Encountering Peace: Good morning, Israel!

During this time of reflection and taking responsibility, this government and the opposition in Israel have a lot to atone for.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid speaks at Bar-Ilan University (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid speaks at Bar-Ilan University
(photo credit: Courtesy)
MK Yair Lapid, the leader of a centrist political party and a self-appointed candidate for prime minister announced that Israel should accept the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for negotiations with the Palestinians and the Arab world.
Amazing. Good morning, Yair Lapid – the Arab Peace Initiative was issued only 13 years ago. It has been ratified at least five times since and also adopted by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation representing 57 Muslim countries.
What is really amazing is that no government of Israel in the past 13 years saw any reason to officially respond to the API. Yes it is true that the API also relates to Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and even if someone in Israel wanted to do that, there is no longer a country called Syria that could retake control over that area. It is also true that several other countries that were members of the Arab League no longer really exist, such as Libya, Iraq and Yemen.
The API is such a short document that in the little space here it is worthwhile recalling its main content: Complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories (from 1967), including the Syrian Golan Heights, to the June 4, 1967 line and the territories still occupied in southern Lebanon (Shaba Farms); (b) Attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees to be agreed upon in accordance with the UN General Assembly Resolution No. 194. (c) Accept the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the Palestinian territories occupied since June 4, 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
In return the Arab states will do the following: (a) Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with Israel and achieve peace for all states in the region; (b) Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of this comprehensive peace.
Nowhere in the API is there a suggestion that this is a “take it or leave it” document. I have met with the primary authors of the document who all stated that its principal intent was to provide Israel with real incentives to enter into serious negotiations, first and foremost with the Palestinians, and that those incentives would increase the chances of success.
The Arab League leaders have demonstrated flexibility since first issuing the API by stating that the option of territorial swaps to accommodate for Israeli settlements over the Green Line would also be acceptable if the Palestinians agreed. The sentence dealing with the refugee issue that is linked to UN Resolution 194, which is not acceptable to Israel states that the solution for the refugee issues would be “agreed upon” indicating clearly that this issue comes under negotiations by the parties. They authors also make a clear effort to appeal to Israeli senses by using the term “establish normal relations with Israel” taking note of the fact that this concept is a political taboo in the Arab world as long as the Palestinians are under Israeli occupation.
While in the government Lapid refused to weigh in on the issue of peace with the Palestinians. He never mentioned support for the API when he was a member of the cabinet. He refused offers to meet with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and even refused to allow members of Knesset from his party to meet with Abbas when they were invited several times the opportunity. At least now he has woken up to the need for Israel to take initiative on these issues.
Isaac Herzog, the official head of the opposition recently met with Abbas once again and has spoken about the need to adopt the API (although he like many other Israeli politicians prefer to call it the Saudi initiative). Support for the Arab Peace Initiative appeared in the first version of the Labor Party platform but was removed in the final version. Herzog speaks in general about the need for Israel to take initiative on the Palestinian issue but falls short of speaking specifics. I know that there is a significant amount of agreement between Herzog and Abbas on almost all of the permanent status issues, yet he has not come out and said that directly in public.
For some reason political strategists in Israel advice their clients not to take strong positions on the issues that have the greatest consequences for the publics’ life and safety. It was more than obvious in the past elections for Knesset that not one of the main parties offered any kind of proposal or initiative for dealing with the Palestinian issue. Those opposed to any kind of agreement with the Palestinians have succeeded so much in convincing the public that peace is not possible and that Israel has no partner for peace, that even the idea of speaking about peace appears naive and detached from reality. When did it become common wisdom that Israel’s passivity is what this country needs? The current government of Israel has no political initiative and relies solely on defense and constantly trying to build deterrence against Israel’s enemies – at home and abroad. There is zero chance for success for the strategy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of constantly trying to explain away the reasons for recurring Palestinian violence, or for the growing delegitimization of Israel around the world.
Israel does not have a “hasbara” problem – there are simply things that can no longer be explained – like the continuing occupation and denying the Palestinian people the right of freedom and liberation.
Contracting out Israel’s public diplomacy to the best Madison Avenue firm will not change international public opinion about Israel. The lack of any political initiative by Israel is a real problem that cannot be explained away.
There is no denying that there are real objective problems and that the current reality in Palestine is most challenging including the continuing divide between Fatah and Hamas and the waning legitimacy of the Palestinian leader. But there has been a total absence of any effort to see how Israeli political initiatives can help to shape events inside of Palestine and in the region in a positive way. No one in the world believes Netanyahu when he declares that he is prepared to meet the Palestinian leader without conditions at any time. No one believes that he has any intentions to actually move forward in serious negotiations because his ongoing policies demonstrate a total lack of willingness to even signal the readiness to enable the creation of a viable Palestinian state next to Israel. While the entire world is still holding onto the vision of a two-state solution, it seems that the Israeli political arena has accepted that there is no viable solution to this conflict. So instead of challenging reality and trying to influence change, the main political parties in Israel starting with the government itself is ignoring it with the hope that it will disappear.
The Palestinian problem will not disappear. Trying to create deterrence through the use of force will only end with the use of even more force. If there is one absolute truth in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it is this: More dead Palestinians will lead to more dead Israelis.
The responsibility and obligation of government is the provide safety and security for its people. For us here in Israel that has to mean making every effort to reach peace agreements with our neighbors. During this time of reflection and taking responsibility, this government and the opposition in Israel have a lot to atone for.
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.
His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and in English The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas from The Toby Press.