Encountering Peace: Israel’s most crucial elections

August 15, 2019 00:52
Oslo Accords

Slain Israeli Prime Minister Rabin with former US President Bill Clinton and former PLO President Yasser Arafat after signing the Oslo Accords at the White House on September 13, 1993. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

What are these elections about? The results of the upcoming Israeli elections will determine whether or not it will be possible to continue to keep the two-state solution a viable option for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That makes these the most crucial elections that Israel has ever faced. That is also why it is so peculiar that this subject doesn’t even seem to be within the public discourse.

It is true that political integrity, corruption, voting intimidation, public watch-dog manipulations, politicization of public education, increasing religiosity of public space, social justice (or lack of) and the improper use of public funds are all issues that are crucial to Israel’s future and are being raised, at least by some of the political parties.

This Election Day is 26 years after the signing of the first Oslo Accord, the Declaration of Principles, on the White House lawn. Even though the Oslo agreements, at least by declaration, continue to manage the relations between Israel and the Palestinians, we haven’t heard any real discussion from the main political parties their position on the relevancy or non-relevancy of Oslo.

The Democracy Camp just demonstrated its commitment to Oslo and the two-state solution with the recent visit by two senior members to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Hadash and Tal – two of the four parties of the Joint Arab List – have expressed the same commitment. And Otzma Yehudit has voiced its position that Oslo should be canceled and the Palestinian leaders should be locked up. It is not only the Palestinian Authority that has called for the formal cancellation of the Oslo agreements, most of the Israeli political system has also related to them as non-existent.

It is clear that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wins the elections and manages to create a right-wing government, not only will Oslo be formally and finally dead, so will the two-state solution. Increased settlement building, authorized and unauthorized by the Israeli governments of the past years, has made it next to impossible to carve out a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank. The occupation of the territory by Israel is so ingrained and entrenched that it may be impossible to untangle. A right-wing victory in the elections will be the final death blow to the idea of partition of the Land of Israel/Palestine that has been behind the scenes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1936.

The historic breakthrough in the possible actual partition of the land came in November 1988 when the Palestinian National Council declared statehood for Palestine and accepted the idea that an independent Palestinian state would be created on only 22% of the land between the river and the sea with east Jerusalem as its capital. This was further ratified when the PLO signed the Oslo Accords. Partition on the basis of Oslo would have left Israel with 78% of the land between the river and the sea, but Israel apparently wants it all. In the name of Zionism’s unending expansionist appetite coupled with the Messianic fanaticism of Israel’s religious Right, it seems that partition has been foiled and will completely end if there is a right-wing victory on September 17.

This will be construed by Israel’s right wing as the final victory of Zionism. No political movement in the history of the modern world has so completely fulfilled its mission and at the same time committed suicide. Although the Zionist movement and Israel’s history have been filled with plans and attempts for wide-spread depopulation of Palestinian Arabs from their homes, since the Nakba of 1948, Palestinians have demonstrated a commitment, a steadfastness, as they call it, to remain on the land.

THEY ARE not leaving. Right-wing dreamers have created their own expert demographers to dissuade fears of a possible Arab majority of the land. They convince themselves that Palestinians number far below 50% between the river and the sea, and they talk about massive waves of Jewish immigration to Israel because of growing antisemitism around the world. They refuse to face the reality that there is already a small majority of Palestinian Arabs on the land.

They are correct about their fears of possible global antisemitism, which will undoubtedly come true when the international community recognizes that there is no viable two-state solution and when Israel formally becomes the new form of apartheid state with two populations living under completely different legal regimes –one for citizens and one for the majority non-citizens.

There is no guarantee, of course – if Netanyahu does not win and there is even a center-left government – that Oslo will once again come alive and that the two-state solution will suddenly be viable. There doesn’t seem to be all that much difference between Likud and Blue and White on the Palestinian issue. I assume that under a center-left government there would at least be renewed declarations of intent to renew negotiations with the Palestinians. But if those renewed attempts are not coupled with clear and demonstrative steps to cease all settlement building and to work toward rolling back and ending the occupation, then even in that case, the two-state solution will be dead.

Those of us in this country who do not want to live in an apartheid-like state will have to find new direction toward the adoption of the secular democratic state option, or for some kind of federal or confederal state that allows for each people to determine its culture and identity within a political framework of full equality. We will need to begin to create a discourse of re-plotting our joint and shared future -– we being Israelis and Palestinians – living between the river and the sea.

I began thinking about how to implement a two-state solution in 1975. From 1988-2011 I co-directed the only joint Israeli-Palestinian think tank in the world dedicated to a two-state solution (IPCRI). Over those years we brought together, in more than 2,000 working-group meetings, Israeli, Palestinian and international experts on every single issue in conflict between the two peoples. There is not one single issue that the experts do not know how to resolve in an equitable and viable two-state solution – if there is the political will to reach one. That political will has been absent since 2000, with a brief interruption by Olmert and Abbas in 2008.

After September 17 it will probably be time for a renewed think-tank effort to figure out how to implement a one-state option that enables both sides to have a territorial expression of their identity in a shared and equal political entity. The right-wing settlers and religious fanatics can claim their victory, but until we find a solution which guarantees equality for all within the borders of the state, we will all continue to count the victims who will continue to fall in this ongoing conflict.

The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press and is now available in Israel and Palestine.

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