netanyahu council for rel 311.
(photo credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
November 6, 2012 – that’s the date when Barack Obama will stand for election for
a second term. By November 2011 he will already be deeply involved in
campaigning and most of his attention will be focused on Middle America and not
the Middle East. On November 2, midterm elections will be held in the US in
which members of Congress (including all 435 in the House of Representatives and
34 of the 100 in the Senate) stand before the electorate.The US
political calendar is a map of the window of opportunity which might exist for
advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace.
There is no chance of an agreement
without direct and decisive US presidential engagement. After November 3, Obama
will be able to free up time and political space on his agenda for getting
directly involved in negotiating a peace agreement. He will have about one year
in which he can devote his time and political collateral to that mission. After
that, he will be back on the campaign trail and he will either place his Middle
East success at the top of his campaign or he will have to bury his failure and
explain why it is a hopeless cause, but that “I did everything humanly possible
to help them to resolve their conflict.”
But even before we reach
November 3, one other date jumps off the calendar with flashing red lights –
September 26 – the end of the 10-month moratorium on new settlement building. If
the government launches a new settlement building drive, as promised by senior
cabinet members, the barely living peace process will die. Obviously the efforts
of US mediator George Mitchell are currently focused on providing a life-giving
dose of adrenaline in the form of moving to direct negotiations.
is that if direct negotiations begin, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be
able to extend the building moratorium for several more months to give the talks
a chance of success. Even if he buys into this formula, he will try to reach an
understanding with Obama that building within the settlement blocks can resume
because they will be annexed to Israel within the framework of an
agreement. The Palestinians will most definitely reject any such
understanding, stating that the freezing of all settlement building is a
requirement for direct negotiations because without it there is no real
demonstrated intention to ever withdraw from the West Bank and allow for the
creation of a Palestinian state.
The time frame for negotiations is set.
There is a window of about one year to reach an agreement. By the end of 2011
the Fayyad plan for creating the institutions of the Palestinian state will have
reached its end. The Palestinians will be more anxious than ever to
become independent and recognized by the international community as a
full-fledged member of the community of nations. They will expect and work
toward full membership in the UN and sanctions against Israel if, as a result of
continued settlement activity, there is no real peace process in advanced stages
of reaching an agreement.
AT THE same time, they will also probably turn
to their own electorate. Without progress on the diplomatic front, it is
unlikely that the current practical and moderate leadership will sustain itself.
President Mahmoud Abbas has already stated his intention not to run for
reelection. With the exception of Salam Fayyad, who has no political party or
movement of significance backing him, the arena of perspective candidates is far
less promising for reaching a possible agreement than the current
The time factor for reaching peace has never been clearer and
more urgent. The clock is ticking and time is running out. In the 32 years I
have been involved in advancing peace, I have never spoken about a
deadline. But today, it is there and time is not on our side. If
it makes anyone feel better, I can also say that time is not on their side
either. Time is running out for us both.
There is no solution to the
conflict other than “two states for two peoples.” There is a great likelihood
that when the window of opportunity closes at the end of 2011, there will no
longer be a real possibility to reach a negotiated agreement. There may no
longer be a moderate and practical Palestinian leadership with which we can
negotiate and there may no longer be a majority of Palestinians who accept this
Right now it is all in the hands of Netanyahu. He is the man
who can make it happen. The settlement issue has become the number one factor in
determining if there can even be a credible negotiation. Netanyahu is the only
Israeli leader who can say that the primary goal of Zionism today is to
consolidate the State of Israel within recognized and negotiated
That means that the Zionist enterprise must focus its attention
on strengthening what we have, and on transforming Israel into the
state that Theodor Herzl dreamed about. To achieve this, it will even be
necessary to say loud and clear that those who wish to continue to build
settlements are anti-Zionist, working against the Zionist vision and
Zionist movement toward national suicide. A true Zionist today is the
works for peace and the anti-Zionist is one who seeks to prevent peace
building more settlements. True Zionism is about the sustainability of
of Israel, and the greatest threat to its sustainability is the
the conflict with the Palestinian people.
The writer is the co-CEO of the
Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and
elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party.
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