David Newman 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I had the privilege this past weekend of speaking at the annual convention of the
Hitachdut Olei Britania (HOB), the organization which brings together olim from
Britain. Prior to my lecture, I took a moment to read the convention program and
annual report. I was greatly amused to note the following report of events
carried out by the Jerusalem branch during the past year: “At the 2010 AGM, our
guest lecturer spoke on the topic of settlements, borders and the peace process.
Alas, no progress can be reported on that subject.”
This could not have
been a more apposite comment, given the recent speeches by US President Barack
Obama and the initial negative responses by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Obama’s latest proposal to implement the two-state solution within recognized
and secure borders is no different to what any American president or European
leader has been telling us for almost 20 years while, unfortunately, Netanyahu’s
rejection is pretty much the position of most Israeli governments when put on
the spot and asked to implement something rather than just utter
Netanyahu’s refusal to even discuss the 1967 boundaries is a
clear indication that the present government has absolutely no interest in
advancing toward a peace agreement with the Palestinians. It is not as though
Obama had said anything new or original, ensuring Palestinian independence on
the one hand or Israel’s security on the other. Putting all the other complex
issues, such as Jerusalem, refugees and settlements, aside for a moment, these
are the two key parameters which have to be agreed on before any form of
conflict resolution can begin. These are the two key issues for each side –
total security for Israel, total independence for the Palestinians.
FUNCTION and role of borders have changed since 1967, yet Netanyahu glibly rolls
out the connection between borders and Israel’s security, as though the
situation is the same as it was prior to the Six Day War. But it isn’t. It has
changed in a number of ways, some of which move the security threat further away
(longrange ballistic missiles), others bringing it closer (suicide bombers and
localized terrorism), while others continue to make the location of the borders
insignificant (short-range missiles from Gaza and South Lebanon).
idea of territorial exchange is also not new. It was first proposed at one of
the Track II meetings back in 1990, jointly arranged by the Truman Institute at
Hebrew University and the Arab Studies Association in Italy in the days before
it was common for Israelis and Palestinians to meet almost daily to discuss
political issues. This was pre-Madrid – a time when it was still forbidden, by
law, to meet with members of the PLO.
If, one day, the ultimate
encyclopedia of the Israel-Palestine conflict was ever to be compiled, it would
include numerous chapters on the countless peace proposals and initiatives,
ranging from Oslo to Geneva, from Wye to the Quartet, and from the latest
Israeli Initiative to the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative. But the reader
would soon get bored reading the same basic principles time and time again. With
hindsight, the reader would note that 85-90 percent of each initiative was
almost identical, while the remaining 10-15% focussed more on alternative ways
of reaching the end situation due to the changing political conditions, rather
than the issues themselves.
If there has been one significant change in
the topics discussed during this period, it is the inclusion of the wider
regional dimension. For some, the regional dimension is essential if there is to
be a lasting peace. For others (such as the present government), the regional
context is an excuse to reject serious peace talks, not least because of ongoing
changes which are likely to bring about an even greater animosity toward Israel
– the ironic outcome of the democratic process. We all love democracy – until it
gives rise to neighboring regimes that are even more hostile than military
Since that early meeting in Italy over 20 years ago, the
same topics – borders, settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, water – have been
debated ad nauseam, but with few new ideas being proposed. Governments have
changed, new personalities have become involved, but the basic parameters and
trade offs remain the same.
The problem today is not so much in the
details as it is in the basic unwillingness of leaders to stop talking about
concessions and “painful compromises,” and to actually makethem. And it is
always the stronger side – in this case Israel that should be taking the lead in
For opposition leaders to declare a preparedness to make
concessions is no big deal. But for prime ministers to move ahead, rather than
simply reject every proposal that comes their way as Netanyahu did this past
week, is much more significant.
There have been two moments when Israeli
leaders seemed prepared to, even partially, implement some of these ideas.
Unfortunately, one of these leaders was assassinated, while the other had a
stroke which effectively put any further disengagements on hold.
not make for optimistic reading. Windows of so-called opportunity are
continually opened and shut, as often by Israel as by the Palestinians. It is no
wonder that the world is fed up and about to recognize, almost unanimously (with
a single US rejection and perhaps a few European abstentions) the establishment
of a Palestinian state – something Israel should have done a long time ago. As
it is, Israel will find itself in an even weaker diplomatic position than it is
And at next year’s HOB convention, the annual report will be able
simply to repeat the fact that, yet again, there is “no progress to
report.”The writer is professor of Political Geography at Ben-Gurion
University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics. The views
expressed are his alone.