Speaking at Duke Law School in March, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Daniel Ayalon, said that Israel seeks peace with all its neighbors. He went on to describe peace as more than just a strategic option.
"For us as Jewish people, and for Israel as a country and a democracy, peace is ... a moral obligation. And we are willing to do a lot to make peace--to offer great concessions," he said. Using the lasting peace agreements Israel has made with Egypt and Jordan as examples, Ayalon said Israel would be willing "to take the risks and [make] the peace when we know we have a partner whom we can trust--a partner which is trustworthy, committed to peace, and also willing to make concessions."
Ayalon, a participant in the Sharem El Sheik, Wye Plantation, and Camp David peace summits, expressed cautious optimism that Israel has such a partner in Mahmoud Abbas, the new president of the Palestinian Authority. "[He] won a free and fair election ... and called for the end of violence. We hope that he will be followed by his people. We hope that he will have enough power to restructure his own police forces, his own economy, [and] his own political structure, so we can move ahead." Israel's proposed disengagement would include a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a substantial portion of the West Bank, Ayalon said, but he emphasized that peace depends on an end to "Palestinian terror."
"What we ask from the Palestinians is to make a sustainable effort against terrorists. It isn't enough to deploy their troops. They have to be proactive in going after the terrorists, in casting a wide net of investigations, arrests, and interrogations."
Ayalon stated Israel's willingness to release prisoners and retreat from Palestinian cities. "The moment [the Palestinian Authority] can assume responsibility, we don't want to be in their cities. We feel that ultimately they can do a much better job than us in fighting the terror, because it is their own people--people who live in their midst."
But he said this process will take time. Responding to a question from the audience, Ayalon cautioned against "rushing forward" with a comprehensive peace plan, as was done in the failed Oslo process.
"I don't think that if we now frontload the core issues of the permanent status, the peace will properly be served. There is a win-win situation in moving forward whereby the Palestinians can gain sovereignty [and] gain a state for the first time in history. In the roadmap for peace, the overriding principle is performance."