Actions, not slogans, for the New Year

It is a sad day when an Israeli request for negotiations is no longer seen as serious.

Unlike most other countries’ New Years, Rosh Hashana is not simply about festivities and parties. It is, for most of us, a period of introspection, personal and collective, a period when we sit down with ourselves, weigh up our deeds and actions of the past year and, hopefully, resolve to do some things differently in the coming year.
It is time for some national introspection, especially as it relates to Israel’s position vis-à-vis the ongoing Arab- Israel conflict. Israel is exceptional at telling the world what we expect the other side to do, why the inability to resolve the conflict is always the fault of the Arabs and the Palestinians, and why it is the duty of the world to stand behind us and understand our (legitimate) security concerns and even to understand our claims of exclusive historical and religious rights to the land.
We are good at blaming others, but we aren’t so good at accepting that some of the blame may lie at our own door.
By shifting the blame for the lack of movement on the peace front to everybody but ourselves, we are guilty of denying the role that we, the State of Israel, must play if we are indeed to reach some form of conflict resolution, sooner or later. The irony of last week’s United Nations circus, where Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech was greeted by standing ovations, and not just from countries traditionally perceived by Israel as enemies, while prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech was greeted by almost ice-cold silence, even from those who are Israel’s friends and allies and have always stood by us, cannot be dismissed in the simplified version of “the world is against us, the world is anti-Semitic.”
The fact is that whereas the Palestinians were perceived in the past as being the peace spoilers, this mantle has now been passed to Israel. The Netanyahu government is now seen, in the eyes of the world, as the single largest opponent to peace and stability, even by those many countries in the world who understand fully the need to guarantee and ensure Israel’s long term security and safety.
Our foreign policy is in tatters. There has been no foreign minister in Israel’s history as successful as Avigdor Lieberman in ensuring that those few friends we did have are no longer on our side.
It is even laughable that Lieberman’s initial desire to replace Western European support for Israel with an Eastern European version focusing on Russia, was met this week by Russia’s refusal in the Security Council even to support the Israeli demand for recognition of Israel as the Jewish State. The sight of Israel’s foreign minister, followed by its ambassador, walking out of the General Assembly during Abbas’ speech can only be compared to the very worst in international diplomacy, when the leaders of despot states demonstrated their ideological fervor and irrationality by turning their backs on this important international forum.
Whatever we may think of the United Nations today and its inbuilt third world and Islamic State majority for the Palestinian cause, we cannot deny the fact that Israel’s own existence is based on the UN Partition Vote in 1947 (at a time when the UN was much smaller and composed of countries which were favorable to the post-Holocaust cause of Jewish independence). To publicly demonstrate our disdain for this forum by walking out in public raises serious questions concerning Israel’s commitment to this international body, even when we disagree with specific policies, and does little to help Israel’s international standing. The only Israeli diplomat to have successfully challenged the UN’s moral integrity was former president Haim Herzog when, as Israeli ambassador to the UN, he famously tore up the Zionism = Racism document in front of the General Assembly and the world. He faced the challenge straight on rather than simply turning his back and walking out.
WHAT ISRAEL should be doing is telling the world what it is prepared to do, not what it constantly opposes. In 45 years of Israeli control of the West Bank, Israel has never brought a concrete peace proposal to the table, where it outlines what it is prepared to offer, rather than what it rejects and what it expects the other side to do (or not to do). If Israel really wants to advance towards the implementation of a two state solution as a tangible option for conflict resolution, and not just an empty slogan used by such right-wing politicians as Sharon, Olmert and Netanyahu, it needs to lay down the clear outlines of what such a solution will look like. It needs to define what borders it is prepared to accept, not which borders are unacceptable. It needs to define what compromises with regard to Palestinian “right of return” or control of Jerusalem it is willing to make and, in turn, expect the other side to clearly define its own compromises.
By simply rejecting, by becoming the 2011 version of the rejectionist state, Israel – the stronger side in the conflict, the side which has the ability to make the compromises – is losing its diplomatic legitimacy, because of its own policies, not because of the actions of others.
There are two potential realistic border scenarios for Israel-Palestine, and Israel should decide which it is prepared to offer to the Palestinian state. Either a return to the Green Line, necessitating the difficult and perhaps impossible evacuation of over 300,000 settlers. Or a new border, deviating from the Green Line in the areas of the major settlement blocs, accompanied by territorial exchanges and land swaps which will ensure the Palestinian state the same amount of land as exists within the West Bank today. Those are the options open to us if we wish to retain a Jewish state within which the Jewish people constitute a majority, rather than a single binational State in which the Jewish people will no longer have the security of its own national independence. This is much more significant for the preservation of a Jewish state than is the declarative recognition of such a state by the Arab world (although there is every reason why this should take place as part of a real peace process).
The other side will have to respond. It takes two to tango and if, eventually, an equitable solution is to be reached, the compromises will have to be made on both sides, probably with the heavy involvement of international third parties which can be perceived as honest brokers. But as the stronger side in the conflict, it is for Israel to take the initial steps and to move towards conflict resolution in action, and not in slogans.
Netanyahu’s appeal for renewed negotiations would then be taken seriously, rather than be seen for what it is at present – just another attempt to stall any significant movement towards conflict resolution.
It is a sad day when an Israeli request for negotiations is no longer seen as serious. In order to understand why that should be the case, it requires a serious dose of national introspection and self acceptance that it is not just about how the other side behaves, but much more importantly about what we do.
The Jewish New Year is about individual, group and national reflection, and it is to be hoped that the sad sight of Israel’s almost total isolation at last week’s United Nations meeting will be the equivalent of the shofar blast which wakes us up, arouses us from our slumber, and kick-starts us into thinking and acting differently within the international arena.
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.