The story is seven decades old: to partition the land between the Jordan River
and the Mediterranean, or not? The only realistic answer to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the same now as it was in 1948: two states for
The elements of a two-state solution are known. The
Palestinians would make their state in Gaza and major parts of the West Bank. A
special and creative arrangement would be agreed upon regarding Jerusalem, while
the Old City would remain under Israeli sovereignty.
Israel must make the
painful compromise of giving up the cradle of Jewish civilization, and over
150,000 Israelis in outlying settlements would be withdrawn, or stay under
special arrangement in the new Palestinian state. Palestinians must give up
their dream of having descendants of Palestinian refugees “return” to Israel.
Instead they will be able to immigrate to the newly created state of
Whether this will come to pass is a question of will and
leadership on both sides.
The Palestinian leadership has scuttled a
number of previous attempts to partition the land. Their fundamental challenges
remain twofold. First, they may regard Israel’s creation as an injustice that
occurred at their expense, but they must accept the Jewish state as their
neighbor and build their state in the West Bank and Gaza.
are dealing with their localized version of the global phenomenon of violent
Islamic fundamentalism (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc) that is irredeemably
anti-Semitic, makes maximalist claims and rejects any Jewish presence in the
Both problems can probably only be overcome, if at all, by a
Palestinian de Gaulle.
On the Israeli side, the prevailing sentiment
among some leading rightist figures is that the status quo is a sustainable
long-term option. They imagine a series of vaguely defined “interim agreements”
with the Palestinians, endless negotiations, and maintaining indefinite Israeli
control over the West Bank. In other words, stringing the Palestinians
This appears to still be the Netanyahu school of
These figures are joined by a chorus of those on the far right
who argue for “solutions” of varying levels of outlandishness that always
involve annexing the West Bank and somehow maintaining a Jewish majority in
It must be said that there are many legitimate security concerns
that most Israelis share. Just last November, southern Israel and even Tel Aviv
were hit by hundreds of rockets from Gaza, from which we have already
Without an Israeli military presence on the West Bank, what is
to stop extremists or a future rogue Palestinian administration terrorizing the
heart of Israel from the high ground of the Judean Hills? And will the
Palestinians, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, declare
an end to all future claims and uphold a peace agreement? Can they? These
political and security concerns must be addressed before we relinquish the West
Bank. But relinquishing the West Bank is what we must do to remain a Jewish
As a proud member of the Labor Party, I can tell you that most
of the great Zionists of history, from David Ben-Gurion to Yitzhak Rabin, and
even Menachem Begin, were pragmatists. The irredentist fantasy of a “Greater
Israel” was never a pillar of the Zionist idea. A Jewish democracy living at
peace with its neighbors is a far higher imperative.
Given all of this,
has Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu “crossed the Rubicon,” as contemporary
Israeli political parlance has it, and decided to be Israel’s de Gaulle? Can he
tell the far right and the settlers “je vous ai compris” and proceed to forge a
true peace with the Palestinians? And, after that, can he respond to the Arab
Peace Initiative and ink a broader deal with the entire region? Netanyahu’s
entire political career has been predicated on indefinitely postponing
Palestinian ambitions and preventing a final-status agreement. His Likud party
has been subject to a hostile takeover by the most radical elements among the
settlers, who essentially stacked the branches during the primaries last year
and created the most extreme Likud list in history. This is not Begin’s Likud
To make matters worse, there are Netanyahu’s leading coalition
partners. Finance Minister Yair Lapid is a human weathervane whose only firm
principle is his ambition to be prime minister (though his support last week for
the peace process at the Globes Conference was a refreshing sea change.) Foreign
Minister Avigdor Liberman’s party, Yisrael Beytenu (Israel is Our Home), tried
to force Arabs to take loyalty oaths, and was accused by none other than the
ADL’s Abraham Foxman of “restricting democratic values.” And Naftali Bennett,
head of the far-right Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party, has declared the
two-state solution “dead.” I do not envy Netanyahu.
Things do look bleak,
but there are reasons to be hopeful.
Just a few months ago, I hosted a
group of Palestinian officials at the Knesset. For the first time, the
Palestinian and Israeli flags were raised in the Knesset chamber beside each
other. The spirit of peace was in the air.
A few weeks later, President
Abbas invited our Knesset caucus to visit the Mukata in Ramallah, and we sat
with him and talked. And, though postponed due to the storm, over the next
couple of weeks more than 200 Israeli students will visit the Mukata and
dialogue with Abbas.
Trust is not a prerequisite to peace, but an outcome
of it. We have an obligation to try and try again for it, even when its
prospects appear dim. I firmly believe that when the leaderships of Israel and
the Palestinians are composed of the right people, and they decide to make peace
happen, peace can be made.
And as for Netanyahu, one publication
described him few months ago as “King Bibi.” He will have to decide if history
will remember him as “king of Israel” or “king of the Likud.” It’s up to
The author, a Knesset Member, is Deputy Knesset Speaker,
secretary-general of the Labor Party and chairman of the Knesset Caucus to
Resolve the Arab-Israeli Conflict.