In an op-ed in The Washington Post last week, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin outlined a kinder, gentler right-wing approach to the Palestinians living under Israeli control that would focus on improving basic services and quality of life in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In the absence of “a viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he wrote, “Israel must take steps to improve the situation independent of the geopolitical territorial debate.”
Rivlin’s recommendation set the stage for his U.S. tour, which included an audience with President Barack Obama, an appearance at one of the White House’s two annual Chanukah parties and stops at major Jewish institutions in Washington and New York. By all accounts, his pronouncements fell on eager ears.
Rivlin, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, touted the new planned Palestinian city of Rawabi as an example of the progress that can be made even without negotiations toward a final settlement of the conflict. Rawabi, a green, tech-savvy middle-class town, was constructed almost entirely in “Area A” — land which is under full civil and security control by the Palestinian Authority and, according to the defunct Oslo accords, will become part of the Palestinian state.
While the Israeli government initially delayed connecting Rawabi’s water pipeline to Israeli sources as a concession to settler demands, Netanyahu intervened last spring to bring water to the city. That’s a good thing, Rivlin wrote, because fundamentally, a city such as Rawabi is in Israel’s interest. “Likewise, it is clear that cultivating channels of communication and cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian businessmen, educators and cultural figures improves our situation.”
And he encouraged more comprehensive services for residents in East Jerusalem, asking rhetorically: “Does anyone think that dealing with the sewage, roads, schools and medical centers of eastern Jerusalem can or should wait until the end of the conflict?”
It is heartening to hear Rivlin’s focus on the welfare of the Palestinians under Israel’s control. And his urgings make sense. In doing so, he joins other prominent Israelis who are suggesting ways to respond to the absence of formal peace negotiations: For example, retired Brig. Gen. Uri Dekel, the lead Israeli negotiator in the failed 2008 round of talks, was also in D.C. last week. At a J Street presentation he suggested that Israel unilaterally declare a Palestinian state. While that suggestion goes further than the Palestinians themselves seem to want, and isn’t particularly practical, it highlights the desperate need for some movement in the absence of peace negotiations.
We applaud Rivlin’s focus on improving the lives of Palestinians in the here and now, even without granting them a state, since doing so will make the path to a future state much easier once both sides are ready to return to the bargaining table.