Encountering Peace: Half-way there

Our prime minister has learned to say the things the world wants to hear, but only his father really understands the truth: He doesn’t mean it.

Netanyahu 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
‘I am very pessimistic on the future of Israel. The trends in general mood in Israel, US, worldwide are towards polarization, conflict and pessimism, and all is made worse by the worsening worldwide financial problems which I expect to end in a depression pretty much everywhere. I don’t expect Israel to avoid war with considerable casualties and damage.”
This is a letter I received this week from an American Jewish friend who is long-time friend and supporter of Israel, who has visited Israel many times. He is a regular contributor to pro-Israeli organizations – the Jewish Federation and others. His letter indicates deep concern and is similar to many voices that I hear from Jewish and non-Jewish groups visiting Israel. There are a lot of reasons this negativity.
The world on the eve of 2012 does not look like a happy place. As former US president Bill Clinton said, it is the economy probably more than anything else that is affecting the global mood of doom and lost hopes. In that respect, maybe this is the explanation for why Israel’s domestic mood appears to be somewhat more hopeful. We are not on the verge of economic/fiscal collapse.
Unemployment is very low. The global economic decline affects Israel, but so far it is mainly expressed in planned future budget cuts, a slowdown in economic growth and foreign investment and maybe a small drop in standard of living.
It is quite clear now to most Israelis that the optimism following the summer’s middle- class uprising will not be translated into new policies. There have been some cosmetic changes but the deep shift in economic philosophy, the redistribution of wealth, the reform in social economic preferences will not take place in the coming year. It will not be so easy to get the hundreds of thousands of Israelis back onto the streets and not only because we are at the beginning of the winter.
There was hope during the summer that Israelis had awakened to a new era. Thousands of people said they were no longer willing to accept our reality as a given. We have the power to demand change and to expect our leaders to respond, because if they don’t, we will replace them. And the leaders responded.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his ministers talked the talk. They learned the new language of social justice. They speak about the need for change. The have adopted the vocabulary, but words come easy, a lot easier than policy change.
Now, several months later, it seems that we have returned to business as usual. Change is a good word, used and abused by politicians, but it is not so easy to translate into real policies, particularly those that go against almost everything that you previously believed in.
I AM not very surprised that no real change has taken place. I do not believe that real social justice can be achieved in Israel without real peace with our neighbors. Our economy will always be subjugated by the national security discourse and reality. It will always be easy for the military every year at the time of budget debates to create a crisis situation in security terms that will remove public pressure for defense spending cuts.
No real economic boom will occur here until Israel is seriously involved in a successful peace process, first with the Palestinians, and then with the rest of the region. But no fear – no one in the region, or the world, has any expectations that the current government of Israel will make any surprise moves in that direction. And besides, the world is much too busy to care right now about what Israel and the Palestinians do or don’t do.
Netanyahu also doesn’t have much to be worried about. He has never had better cooperation from the Palestinians in not doing anything. Palestinians have very conveniently adopted a policy of not talking.
But if Netanyahu is not concerned, the public should be. The Palestinian refusal to come to the table is not due to Palestinian rejection of peace with Israel, but because they believe that Netanyahu is as serious about implementing his landmark Bar Ilan policy shift as he is about changing his newly found economic views.
Israelis wrongly interpret Palestinian refusal to come to the table as Palestinian objection to peace with Israel. The public has a very short memory, but in 2003, thenpresident George W. Bush (not Barack Hussein Obama), with the support of the international community demanded that the Palestinians dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism, fight corruption, crack down on government corruption, reorganize their security forces and place them under a political echelon committed to peace and diplomacy.
Israel demanded President Bush adopt criteria based on performance, not declarations, as had been the custom previously. There is no doubt, even among Israel’s own security chiefs, that the Palestinians in the West Bank have fulfilled these obligations and have performed much better than ever expected in this regard.
In parallel, President Bush demanded that Israel implement four steps: (1) freeze settlement building, (2) remove unauthorized outposts, (3) allow closed Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem to reopen (including Orient House and the East Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce); and redeploy its forces back to positions it held prior to the beginning of the second intifada.
The Road Map occupied the international agenda and attention for years. We talked the Road Map jargon and demanded full Palestinian implementation of all its many clauses. Israel has not implemented a single one of its Road Map obligations. No one even speaks about the Road Map anymore. In retrospect, it seems quite clear that the words were serious, the intentions were not.
Today, there is no American pressure. There is no one in the world advising Israel to make those tough decisions and concessions that the prime minister says he is prepared to make for peace. Netanyahu’s “two states” declaration at Bar Ilan University June 2009 appeared to signal a major shift in policy from “greater Israel” to accepting the creation of a Palestinian in Judea and Samaria. In hindsight, it can be understood as one of the most brilliant public relations campaigns in history.
Our prime minister said the words that the world wanted to hear. They were relieved, believing Netanyahu was serious. Netanyahu’s father, Professor Benzion Netanyahu, in an interview the morning following the speech was the only candid person. He said clearly and directly during an Army Radio interview that “he didn’t mean it.”
In the US, and particularly in Washington, they say “you have to talk the talk and walk the walk.” Perhaps I can tell my pessimistic American Jewish friend that we are halfway there.

The writer is co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information and radio host on All for Peace Radio