I am Jewish, I am a Zionist and I am a loyal citizen of the State of Israel. I believe that as a Jew, a Zionist and an Israeli the most important mission the State of Israel must achieve is peace with our neighbors.
With over 35 years’ experience working with Arabs and Palestinians, personally organizing and conducting over 2,000 face to face meetings between groups of Israelis and Palestinians – many of them officials on both sides – I believe that reaching a full, comprehensive end-of-conflict and end-of-claims agreement between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine is possible. I believe that because this conflict is based on the claims of two national movements for the same piece of land, each demanding a territorial expression of their identity, this conflict became resolvable once both sides accepted the principle of partition. The feasibility of resolution became even more real after 1988 when the Palestinians decided to limit their territorial demands to 22 percent of the land between the river and the sea. Since that time, their demands have not increased, and the conflict remains resolvable.
It is quite clear that we have suffered another failed round of attempts to reach agreement. When this happens, the parties become more convinced that the conflict is not resolvable. Each side places the blame on the other. I have already written in this column that I am totally convinced that most of the responsibility for the failure is directly on the shoulders of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. My column last week provided evidence for my claim. I will not repeat it.
I am now concerned about where we go from here. There are no negotiations going on and as long as Netanyahu is in power and remains opposed to the creation of a viable Palestinian state on 22% of the land there is no reason to even wish for negotiations to resume. They would once again be devoid of any real content. There will be no “pax Americana” – a US-imposed solution is not in the cards. The EU, although it may want to seriously get engaged in resolving the conflict, will not – it is not capable of creating enough agreement among its 28 member states to be effective.
The main challenge before the Palestinians is to refrain from another round of violence. The Palestinians have the support of the international community; they are the underdog and have global sympathy. Israel has lost the support of the world and is seen as an occupier and worse.
Israel’s image will continue to deteriorate in the world as it continues to build more settlements and more housing in existing settlements. The most dangerous thing for the supporters of the policies of the Israeli government and the settlers is for the Palestinians to be peaceful and non-violent. The more the Palestinians succeed in presenting themselves as victims, the more support they will generate.
The Palestinians will probably continue with their applications to international organizations and conventions including trying to gain support of the United Nations Security Council to gain full membership as a state member of the United Nations. Israel too failed in its first application for membership and only gained it the second time around. The Palestinians have many other non-violent steps they can take including continuing to build their economy and their institutions, even if Israel tries to punish them for their decision to act as an independent state under occupation.
It is clear to me that settlers and the extreme right-wing members of the Israeli government will work overtime to provoke the Palestinians into violence. It will be very difficult for the Palestinians to resist using violence in response to settler and army violence, to hate attacks, to the cutting down of olive trees, the demolishing of homes and removal of Palestinians from Area C.
It seems clear that Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett and company are moving Israel into its own new form of unilateralism. We can expect the motions to be put into play by them to annex Jewish parts of Area C into Israel. They will try to incorporate about 40% of the West Bank into Israel. While this move is against everything I believe in, I welcome it. This move will put the Israeli government at odds with almost every other government in the world.
Those who support the move claim, “We did it in Jerusalem, we did it in the Golan, nothing happened.” To which my response is: Ok, go ahead and do it. Let’s see what happens. I am quite convinced that it will not pass as it did in the past. T he world of 2014 is not what it was back then. The Palestinian position in the world is not what it was then. Israel will be isolated. It could be threatened with losing its membership in the UN.
I expect that many countries that today do not require entry visas for Israelis will change that policy. If, as most nations of the world contend, settlements are illegal, then the annexation of the settlements to Israel will be illegal as well. It will not only be the settlements that will be attacked and boycotted, but the entire State of Israel. Every Israeli will become a collaborator in the eyes of the world with the illegal act of annexing the settlements to Israel.
While economic pressure on Israel will be felt only gradually, the mounting political pressure will be very sharp. I don’t really wish this on Israel, but I am afraid it is something we are doomed to face and to suffer before enough Israelis wake up and decide that Netanyahu, Liberman, Bennett and company are dangerous to the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
The two-states solution is not yet dead, even though Netanyahu, Liberman, Bennett and company worked very hard to kill it. The conflict is not going away, nor is the State of Israel, nor is Palestine. If we want Israel to survive and prosper, if we want Israel to be a source of pride for the Jewish people and not a burden on them, there is still a possibility of making peace with the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples.
An Israeli leader who decides to make peace with the Palestinians will make peace with them. We don’t have such a prime minister today, but if the current one continues to walk the country down the dangerous path of going against the entire world, as he is doing today, he will not be in power for much longer.
The author is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His new book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.