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Speaking at JPR’s annual Morris and Manja Leigh lecture in London in October, Israel Ambassador, H. E. Mark Regev, pondered whether he would live to see peace between Israel and the Palestinians during his lifetime.
In front of a packed audience, he argued that peace could only be achieved when both sides accepted the legitimacy of the other’s position, something he did not believe was the case at present.
Mr Regev maintained that this fundamental problem does not lie with the Israelis. He stated that Israel recognizes three key facts about the Palestinians: (i) that they are a people; (ii) that they have a connection to the land they call Palestine; and (iii) that, on the basis of (i) and (ii), Israel can support Palestinian statehood as part of a historical reconciliation between the two peoples.
However, he regretted the absence of such recognition on the Palestinian side. Until the Palestinians ceased to reject the notion of Jewish peoplehood and the Jewish connection to the land, a peace agreement would likely remain elusive.
Mr Regev also emphasised the vital importance of security measures, arguing that “a peace that cannot be defended will not last.” He noted that Israel has learned the hard way that peace initiatives often coincide with an increase in terror attacks against Israelis, and maintained that any peace deal would need to have robust security arrangement put in place not only to protect the peace itself, but also to protect Israel if peace fails.
The Ambassador noted some intriguing reasons to be optimistic about the future, not least the fact that there is currently more cooperation between Israel and the Arab governments of some of the surrounding countries than at any previous time in Israel’s history. Changes in the region – notably in Syria and with ISIS – are prompting new alliances to be forged, and a number of Middle Eastern governments have decided that Israel can be a partner.
Mr Regev pointed out that Arab states can play a critical role in helping to resolve the conflict, not least by giving legitimacy and support to any agreement, a factor that the Ambassador believed had held Yasser Arafat back in the past from advancing towards peace.