That the Paris peace conference is an embarrassment is obvious. To whom it is embarrassment (to Francois Hollande, the participants, Netanyahu, Obama) and why it is an embarrassment, are matters that leave more to discuss.
Palestinian claims of victimhood or of a right to national independence do not move me. Such claims are delegitimized when you repeatedly reject reasonable opportunities for viable statehood. Lest anyone say that the offers in 2000, 2001, 2008, and on March 17, 2014 were flawed, let us remember that they far surpassed the UN’s offer to the Palestinians in 1947. Did the UN also favor the Jews?
No matter how many times the Palestinians reject their own statehood, the world never seems to understand that the Israeli-Arab conflict is rooted, not in Palestinian statehood, but in the rejection of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will continue so long as that rejection persists.
Even if conflict rather than statehood has been the Palestinian objective, though, Benjamin Netanyahu’s job is not to pursue Palestinian interests. It is to pursue Israeli interests. Netanyahu himself has declared that Israel’s interest is in two states.
The population of Gaza is almost 1.9 million. The Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria is almost 2.8 million. There are approximately 1.8 million Arabs who hold Israeli citizenship, another 300,000 who have the status of East Jerusalem Arabs, and another 374,000 Israeli citizens are neither Arab nor Jewish. In total there are almost 6.4 million Jews and about 7 million non-Jews currently living between the river and the sea.
The categorization of Arabs lends itself to confusion about the difference between the number of Arab-Israeli citizens and the number of Arabs between the river and the sea. Make no mistake, Israel’s demographic crisis is not a pessimistic forecast about some point far off in the enchanted future. It is not based on birth rates. It is here, now, today.
Democracy is based on the idea that a government should represent those who live under it. Even if the Arab street does not buy into Democracy, I do. Representing or maintaining jurisdiction over the Palestinians is not something Israel should aspire toward. For even close to half of the population between the river and the sea to not be Jewish is a threat to my Jewish Democracy.
Many understandably worry that if the Palestinians had their own state it would become one large base from which attacks against Israel would be launched, a situation akin to that of Gaza, but proposals for Palestinian statehood involve a demilitarized state with a continued Israeli military presence on the Palestinian side.
Even for those who hold the hallucination of Greater Israel, though, the fact that the Paris conference convened despite Netanyahu’s protestations, even if it is nothing more than a flop and if a lame statement about the two state solution is all that becomes of it, is enough of an embarrassment to Israel. Since the collapse of peace talks in 2014 the Palestinians have gained recognition from one diplomatic body after another in what has been a show of Abbas outmaneuvering Netanyahu on the world stage. The commencement of the Paris conference is yet another display of diplomatic currents flowing straight over Netanyahu.
For those of us who believe in Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu’s failure to advance it at Israel’s initiative and on Israel’s terms also makes him responsible for this embarrassment. Ideas such as unilateral Israeli political maneuvers or including a broader group of Arab and international leaders in peace talks as ways of overcoming the Palestinian inability to agree to anything have been talked about before. With a continued Israeli military presence in a demilitarized Palestinian state on the table, Netanyahu should have been leading the charge forward, even without Palestinian agreement, acting in ways similar to Hollande.
Were Netanyahu the one pushing to find new ways forward Hollande’s role would be superfluous and Israel’s public posture would be a display of leadership instead of the string of diplomatic defeats we have witnessed since Abbas began his run for international recognition.
With the apparent loss of the Paris conference’s momentum, Hollande and the other participants join Obama and John Kerry on the list of those who have failed to bring peace to the Middle-East. Now there is an opportunity for regrouping. Regional events have made the situation ripe for reasonable Israeli-Arab reconciliation, and if given the right kind of a push they will negotiate over the terms of the Arab peace initiative.
If Netanyahu continues to be the do-nothing Prime Minister he will continue to be viewed as such, others will continue to be the ones taking their own initiatives, and neither the Palestinian population nor the wider Israeli-Arab conflict are going to disappear on their own.