(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
From time to time former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin makes public statements that stir up quite a bit of controversy. Diskin did it again Wednesday night before an auditorium packed beyond its 600 person capacity at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The event marked the 10th anniversary of the Geneva Initiative, a blueprint for a two-state solution signed by prominent figures on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides and backed by many in the international community.
Reiterating his claim that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is overly concerned with Iran, Diskin argued that failing to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict represented a greater existential threat to the State of Israel than an Islamic Republic with nuclear weapon capabilities. He accused Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of engaging in petty mutual recriminations instead of making headway in talks. And he said it was “nauseating” that Netanyahu agreed to release Palestinian prisoners so early in the negotiations simply because he wanted to avoid a settlement freeze at any cost.
He warned that Israel is quickly reaching the point when a two-state solution will no longer be feasible, and that as a result Israel would cease to be a democracy.
He warned of the coming of a third intifada that would include not just the Palestinians living on the West Bank but also Israeli Arabs. Recent violent demonstrations over the Prawer-Begin plan for the resettling of the Beduin in the Negev that mobilized both Palestinians and Israeli Arabs was a harbinger of the sort of cooperation in potential future unrest if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not resolved.
But whether or not Diskin has accurately assessed Israel’s diplomatic and security risks (we personally believe Iran with nuclear weapons capability represents a more immediate existential threat to Israel than the Palestinian conflict), Diskin offered few new ideas on how to extricate ourselves from the conundrum commonly referred to as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The decidedly left-wing crowd might have cheered Diskin enthusiastically when he called for an immediate building freeze beyond the Green Line as a “gesture of good will” on Israel’s part. But Diskin and his fans have conveniently forgotten that the Palestinians squandered a 10-month moratorium on new building in the West Bank that Israel imposed in November 2009. Palestinian motivations behind stopping the building of Jewish settlements seem less to do with a desire to create a Palestinian state and more to do with preventing the growth of a Jewish one. The best way to stop Jewish building in areas that Palestinians view as part of a future Palestinian state would be to hammer out an agreement with Israel on borders as soon as possible. And while it was refreshing to hear Diskin’s ideas about making Jordan and Egypt central players in a regional plan for solving the conflict, this alone will not bring about a breakthrough in talks.
The architects of the Geneva Initiative such as Yossi Beilin and, perhaps, Diskin would like us to believe that the basic parameters of a peace agreement are known and that there is a “deal on the table” ready to be signed – and its called the Geneva Initiative. But the sad fact is that there are major issues of dispute that remain unresolved two decades after the Oslo Accords and a decade after the Geneva Initiative.
After cinching the Geneva agreement with Iran, US Secretary of State John Kerry is back in Israel to help move the peace process along toward fruition.
We share his and Diskin’s sense of urgency regarding the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But we would like to point out that not unlike the Geneva agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, there are real dangers involved in accepting “as is” all the elements outlined in the Geneva Initiative. A hastily- signed, poorly thought out agreement on issues such as refugees, security and borders can paradoxically lead not to peace but to an escalation of violence, just as reaching a bad deal with the Iranians on their nuclear program is worse than no deal at all.