Mahmoud Abbas 311.
(photo credit: MUHAMMED MUHEISEN ( AP))
The Israeli government is moving toward accepting the Obama administration’s
request to renew the building freeze in Judea and Samaria for another three
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s support for the measure and
Shas’s willingness to abstain in a vote would likely yield an approval of the
plan in the appropriate cabinet forum.
This is a necessary step, not
principally because the US has sought the extension in return for a package of
security incentives, various unspecified understandings relating to Iran and to
Israel’s nuclear policies, and fighter jets worth $3 billion. One would have
liked to believe that the central elements of this package, though far from
negligible, would in any case have been deemed to meet the mutual interests of
Israel and the US.
Nor is the key issue here Washington’s apparent
commitment to use its Security Council veto to block attempts by the
Palestinians in that forum to declare an autonomous state on the West Bank. It
would be difficult to envision America, under any foreseeable circumstances,
encouraging a unilateral process that would leave all core issues of dispute
The significance of Israeli acceptance of another freeze
would lie in Israel’s demonstrable renewed commitment to a negotiated peace that
best serves its interests – this despite Israelis’ skepticism over the
intentions of the Palestinian leadership.
A new freeze would also be
critically facilitated by Washington’s specific caveat that it not extend to
construction in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, the unnecessary focus of
such much US-Israel friction these past few months.
THE FUTURE of a
viable Jewish and democratic state depends on reaching an accommodation with the
A renewed freeze – with the administration presumably this
time bent on ensuring Palestinian presence at the peace table, firmly deterring
the unilateralist route – reopens at least a narrow path forward.
there is some dispute among demographers on the matter, nearly all estimates
suggest that Jews do not significantly outnumber non-Jews between the Jordan
River and the Mediterranean Sea, and that the equation is unlikely to shift in
the direction of the Jews over coming decades.
Most countries with
similar demographic balances are either binational, have broken apart peaceably
or have descended into severe civil discord leading to war and ethnic cleansing.
Belgium, with a 60-percent Flemish and 30% Walloon population, is binational.
Since 1993, Czechoslovakia (54% Czech and 31%) has split into two. Post-1992
Bosnia (44% Bosnian Muslim and 31% Serb) was ripped apart in bloody warfare. And
in all of these countries, cultural differences were much less pronounced than
those between Jews and Palestinians. Delineating secure borders – between Israel
and a Palestinian autonomy that recognizes Israel as the sovereign state of the
Jewish people, while providing Palestinians with the right to self-determination
– is the only viable solution to the conflict.
True, Netanyahu got
nowhere adhering to the previous, unprecedented 10-month freeze, while placing
immense strain on his right-wing coalition. Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas was self-evidently content to squander the first nine of those 10
months, while the US bickered with Israel over the government’s refusal to
extend the freeze to consensus neighborhoods like Ramat Shlomo.
And it is
particularly troubling that President Barack Obama, unlike his predecessor, has
refrained from expressing understanding for “the new realities on the ground” –
and specifically Israel’s need to maintain settlement blocs in any future
Nevertheless, as Netanyahu has made clear, Israel’s interest
lies in seeking an accommodation if one can be found, putting an end to
interminable conflict. Last year, indeed, he declared his commitment to the
two-state vision that was explicit to the revival of Jewish sovereignty 62 years
Netanyahu is rightly concerned by the possibility that the West Bank
will turn into a second “Hamastan.” Rocket and missile fire lobbed into a
narrow-waisted Israel from the hilltops of Judea and Samaria would constitute an
existential danger that has not been sufficiently addressed in previous peace
proposals. Hence the prime minister’s insistence on Israeli military control
along the Jordan border.
THE US aim is apparently to reach substantive
understandings on border demarcation in the three months of a renewed freeze.
This seems a highly improbable ambition, given that Abbas did not seize upon a
peace offer from former prime minister Ehud Olmert that Netanyahu is most
unlikely to better or even repeat. It is also highly problematic to focus on
only some of the core issues, when all will need to be resolved.
Israel on board, in step rather than in friction with Washington and led
moreover by a relatively popular government, it is Abbas who should come under
pressure to compromise – and to take positions that give his people, and ours,
the opportunity for genuine reconciliation and a secure future.