Last week, the Israeli government made a historic decision to suspend construction in the West Bank for 10 months. In making this decision, the government of Israel proved again our willingness to take painful measures to give peace a chance.
This is not the first serious step taken by Israel to advance the cause of peace. In September 1993 on the White House lawn, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin recognized Yasser Arafat's PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people for the purpose of negotiating a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That gesture was reciprocated by a wave of suicide bombings in early 1996, leaving dozens of Israelis dead.
At Camp David in August 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak made a far-reaching proposal for a Palestinian state. Arafat refused and launched a five-year war, killing more than 1,000 Israeli citizens and pushing back Palestinian statehood by years and maybe decades.
In August 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pulled all Israeli troops out of the Gaza Strip and dismantled all Israeli settlements in that area, uprooting 7,500 Israeli citizens from their homes. He did the same in an area twice the size of the Gaza Strip, in the northern West Bank. This was a painful measure designed to enable the Palestinians to run their own lives and hopefully negotiate peace with Israel. Instead, the Iran-backed Hamas took over the Gaza Strip and launched a campaign of thousands of rockets against Israeli towns and villages. Palestinian statehood again regressed.
This week's decision by Israel to suspend new construction in the settlements in the West Bank is a further step taken to resume talks between us and to advance peace negotiations with our neighbors. Although we prefer direct negotiations, we are taking this step on a unilateral basis and without any reciprocal gesture by the Palestinians.
Sadly, the first reaction by the Palestinians and some Arab states was a rejection on the grounds that it was still not enough. According to them, Israel should also halt construction in its capital, Jerusalem.
The Palestinian reaction shows once more their interest in continuing a violent struggle rather than in reaching a solution to our conflict. Again, the Palestinian people are victims of poor leadership that has always preferred the continuation of a futile attempt to destroy Israel instead of seeking the more realistic goal of coexisting with Israel. The lack of realization that Israel is a fact to be contended with has always driven Palestinian leaders to mislead their people in a false hope that the struggle will soon end in their victory, that the sacrifice of lives will lead to statehood, that years of hardship and bloodshed will lead to independence without the need to reach peaceful coexistence with Israel.
Since the beginning of the peace process 16 years ago, we have shown realism, relinquishing old ideas of a "greater Israel," shedding our reluctance to negotiate with the PLO and accepting the concept of a two-state solution. Our government has shown leadership in bringing the citizens of Israel to accept this concept and to embrace it as the only possible, negotiated solution to an age-old conflict.
That same realism has been lacking on the Palestinian side. Their leaders continue to educate young Palestinians to prepare for an armed struggle, to fight until the last drop of blood until Israel disappears. They continue to nurture a culture that worships death and martyrdom. That message has brought nothing but pain and frustration to the Palestinians, and instability to our region.
Israel's decision to suspend construction in the settlements is another positive step taken by Israel while waiting for the Palestinian leadership to show similar flexibility. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on them to take this opportunity and return to the negotiating table. Hopefully they will not look for further excuses to delay negotiations. For once, let us hope that Palestinian leaders show a measure of realism and tell their people that the path to statehood goes through negotiation and the cessation of violence.
When the Palestinians take painful steps towards peace — as Israel has — and when they educate their children to accept the two-state solution and renounce the violent struggle for a one-state solution, maybe then we will achieve peace.
Ofer Bavly is consul general of Israel to Florida and Puerto Rico.