Encountering Peace: There is no such thing as ‘managing’ the conflict

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, speaking to Israeli journalists this week, declared that there would be no permanent-status peace agreement with the Palestinians in the next generation.

Moshe Yaalon
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, speaking to Israeli journalists this week, declared that there would be no permanent-status peace agreement with the Palestinians in the next generation. What an amazing statement for one of the most senior Israeli decision makers. Was this merely a prediction or a statement of policy? Certainly if Ya’alon, a senior member of the Netanyahu government, continues to follow in the footsteps of the prime minister and refuses to investigate or launch any political initiative vis-à-vis the Palestinians then his statement is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ya’alon, like most Israelis, is convinced that there is no Palestinian partner for peace and that therefore all that can be done is to manage the conflict.
This fatalism in a senior political leader is nothing more than a sign of political impotency, lack of strategic vision and courage. When was the last time Ya’alon suggested that Netanyahu meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? When was the last time Ya’alon had a face-to-face with the Palestinian leader? When was the last time this Israeli political leader looked at himself and his own actions and considered what steps Israel was taking that foiled chances of genuine peacemaking? When was the last time Ya’alon proposed anything that could even suggest the possibility of rebuilding the Israeli-Palestinian partnership for peace? We have a leadership that knows that nothing will happen when they simply do nothing. Is that what we are paying them for? There is no effective way to “manage” the conflict.
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During the first half of Ramadan this year, while “managing” the conflict there have been six terrorist attacks already. They all happened in areas under full Israeli control. 62 percent of the West Bank is under full Israeli control. The Palestinian Authority security forces have no presence there and no authority there. This is where it is the responsibility of the Israeli security forces to manage the conflict. This is the area where in violation of international law and against the will of the international community Israel continues to build settlements and encourage Israeli citizens to live and work.
In “managing” the conflict, Netanyahu and Ya’alon have seriously damaged the most important element of Israel’s security. As Jeffrey Goldberg, one of the American journalists closest to the US administration, stated, “It is Israel’s policy of continued settlement in the West Bank – settlement that endangers the two-state solution, and therefore Israel’s future as a democracy and as a haven for the Jewish people – that puts daylight between Jerusalem and Washington, not a president who calls Israel out for its settlement policy.”
While “managing” the conflict, the international movement to isolate Israel is gaining momentum. Boycotts, divestment and calls for sanctions are spreading all over the globe. Don’t be so blind as to think that all of this is because those behind it and who support it are anti-Semites and Israel delegitimizers. That is a lie of the Israeli government. There are many countries and individuals who support Israel’s right to exist and its right to defend itself but who are against Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians. After 47 years since 1967 they no longer want to hear about how Israel “manages” the conflict, they want to hear what Israel is doing to try to resolve the conflict. The French are preparing a UN Security Council Resolution to propose parameters for the two-state solution. 28 countries of the European Union all support Israel’s right to exist, but they do not support Israel’s right to build settlements. They do not support the continuation of the occupation of the Palestinian people and the denial of their right to have a state of their own next to Israel.
Israel’s economy will suffer because of the continuation of “managing” the conflict rather than trying to resolve it. Direct foreign investment in Israel is on the decline and tourism is far from reaching its potential.
A recent Rand Corporation study showed that a peace agreement with the Palestinians would be worth $123 billion to the Israeli economy over 10 years. Some experts believe that Rand’s study was too conservative in its estimates. But it doesn’t really matter because Israel is “managing” the conflict.
Instead of predicting the non-resolvability of the conflict, why aren’t Israel’s leaders doing everything possible to find a way to resolve it? Perhaps it really isn’t resolvable, but the current leadership of Israel has made absolutely no effort to even try. This is inexcusable.
Rather than making declarations about the unresolvable nature of the conflict, why don’t the leaders at least leave a hand outstretched in peace? In the past, Israel’s leaders always said that the job of governing was to do everything possible to make peace with our neighbors. Under today’s very unusual circumstances where the entire region is in turmoil and Israel finds common cause with many of the Sunni Arab states surrounding us, there must be a better understanding that the only way to create a basis for regional cooperation against the common threats is by launching a peace initiative vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
There is no path to the region that bypasses the Palestinians. There is no way to “manage” the conflict beyond Israel’s borders. The Israeli answer, the “management” solution of this government, is to build the walls higher. This is not a solution.
There are never guarantees for peace and there are considerable risks. But the risks for Israel of a policy of doing nothing toward the resolution of the conflict are much higher than those for trying to make peace. A government which does nothing to resolve the conflict has no right to govern. If Ya’alon, one of the most powerful people in the State of Israel, can only propose “managing” the conflict, then he should turn his responsibilities over to someone who believes they can do more.
If his boss, the prime minister, supports him, then he should face the nation and say, “I have no solutions to the most critical issue that faces the State of Israel, therefore, I am clearing the way for someone else to try.”
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 in English as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.