Death of peace process means opportunity for new ideas

The entire world knows what Israel doesn’t want. The time has come for Israel to state clearly what, exactly, it does want.

By TOVA NORLEN
January 9, 2012 22:42
Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas

Prime Minister Netanyahu and PA President Abbas 311 (R). (photo credit: Jason Reed / Reuters)

The recent attempts by Jordan’s King Abdullah to restart the peace process do bring to mind several lingering questions: Is the peace process dead, as some people maintain, and if so, who killed it? If the answer to the first question is yes (never mind about the second one), a third immediately comes to mind: What do we do now?

If there was anything that both Israeli and Palestinian pundits and experts seemed to agree on at the end of 2011 it was that there is no longer a peace process. Imprisoned Palestinian Fatah commander Marwan Barghouti emphatically declared from prison that peace talks with Israel were finished, adding: “there is no point in making desperate attempts to breathe life into a dead body.”

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Similarly, pundits all over the Israeli press lamented that 2011 was the year when the peace process was killed. The final proof was delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas when he quipped, after his unsuccessful UN bid, that it was now perhaps time to dismantle the PA, whose purpose it had been to implement and carry out the letter of the Oslo Agreement.

However, while both sides blamed one another for the frozen process (the Palestinians blame settlements and the Israelis blame Palestinian intransigence and continued violence), what had slipped away and died was not so much the process itself (after all, anyone can talk, even bitter enemies – if they have something to talk about), but rather the formula by which the talks were supposed to be conducted.

In order for negotiations to be successful, there needs to be a formula that contains basic guidelines to frame what the parties are jointly trying to achieve. In other words, it was this formula, not the process itself, which had died and gone to negotiation heaven. As Carlo Strenger rightly pointed out in Haaretz in a recent op-ed, it is the two-state solution that is finally dead.

Abbas’ moment of reckoning came when he realized that Israel had cleverly pre-empted his efforts to force a two-state solution on Israel through the UN. Not only did he finally realize that Israel was not ready for a two-state solution at this particular moment in time, but he finally became convinced (despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s assurances to the contrary) that Israel would never be ready for a two-state solution.

THIS MOMENT, then, presents itself as both a challenge and an opportunity. For the first time Palestinians – as they come to grips with this new reality – will go through a period not knowing what they want, since they have realized that what they want is truly unattainable. In other words, they are without a Plan B.

In some ways, Israelis and Palestinians now find themselves in the same boat: torn between factions within their own societies that have absolutely opposite goals. Israelis are not new to this phenomenon, as they are eternally stuck in a situation where they cannot have what they want so they are unable to choose between the unacceptables. How can they possibly agree about what to do about the Palestinians, whom they do not want, when they are living on the land that they do want?

Thus, despite openly declaring support for a two-state solution in 2009, the Netanyahu government has continued its settlement policies (which for all intents and purposes implement a one-state solution) unabated. Forget Netanyahu’s assurance to the UN that settlements are a product of the conflict rather than its core; no one can deny that such activities make the two-state solution more difficult – if even just a teeny bit since settlements happen to be located on land that Palestinians want for their state. Thus, logically, Palestinians and the world are left to believe that Israel does not want a two-state solution.

This is where the golden opportunity comes in: Israel is in a position to tell the world (and the Palestinians) about new, creative plans that outline Israel’s wishes while also giving meaningful concessions to the Palestinians (after all, that’s what negotiations are about). If it does not want a two-state solution, then what does it want?

For over 40 years, Israel has engaged, abandoned and re-engaged in various efforts to reach peace with the Palestinians. However, for all those efforts, the world is still more familiar with what Israel does not want than what it wants. If Israel wants to annex the West Bank, then what is its preferred solution for its Palestinian inhabitants?

Mind you, like an intransigent child whose piece of cake was just eaten by a sibling, Israelis need to accept that the cake is unfortunately no longer a choice but that instead a decision needs to be made between a range of different healthy crackers. Only Israel can put the two-state solution back on the table, or re-formulate it into something new. Only Israel can define its new priorities regarding the future of the West Bank, and only Israel can overcome the widening gap in Israeli public opinion about that future.

Palestinian intellectual Sari Nusseibeh cleverly presents the idea that Palestinians should accept Israeli citizenship without voting rights or ability to shape the government. This, he claims, would at least grant them the status of second-class citizens, which is better than their current situation.

That Palestinians should accept such an idea is extremely unlikely, but it at least provides them with a new scenario that becomes an acceptable part of the Palestinian debate. Obviously, a democratic Israel would not easily reconcile itself with such an idea, and neither would future generations of stateless Palestinians, an almost certain recipe for a future nightmare for Israel.

The final question to determine whether the patient is really dead is thus the following hypothetical scenario: Assume for a moment that the PA would agree to all Israeli conditions regarding refugees, Jerusalem and settlement blocs, giving a green-light to the creation of a two-state solution. Would Israel be able, as it was in Gaza, to carry out the evacuation of thousands of settlers necessary for the plan to be carried out? If the answer is no, then the two-state is truly dead and it is time to think of new alternatives.

The writer is a fellow in the TAPIR Program at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris.


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