Conflict management requires tough decisions

Inside Out: Ya'alon, Lieberman agree on strategy of managing the conflict, not resolving it.

Foreign Minsiter Avigdor Lieberman 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Uriel Sinai)
Foreign Minsiter Avigdor Lieberman 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Uriel Sinai)
Moshe Ya’alon and Avigdor Lieberman, two of the most senior ministers in the Netanyahu government, spoke earlier this week about a conceptual shift that Israel believes needs to be made by the international community in its approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both ministers suggested that instead of aspiring to resolve that conflict at present, a more realistic approach would be one that seeks merely to manage it.
Foreign Minister Lieberman said in an address to senior Israeli diplomats that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was “not a partner for anything.” Lieberman went on to say that “anyone who says that it will be possible to achieve peace with the Palestinians in the coming years is mistaken and is misleading [others].” Juxtaposing the absence of a Palestinian partner with the broader regional instability, Lieberman spoke about the need to “adapt thinking and diplomacy to reality, and to realize that the key word in our relations with the Palestinians needs to be managing the conflict and not resolving the conflict.”
Deputy Prime Minister Ya’alon claimed that the Netanyahu government has already chalked up a major diplomatic achievement in that area by having “convinced the American administration that there is no way to solve the conflict in one or two years.” In a meeting with Englishspeaking Likud members, Ya’alon went on to say that the US was “trying to manage the conflict now, rather than solve it.”
Irrespective of whether Ya’alon’s assertion was accurate or not (The Jerusalem Post, which reported this story, noted that no American confirmation had been given), there is no denying that the Israeli government has successfully won important international support for at least some of its views about the ways in which the conflict with the Palestinians ought to be managed.
Specifically, it has gained the backing of key Western countries in preventing the Palestinians from exploiting the current impasse in the peace process to make diplomatic gains at Israel’s expense. One excellent example of that can be found in the adept way the Netanyahu government enlisted crucial support from the US and a number of European countries to stymie the Palestinians’ bid to win statehood from the UN unilaterally this past autumn.
Another example of the government’s diplomatic success can be found in the decision by important members of the international community to boycott the most recent Durban Conference.
On two other issues, the Israeli government has been less successful at persuading its allies in the West to adopt its view of conflict and the ways in which it should be managed.
Primarily, the government has failed to convince the US and parts of Europe that the current intractability of the conflict stems solely from the absence of a sincere Palestinian partner. Rather, those countries have maintained their dialogue with Abbas as well as their ongoing financial support for the PA, though they have indicated that this might change if Abbas were to form a coalition with Hamas.
Secondly, Israel’s Western allies have also indicated that they believe there are other ways of managing the conflict beyond merely preventing the Palestinians from exploiting it to make unilateral diplomatic gains. One mechanism for conflict management that has repeatedly been proposed by Western countries is for the parties to resolve two of the less contentious issues, separately and before the others.
“We call the parties to present as soon as possible to the Quartet comprehensive proposals on territory and security,” read a joint statement made by the UK, Germany, France and Portugal just last week.
The government, by all signs, is vigorously opposed to making any such territorial proposal. Ya’alon told his Likud audience that Israel had rejected a similar request by the US administration to resolve the question of borders first. He said at that opportunity, “When Obama said borders would be decided first, we rejected it strongly. We said clearly, we’re not going to fall again into the Oslo trap and let the Palestinians get without giving.”
That is certainly a valid concern that needs to be addressed. However, Ya’alon limited his argument to what the Palestinians stand to gain from an agreement on the borders of a future Palestinian state, the establishment of which would be contingent upon the resolution of the conflict as a whole. He conveniently ignored what Israel stands to gain from such an agreement: the freedom to build in all areas that lie within its future borders.
In September this year US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, “If there were an agreement on borders, then there would be no more controversy about settlements, because everybody would know what side of the border is for Palestine and what side is for Israel.”
Netanyahu, moreover, would no longer have to complain about being upbraided by his allies every time a construction tender for an area beyond the Green Line was published, as he was by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in October over construction in Gilo.
Could this prospective boon have slipped past Ya’alon? That is unlikely since he, Lieberman and Netanyahu are by no means fools. They have been made eminently aware of what Israel stands to gain from taking this course of action that is being advocated by its closest allies as a way of managing the conflict.
The best explanation for the government’s decision lies in domestic politics. Netanyahu fears alienating the far right wing, which is opposed to any Israeli concession of any part of the territories captured in the Six Day War under any circumstances. An agreement about borders would stipulate where Israel is allowed build in the territories and where it is not, and it is the domestic political ramifications of that decision that deter Netanyahu and his government.