Encountering Peace: Good governments make peace

The next government of Israel could so quickly find itself the most respected and admired among the nations. But that is not the reason to advance peace – that will be one of the many benefits.

Abbas at the UN 390 (photo credit: Screenshot Al Jazeera)
Abbas at the UN 390
(photo credit: Screenshot Al Jazeera)
The most important thing any government can provide for its people is peace. Peace is the precondition for everything else. Economic growth, welfare for those in need, good education for all, culture, infrastructure, opportunity and hope are all attainable, if there is peace.
Israel is the land of promise, the land of great potential. Amazing things have been achieved here over the past 65 years under very difficult circumstances. The major promise that has not been fulfilled is peace.
Of course it takes two to make peace and Israel is not solely responsible for the lack of peace. Each side of the conflict blames the other for the absence of peace (and both sides are correct). But despite that truth, we must also recognize that Israel is the much stronger party in the conflict. There is no symmetry between the sides.
Israel has achieved statehood and worldwide recognition. United Nations membership was granted one year after our birth and Israel is an active member of the international community. Israel has one of the most powerful armies in the world and one of the most advanced economies. Illiteracy is almost completely absent and our universities and research centers continue to grow and excel.
Israel, the start-up nation, produces more patents per capita than almost any other nation and our inventions are found in hi-tech products in almost every home in the world.
Confronting the Palestinians, Israel completely controls the borders, the air space and the coastal waters of the entire territory known as Israel and Palestine. If Israel wills it, the Palestinian side can quickly expand its economic growth and if Israel wills otherwise, overnight it can cripple their economy.
If Israel allows it, Palestinians are free to travel the world over and if Israel does not, Israel can trap them in a cage to which it holds the key. Even the Palestinian leaders can travel outside of Palestine, or from one part of Palestine to another, for that matter, only if Israel allows it.
If Israel opens the faucets, water can flow into almost every Palestinian home and if not, water can be stopped from flowing in the cities and the villages throughout the West Bank and Gaza. The same for electricity.
Israel’s power is overwhelming vis-à-vis the Palestinians. The one thing Israel cannot force them to do, however, is to make peace on our terms.
Israel cannot force them to accept occupation.
Israel cannot make them accept settlements.
Israel does not have the power to impose a solution on them. Palestinians will continue to struggle for dignity and liberation on terms that will be acceptable to them. Israel’s force has its limitations.
That is certainly the message of one of Israel’s entries to the Academy Awards this year – The Gatekeepers. Six former heads of the Israel Security Agency, the Shin Bet, agree that Israel’s power cannot force peace.
Israel’s power can, though, enable it to be a lot more generous when offering peace to our Palestinian neighbors.
The requirements for peace, meaning the ability to continue to guarantee the personal security of its citizens and the strategic security of its borders are achievable because the Palestinians are not an existential threat to Israel and because they have proven their ability and will to combat terrorism.
In fact, with the exception of a potential Iranian nuclear bomb, there are no existential threats to Israel anymore. The territorial dimension of security that was a factor in the past century has become essentially irrelevant now. The terms for peace with the Palestinians that have been accepted by them include a non-militarized Palestinian state with security mechanisms in place, including Israeli involvement on its external borders that would prevent the turning of the West Bank into a launching pad for terrorism against Israel.
Previous negotiations have reached agreements on security arrangements. Great progress was made in those negotiations on the central issues of Jerusalem and even refugees. The major gaps between the parties were primarily in the delineation of borders. Palestinians accepted the annexation of the settlement blocks into Israel in exchange for uninhabited land inside of Israel. The main argument is on the size of the annexation.
The people of Israel voted for a moderate government, not for a government that will refuse to negotiate with the Palestinians for another four years. The most extreme right-wing party did not cross the threshold and Netanyahu’s Likud party lost seats apparently because of its extreme right-wing representatives.
The Israeli public is not as right-wing as many thought before the elections.
The main task of the next government will be to address the peace issue and not equal service for all – which is important but not nearly as important as peace. Those who will make up the coalition would be wise to begin to accept that once negotiations are renewed, they will begin at the point where they ended four years ago.
The veteran and the newly elected MKs would be wise to take a crash course on the issues; very few of them have any real idea of their details, of the ins and outs of previous negotiations. Almost none of them have given any thought to the positive lessons that we should have learned from the failure of the process until now.
Israel could so easily take the spotlight of positive attention on the world stage. The next government of Israel could so quickly find itself the most respected and admired among the nations. But that is not the reason to advance peace – that will be one of the many benefits. The reason to advance peace is because that is what good governments do for their people.
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.