The issue of a referendum won’t be relevant if the peace talks are aimed at reaching a final-status agreement with the Palestinians. There won’t be anything for the electorate to approve, because there won’t be an agreement.
Abbas won’t agree to any less than what was offered by Barak and Olmert, and Netanyahu won’t be able to make the same offer, and rightly so. Before long, the talking will stop and the free-for-all will begin: international pressure, demonstrations, acrimonious and divisive infighting.
We need to take a different tack: to emphasize to the Palestinians and the world at large what we are willing to do.
Israel has to be proactive, to initiate, and not allow itself to be dragged along by events until we find ourselves in places we didn’t want to go to, with our backs against the wall.
There is no need to demand the Palestinians declare an immediate end to the conflict, no need to insist that they recognize Israel as a Jewish state at this very moment. As far as we’re concerned, they can go on dreaming of returning to the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem, to Haifa and Jaffa, to Sheikh Munis (even if it’s now the middle of Tel Aviv).
We can agree to a smaller Palestinian state now and talk about the rest later.
Virtually all the Palestinians in the West Bank will be included within the borders of this state and will be able to govern themselves. Roads can be built to establish territorial continuity. The whole world will be eager to help. Israel will be the first to recognize the new state because it is to our advantage to do so. It might not be the state the Palestinians want, but it’s a positive step in the right direction. And what’s the alternative? The inevitable failure of the talks? The things we can offer are far from insignificant. They would be major achievements for the Palestinians and should be presented as such.
What will we get out of it? If they agree, they will have a state on what is now known as Area A and more, and the conflict will be reframed as a territorial dispute between two sovereign nations, like many others in the world. It will no longer be possible to charge Israel with occupation, repression, and so on, accusations that are at the core of our problems in the realm of international relations.
Over time, it will become easier for both sides to agree on permanent borders and other outstanding issues.
If the Palestinians don’t agree, it will be up to them to explain why. Instead of Israel being presented yet again as the obstacle to peace, the oppressor, let the Palestinians justify their rejection of the offer of a state now, along with the right to continue to press their other demands in the future.
There is no reason to keep banging our head against a brick wall. At this point in time, it is simply not possible to settle all the issues in dispute and reach a final agreement. It is not in anyone’s interest to go down a road that leads to certain failure.
We need a different approach this time. We have to be flexible where possible, and we have to realize that if we genuinely want to put an end to the conflict it will take time. Years will go by without either side getting everything it wants.
But on the other hand, neither side will be forced to forsake its dreams. There is no such thing as a political vacuum. We can’t just ignore the problem as if it didn’t exist. The world won’t let us.
The world may be hypocritical and tainted by anti-Semitism, but for the moment at least, there’s nothing we can do about that. This is the world we have to live with. It’s better to drive the car than to be towed, like a tramcar dragged year after year over the same track that goes nowhere.
Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Kitai, firstname.lastname@example.org