This article was first published by Jewish Ideas Daily (www.jewishideasdaily.com) and is reprinted with permission.
Earthquakes, tsunamis and a nuclear meltdown in Japan have pushed aside news of Muammar Gaddafi’s mad rampage, the domestic upheavals throughout the Muslim Middle East and the butchery by Palestinian Arabs of five members of a sleeping Jewish family in Itamar.
Unfazed by such global realities, the UN General Assembly turned its great hall into a theater for the March 14 premiere of an anti-Israel film, and Israel’s wobbly friends in Europe and the US are renewing their pressure on Jerusalem to “do something” about the “unsustainable” stalemate in the “peace process.”
As German Chancellor Angela Merkel scolded Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: “You haven’t made a single step to advance peace.”
Not a single step? Not Netanyahu’s dramatic 2009 appeal to the Palestinians and the Arab nations to begin negotiating a two-state solution without prior conditions? Not the lifting of 400 checkpoints up and down the West Bank (including near Itamar), the 10-month moratorium on most settlement building, the willingness to extend the freeze another three months? None of these, to be sure, has had much of a diplomatic shelf-life, having failed to move Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction an inch away from their refusal to end the two-year boycott of negotiations. But in the topsy-turvy world of Middle East peacemaking, not they but Israel is blamed for the impasse.
Are the settlements in the West Bank the sticking point? If Abbas were actually willing to negotiate permanent boundaries, that issue would be resolved. But he, unlike Netanyahu, is under no pressure – and why indeed should he negotiate, when his intransigence (internationally backed) promises to deliver a withdrawal to the euphemistically designated “1967 border” – that is, to the wholly indefensible armistice lines of 1949? Impelled initially by President Barack Obama, Abbas has simply stuck to the position that the Palestinians can’t negotiate as long as any Jewish construction continues anywhere beyond those lines.
FOR HIS part, Netanyahu, under withering pressure to dampen the
smoldering irritation of the settlementobsessed Europeans and Americans,
has reportedly been planning a major address to expand on his 2009
vision of peace.
Yet it is difficult to see what, short of capitulating to every one of
Abbas’s demands, he can say or do to win over the EU and Washington, and
all too easy to see disaster for Israel in steps leading ever closer to
such a capitulation. With the Hamas-led Palestinian faction in Gaza
explicitly and unalterably committed to the destruction of the Zionist
enterprise, and with Abbas resolutely committed to an internationally
imposed solution, and refusing either to recognize Israel as a Jewish
state or to compromise on refugees, what can Jerusalem offer?
Netanyahu’s predicament recalls Ariel Sharon’s in 2003. The latter’s
plan to disengage from Gaza was partly intended to head off pressure
from the Bush administration and the EU, which, at the very height of
the second intifada, were similarly pressing Israel to “do something.”
Essentially, Sharon sought to buy time, reap diplomatic approval and
garner an American commitment to back Israel’s retention of strategic
settlement blocs in the West Bank. In the event, after the Gaza
disengagement went through, all these putative gains proved ephemeral.
Given this precedent, and given the almost certain fact that any
Netanyahu peace offering would be dead on arrival – indeed, no sooner
had Netanyahu’s office leaked the possibility of recognizing a
Palestinian state within temporary borders than Abbas utterly rejected
the idea – is this really the time to present a new peace plan? No and
yes. No to further concessions that buy neither peace on the ground nor
the support of Western powers. Yes to a different approach that might
stand a chance of winning both.
Arguably, the plan that most needs to be articulated is one that should
be placed not before the world but before Israel’s own people. The
fundamentals have already been laid out by Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe
Ya’alon, now minister for strategic affairs, and its main point is
easily summarized: security and defensible borders first, all else
secondary. Building on this foundation, the government might most
usefully take upon itself to spell out to its citizenry what it can
realistically offer and what it must realistically expect in return.
Obviously, a key provision of any such plan would concern the areas in
the Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria that Israel needs to retain
under any conceivable peace accord. Israelis living in these areas have a
right to know which parts will be kept and which abandoned, and it goes
without saying that the former must not be subject to any building
As it happens, Netanyahu, ostensibly in response to the outrage in
Itamar, has signaled his own understanding of this issue by announcing
approval of several hundred new housing units in the strategic
But the central point is this: Instead of allowing Europe and the Obama
administration to railroad it into concessions that will deliver neither
peace nor security, nor even short-term diplomatic breathing space,
Israel’s better course may well be to engage in a forthright internal
dialogue aimed at strengthening an already existing consensus in support
of a plan yielding a state for the Palestinian Arabs and real security
Toward that end, the government might present to the electorate a
revised, fully detailed version of Ya’alon’s blueprint, and seek a clear
mandate for its implementation – if need be, by means of new elections.
The mainstream parties would likely have no trouble embracing Ya’alon’s
outline; if and where they dissent, let them explain why.
Is it too much to hope that, were a clear electoral mandate to emerge,
and were decision makers, backed by that mandate, empowered to speak
coherently and consistently on these matters, the country could garner
support in Washington and fair-minded EU countries? As steps forward go,
this would be a giant one.
The writer is a former Jerusalem Post
editorial page editor, and is now contributing editor to Jewish Ideas