Encountering peace: The choices we must make

If he remains in power, Netanyahu will lead Israel into international sanctions and increasing boycotts.

Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: FINBARR O'REILLY / REUTERS)
Mahmoud Abbas
(photo credit: FINBARR O'REILLY / REUTERS)
 Last week Palestinian Authority President Abbas visited Cairo and held a long and productive meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Sisi. Abbas told Sisi, as published in the Israeli news site NRG, that the Palestinians are prepared to freeze their actions in the International Criminal Court against Israeli leaders and officers if the parties return to serious negotiations. Abbas told Sisi that the Palestinians wish to arrive at a full and comprehensive peace agreement with Israel that will be supported by the US and by Europe.
I know that this is Abbas’s position from private discussions with him and his closest associates. Their first choice of action was not to go to the international bodies such as the United Nations Security Council and the ICC. According to them, they held off these actions for as long as possible in order to give negotiations a fair chance. From their point of view, Netanyahu has never been serious about negotiations and achieving a viable two-state solution.
The Palestinians reject claims that they have been the side that has rejected reasonable offers. The Palestinians maintain that their positions have been consistent throughout all Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in reaching a framework for peace that would allow them to have a viable sovereign state on no more than 22 percent of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, with their capital in Palestinian east Jerusalem in an open city with no physical divisions.
They have claimed that they accept all reasonable Israeli security demands that balance their needs for sovereignty and Israel’s legitimate needs for security. They claim that they agree to the principle that the Palestinian state would be non-militarized. They agree that while Gaza will be included within the agreement as being part of the State of Palestine, the agreement would not be implemented in Gaza until those who control Gaza agree to the terms of the peace agreement. They agree that the refugee issue will be resolved by providing every Palestinian refugee with a set of choices that would include a law of return to the Palestinian state and other options and that Israel will not be flooded with refugees that will change the nature of the State of Israel.
There are issues which the Palestinians will not agree to: They will not agree to have Israel having full control of their external borders. They will not agree to allow Israel to continue to control their population registry, as it has done since 1967. They will not agree to a state without a capital in Jerusalem. They will not agree to denounce the principle of right of return because, as they claim, it is an individual right not a collective right and no Palestinian leader has the authority to negotiate away that right. They will not agree to have settlers living in segregated communities under Israeli law and control remaining in the Palestinian state. They will not agree that Israel should continue to have control over the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, especially the Aksa compound (which Jews refer to as the Temple Mount).
Under these conditions – the acceptables and the non-acceptables – is there a possibility for agreement? The answer is: it depends who is in charge in Israel. Under Benjamin Netanyahu, the answer is absolutely not. Netanyahu is not interested in any agreement that will be based on the above parameters. He has proven that. While Labor leader Isaac Herzog has not really indicated what are acceptable parameters for a peace agreement, from hearing his speeches, speaking to him in private and with many other Labor party MKs and leaders, I believe that it would be possible to reach an agreement under a Herzog-led government. I also believe, according to in-depth public opinion research on both sides, that the agreement would achieve a significant majority of support in a referendum in both Israel and Palestine.
The consequences of not reaching an agreement are quite clear. Netanyahu has led Israel into increasing isolation in the international community and to Palestinian and Arab actions against Israel in the international institutions.
If he remains in power, Netanyahu will lead Israel into international sanctions and increasing boycotts. Netanyahu will continue to withhold Palestinian tax money from the Palestinians. Netanyahu will encourage the US Congress to freeze all aid support for the Palestinians. A Netanyahu-led government will continue to turn away foreign leaders who wish to come to visit Palestine, as it did this week, at the same time refusing to visit Israel.
Palestinian frustration and increasing poverty may lead to increased Palestinian violence. This is a snowball which could easily roll out of control, as the second intifada did – against the will and interests of both sides. If this happens, the very shaky peace treaties that Israel has with Egypt and Jordan will be in jeopardy. It is also quite likely that while Netanyahu will have considerable support within the US Congress, relations with the White House will grow increasingly bad. This is, of course, true regarding relations between Israel and most of Europe, Asia and Africa as well.
I would estimate that the negative scenario painted above will have a deep negative impact on relations between world Jewry and Israel, impacting most a growing sense of alienation amongst young Jews, especially in the United States.
We have had more than enough experience with Netanyahu – nine years as prime minister – to know that he will not change now. What we had is what we will get. Certainly there are those among my readers who want more of the same, because they refuse to recognize that Palestinians exist and that they have a right to a state of their own.
But for most people in the world, the game is over – the occupation is not acceptable and if it does not end, then Israel will not be acceptable. This is what will happen.
Perhaps there are those who continue to live by the saying “it doesn’t matter what the goyim say, it only matters what the Jews do.” Well what the Jews do, or what the Jews don’t do, in terms of making genuine efforts for peace with the Palestinians, is destroying Israel.
Should we believe Abbas? The answer is absolutely not.
We cannot allow ourselves to make agreements based on trust as we did in the early Oslo years. Any Israeli-Palestinian agreement must be based on the principles of mistrust and therefore must include enough safeguards to ensure implementation and to protect our vital national security needs. Israel is a powerful country. Israel is a stable country.
Israel has a strong democracy and a very strong will to live, survive and prosper. Israel has so much to be proud of.
Why are we so afraid then to march forward on the path of real peace, which while it does mean making compromises, and does mean giving up 22% of the land between the river and the sea, does not mean committing suicide.
It does not mean giving up the IDF or ceasing to take direct responsibility for defending ourselves. It does not mean making Israel weaker. It means making Israel stronger. It means making Israel more just. It does mean that Israel can become a force for good, for progress, stability and security for ourselves and for our neighbors. It is possible. We have to start by making the right choice.
The author 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 as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.