I do not worry about the biased UN recognizing a Palestinian state. When Israel disengaged in 2005, Gaza became an independent Palestinian entity. Why not call it a state – and demand it act responsibly rather than blaming Israel for its failures? Similarly, much of the West Bank, even if you call it Judaea and Samaria, is fully Palestinian. Vast swaths are inaccessible to even the most ideological, stereotypical, gun-toting, Brooklynese-speaking, big-kippah-wearing, payes-flowing settlers. Oslo’s essential insight of having as few Palestinians as possible under Israeli control as quickly as possible has allowed millions to live under Palestinian rule for years now. Given these realities, Israeli policy should focus on getting diplomatic – and American -- credit for already ceding much territory, making Palestinian maximalism and Arab rejectionism of Israel’s existence the issues, not Israeli intransigence about borders. Every attack on Israel’s legitimacy must be seen as a blow to peace.
Despite calling terrorism counter-productive, Israel frequently rewards Palestinian violence by conceding under the gun. Rather than waiting for populist Palestinian “Arab spring” protests, Israel should make a pre-emptive strike for peace by accepting the reality – and risks -- of a Palestinian state. Inaction is also risky. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition may be best suited to make the best deal possible. Besides, it is immoral to control millions of unwilling non-citizens if there is an alternative which does not threaten Israeli lives.
Accepting a state requires a third conceptual revolution for Israelis regarding Palestinians. The Oslo peace process in the 1990s forced mainstream Israeli opinion to acknowledge Palestinian national rights. A decade later, the wave of suicide bombings forced Israelis to admit they needed clear protected borders with Palestinians – rightists realized they could not keep everything, leftists learned that fences saved lives.
Palestinians need even more dramatic conceptual revolutions. They must end their addiction to delegitimization and terrorism. Beyond accepting Israel’s existence they must accept Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state. Finally, Palestinians will have to choose what they might consider an imperfect peace over perpetual war.
Netanyahu’s government has already taken important strides which the world should respect as Step One to a Two-State solution. At Bar Ilan, Netanyahu recognized Palestinian national rights. His government has started no new settlements, dismantled Gilad Farms, and curtailed construction within existing settlements, even if reluctantly. In 2010 alone Israel’s Army eliminated 98 roadblocks. While relaxing security restrictions and issuing 42 percent more entry permits, the IDF invested millions improving Palestinian infrastructure to facilitate traffic flows. Palestinians now usually move freely between Jenin and Hebron. The Palestinian Authority controls a much larger contiguous area than at any time since Palestinians’ return to terror in 2000 triggered a necessary crackdown.
As a result, Netanyahu’s “economic peace” is flourishing. The Palestinian economy is growing 9 percent annually. The average minimum wage increased 6.5 percent. Tourist traffic entering the much-less-occupied territories surged 49 percent. Israeli-Palestinian joint ventures are proliferating, with building permits up 23 percent.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is the un-Arafat, a courageous technocrat more committed to building his people’s state than destroying the Jewish people’s home. He is cultivating the conditions that could lead to peace rather than fighting a perpetual war.
President Barack Obama, along with the Europeans and the UN, should acknowledge this progress, celebrating this successful first step. The challenge is psychological and political. These new conditions should be publicized as bold moves, building confidence. The second step should then emphasize mutual recognition to foster the trust needed for the final border discussions when Israelis will have to sacrifice land, as Palestinians sacrifice some of their longstanding demands.
To prepare for that sensitive stage the second stage requires zero tolerance for incitement in any Palestinian institution, including mosques, the media, and schools. Serious international supervision should impose real punishments for violent words and deeds. Every act of incitement or violence should delay Palestinian statehood by a month; rockets from Gaza should result in pushing the border back a few hundred meters each time. Similarly, Israel must dismantle all illegal outposts while starting a serious national conversation about which settlements to abandon to create new boundaries.
Palestinians must take responsibility for Israeli fears – given the last decade’s unhappy track record when Israeli withdrawals brought Palestinian violence not peace. Israelis must take responsibility for Palestinian worries – given Oslo’s unhappy track record when Israeli settlements increased. Palestinians should acknowledge the Jewish state. And Israel should acknowledge Palestinians’ right of return, offering citizenship to any Palestinians who lived in Israel in 1948. Palestinians wishing to move back should be compensated for any homes others currently inhabit – but, as in the rest of the world, refugee status should not be inherited; their descendants will have to relinquish fantasies of “return” to fulfill realistic dreams of statehood.
Israel’s actions should not be motivated by guilt. Israel has legitimate rights to Judaea, Samaria and Gaza – historically and based on the justified Six Day War. But having rights does not require exercising them. Sometimes, historical or demographic realities intrude. Israel should sacrifice some historical rights to achieve peace – without risking lives for an illusion of progress.
Given Palestinians’ long history of rejectionism, this delicate second stage should take at least two years. During that time, the details of stage three, creating a peaceful Palestinian state, should be finalized.
This brief column cannot detail an entire peace plan. But supporters of a two-state solution must start envisioning progress. And Israelis who reject compromise should explain – what do you do with millions of Palestinians sharing the same space, yearning for a state? Neither side can achieve its maximal demands. But Israelis have controlled too many Palestinians for too long – while Palestinians still cling to too many unrealistic demands and lethal desires. Many in the Middle East seem ready to take risks for war – true courage entails taking risks for peace.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGillUniversity and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” [email protected]