Savir's Corner: Alone together

Indian poet wrote: “I am alone, you are alone, let’s be alone together.” This phrase sums up current positions of Israel, Palestine.

By
September 27, 2011 22:30
PA President Abbas with PM Netanyahu

PA President Abbas with PM Netanyahu 311 (R). (photo credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

 
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An Indian poet once wrote: “I am alone, you are alone, let’s be alone together.” This phrase admirably sums up the current positions of Israel and Palestine.

Israel’s solitude is glaringly obvious to everyone in the world, except possibly Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Approximately 130 of 193 UN members support a Palestinian bid for statehood. There is a universal consensus for the 1967 lines and against settlements. The United States is a friend and ally, but disagrees with our policies and is irritated to have been forced into isolation by us.

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In Europe we are witnessing a dangerous and growing delegitimization of Israel. Europe puts the blame for Middle East stalemate on our policies; occupation contradicts the most basic values of Europeans. Israel’s policies are perceived as archaic in a modern world that gave up on foreign rule and opted for open borders. There are growing calls for different types of boycotts on Israel, academic, commercial, etc. This situation is even more grave in Asia, Africa and Latin America. We have never in our modern history been so isolated.

There are few countries that have enjoyed so much international support as Israel did for its dramatic rebirth. All over the world there was admiration of our nation-building process after the Holocaust – the kibbutzim, the IDF, the industry, the vibrant democracy etc. Yet we feel, as Golda Meir once stated, that “haolam kulo negdeinu,” the whole world is against us, a notion taken from the dark days of persecution and the ghetto. As the saying goes, “It’s easier to take Israel out of the ghetto than the ghetto out of Israel.” But today it has almost become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Today we are indeed alone and isolated.

The Palestinians may be more popular, but they too have been left to their own devices. While the international community has in general adopted a line supportive of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, it has not really engaged in enforcing such a new reality, despite the Palestinian quest for it. The United States is more sympathetic to their demands than before, yet remains a staunch ally of Israel. Europe may be on their side, but gives in to its own complacency. When it comes to the rest of the world, there may be a will but not a way.

Paradoxically, the biggest betrayal of the Palestinians emanated from their Arab brethren. It actually started in 1947, when all Arabs rejected the United Nations partition resolution that granted the Arabs a state in Palestine, alongside a Jewish one. It continued with their refusal to assist the Palestinian refugees, even economically. To this day most Arab countries’ support for the Palestinians remains rhetorical and emotional. Economic support for nation-building is extremely limited, relative to the wealth of the Persian Gulf.

Palestinians, somewhat like us, seem to be enamored with their state of isolation. We hear at length of the supposed international American-Zionist conspiracies against them, of their being the only people in the world to be under occupation and without a state.

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So both of us are in isolation, in reality and psychologically.

That was very evident in the UN speeches of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu. Each depicted his nation as a victim of history, deeply misunderstood by the rest of the world. This spectacle was sad, as neither man seemed to understand that the only way to find a place under the sun in the family of nations is to get their act together and link their neighborly futures with a real, viable peace process. Should that occur, both of us, Israel and Palestine, will be encouraged by the whole world.

For that reason, and for reasons of national security and national aspirations, the two sides have to advance down the path outlined by the Quartet on September 23.

It will take courage from both of these leaders. In their speeches at the UN last Friday, they actually addressed their home constituencies, maybe even successfully, but now the time has come to lead their people, and not be led by them.

The outcome of negotiations, a permanent- status agreement putting an end to all claims, according to the Quartet by the end of 2012 at the latest, is well known to every realist.

It will be close to the visions outlined by presidents Clinton and Obama. The border based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps, (for the Israeli settlement blocs), stringent security measures, a demilitarized Palestinian state, a limited Israeli and international military presence along the Jordan Valley and a joint effort to prevent terror.

Jerusalem a capital for two states, divided politically along demographic and religious lines. A solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, through the right of return to the new State of Palestine, and international compensation, as well as resettlement of some in other countries.

These are difficult and emotionally loaded issues to resolve, forcing each side into a dramatic internal struggle for their own identity. It will not be a harmonious, European-like peace, but rather a rational arrangement that serves the national interests of both sides.

Even more important than resolving the issues of the past is to structure the relations of the future, in three areas:

• The Israeli-Palestinian relationship must take the shape of normal neighborly relations, gradually transforming a culture of conflict into a culture of peace. Linking their two economies through joint ventures and free trade, and linking their societies by creating a meeting place and dialogue for their young generation.

• Regional relations – Israel must insist, even condition, its treaty with independent Palestine on all Arab countries (except for Syria at this point) establishing full diplomatic and economic relations with us.

• The international system must support Israeli-Palestinian peace, Palestinian nation-building and (mainly the US) must be sensitive to Israel’s new national security predicament.

If these things come to pass, Israel and Palestine will be respected members of the family of nations. Not isolated, not boycotted, not in a ghetto, but supported in their quests and efforts. This is the challenge for the two leaderships. The alternative is for two isolated countries to condemn themselves to a violent and dangerous future, strengthening the forces of fundamentalism and radicalism.

There is one scenario that is impossible after September 2011: the maintenance of the status quo.

The writer is the president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator of the Oslo Accords.

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