Time to Put It All Together

A recent poll shows that most Israeli Jews don’t believe there will ever be peace with the Palestinians which begs the question of what action to take next.

"Negotiations" by Barry Hunau. (photo credit: Barry Hunau)
"Negotiations" by Barry Hunau.
(photo credit: Barry Hunau)
There’s something very disconcerting about a recently conducted Israeli public opinion poll. The survey, undertaken for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, revealed that 66 percent of Israeli Jews don’t believe there will ever be peace with the Palestinians. In the same poll, 88 percent responded that Israel is “a good place to live.” Explaining what to many might be seen as irreconcilable findings, pollster Mina Tzemach remarked: "As a defense mechanism, we make a separation between our personal lives and what is going on in the country. We're completely aware of what is happening here, but we don't let that influence us. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to live here."
Tzemach’s findings and her quoted commentary suggest that Israelis have chosen to tune out the “situation,” and that most have given up any hope for peace. If true, those inclinations—after decades of failure of the “peace process” attributable to innumerable causes—are understandable. But are they viable options for the Israeli people? 
Who, at this moment in time in the Middle East, believes that the Palestinian cry for statehood will simply fade to a whimper? Or that Israel’s increasing isolation in the world community, and its recently strained relations with key partners Egypt and Turkey, can be ignored? Or that the continued occupation of the West Bank and ongoing settlement construction in areas east of the 1967 borders is sustainable? Among many others, these facts cry out for notice - and for responsive action by the Israeli people.   
Which, of course, begs the question of what action to take. Those who believe that peace is an illusion and that the Palestinians will settle for nothing less than the eradication of Israel – a view bolstered by Hamas’ continued proclamations along these lines – see expansion of settlements throughout “Greater Israel” as the proper, and for some, the God-ordained path to take. They—including many members of the Israeli governing coalition—make it clear they are sick and tired of what they perceive as a persistent Palestinian denial of their historic connection to the land, and of the Palestinian refusal to acknowledge Israel as the “Jewish state.” In their opinion, negotiations are, quite simply, pointless.
It is surely possible to find facts—and Biblical references—to support these views and their associated politics. Many Israelis – and many in the Jewish diaspora – are devout adherents. But what the approach appears to lack, perhaps most importantly, is an answer to the question of what Israel will do with millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank. Will it seek to displace them, that is, engage in what most of the world would view as “ethnic cleansing”? Will it assume sovereignty over the West Bank but not grant citizenship and the right to vote to the Palestinians who live there -- creating what most of the world would view as an “apartheid state”? Or will it grant citizenship to the Palestinian population, and cede - if not immediately, very soon – Israel’s Jewish majority? For a host of political, legal, and ethical reasons, none of these options seem viable at all.
The primary alternative to the Greater Israel no-peace approach is a return to negotiations that will actually produce a comprehensive, conclusive resolution. A pipe dream? Perhaps. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who many have called the most promising partner for peace Israel is ever likely to have, continues to affirm the goal of a Palestinian state living in peace with the state of Israel. Following his United Nations appearance, Abbas was riding a wave of popularity among Palestinians that bolstered his non-violent, two-state agenda. Abbas’ ascendancy has been at least temporarily derailed by the anticipated release of Gilad Schalit – a most welcome development, through a deal struck with Hamas that will deliver over 1000 Palestinian prisoners. For now, Hamas is basking in the peoples’ approval of what they view as the very favorable outcome of the Schalit negotiation, following years of stalemate. If Abbas and his two-state approach—in contrast with Hamas’ peace-abnegating one-state stance—are to regain the momentum they had only days ago, he needs to begin delivering concrete results.
In the face of the Palestinian’s UN request for statehood recognition, the "Quartet" of Middle East peace mediators - the US, the European Union, the UN and Russia - has been working hard to get both sides back to the negotiating table.
Abbas has made clear that he will not return to talks with Israel until its government agrees to accept the 1967 lines as a starting point for discussion on final borders, along with a hiatus in settlement construction. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has agreed to talks but insists on "no pre-conditions." Hence, the no-peace stalemate continues. Is there a way forward, or are those who believe that peace is impossible right after all?
Part of the inquiry calls for assessing whether Abbas' demands, which have remained consistent, are reasonable. Consider that the international community, including the US, overwhelmingly views the 1967 borders, with land swaps, as the basis for negotiations, and also views the case against continued settlement construction in areas that the Palestinians claim as part of their future state—and that will be subject to negotiation—as strong, as a matter of international law and basic fairness. Consider too that it's a demand on which Abbas politically, realistically, simply cannot concede, without seriously damaging his credibility with the Palestinian people, and concomitantly buttressing the fortunes of Hamas.
All things considered, do the Israeli people really have a viable choice other than to shake off their skepticism and make the courageous moves that peace will require? A temporary halt in settlement construction, likely to get the parties talking again, certainly appears to be the immediate step they ought to be pressing for. Once talks begin, with persistent international support, the Israelis and the Palestinians - having come so close before - must this time seize, rather than miss, the opportunity to go the distance.
When they do, “a good place to live” will take on a whole new meaning – for both peoples.
The writer is an attorney and President of Boston Workmen’s Circle, a 110-year old communal organization dedicated to secular Jewish education, culture and social justice. This article first appeared in the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).