N. Security Council in which he expressed his “absolute readiness to reach a historic peace agreement.”
Unfortunately, just like his predecessor, Mr. Abbas has a habit of feigning interest in the olive branch to score international political points, yet ultimately choosing to avoid direct negotiations for peace.
Moments after he claimed the Palestinians are “driven by our conviction in a just, lasting and comprehensive peace,” Mr. Abbas and his team, in a brazen display of hypocrisy, stalked out of the chamber, unwilling to listen to my or any of th members of the Security Council’s response.
An important and necessary step to peace is to cease enabling this hypocrisy. Mr. Abbas knows that he can circumvent the hard act of direct negotiations with Israel and seek refuge in the U.N.’s warm embrace, which only serves to enable Palestinian rejectionism.
Instead, Mr. Abbas must learn that recourse in the U.N. is not the way to achieve peace. When the Security Council votes 14-1 in favor of condemning the United States’ sovereign decision to recognize Jerusalem as our capital, and when the U.N. continues to provide a platform for anti-Israel incitement, this only emboldens the Palestinians’ rejectionism and moves us further from peace.
Unfortunately, last February’s incident was not the first time Mr. Abbas has rejected steps towards peace.
In 2009, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instituted an unprecedented 10-month settlement freeze to facilitate negotiations. Mr. Abbas, who had demanded this freeze as a precondition to talks, refused to engage with us for nine months, and then walked out in the tenth.
One year earlier, in 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Mr. Abbas the most generous parameters for the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yet, the PA leader at first never responded, and then rejected it outright.
And it is not just the current PA leadership that has an affinity for hypocrisy. This is endemic in Palestinian identity and history: For decades, despite claiming to seek peace, the Palestinians have never failed to choose rejectionism.
In 1937, the Arab leadership in Mandatory Palestine rejected the Peel Commission Report to partition the land into separate Jewish and Arab states; in 1947, the Arabs again rejected the UN’s “Partition Plan” Resolution 181; the next year they rejected Israel’s desire to live in “peace and good neighbourliness” and attacked with a combined force of six armies; in 1967, they rejected Israel’s offers for peace after the Six Day War, and instead issued the infamous “no peace, no recognition, no negotiations”; and in 2000, Arafat rejected Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer.
Perhaps the best opportunity for the Palestinians to demonstrate their commitment to a “just, lasting and comprehensive peace” came in 2005, when Israel unilaterally pulled our soldiers and civilians — even the bodies of our deceased — out of Gaza. The Palestinians had a golden opportunity to govern themselves in the coastal enclave, to turn Gaza into the Singapore of the Middle East, and to demonstrate their commitment to building and not destroying. Instead, Hamas, an internationally recognized terror organization, turned Gaza into a base for launching rockets, constructing terror tunnels and sending kite bombs into Israel.
And yet, Mr. Abbas still states that the Palestinians are driven by a “conviction in a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” Unfortunately, the facts speak otherwise.
For decades, the Palestinians have claimed to seek the olive branch, yet never miss an opportunity to take up the gun. With such a history of hypocrisy and rejectionism, why should we expect the Palestinians to act any differently today?
Israel has always sought peace with our neighbors and we welcome any effort to achieve that noble objective. But we will not be fooled into believing that, based on Mr. Abbas’ words, the Palestinians are committed to the same goal.
In the words of former U.N. mbassador Adlai Stevenson, “making peace is harder than making war.” Through our accords with Egypt and Jordan, Israel knows the difficult choices peace demands.
We eagerly await the day when the Palestinians join us on that harder path; when they finally let the gun fall from their hands, and bear only the olive branch.
• Danny Danon is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.
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