Recognizing a Palestinian state

“Mr. Prime Minister,” I said to Netanyahu in the Knesset chamber, “Israel needs to be the first to recognize the Palestinian state at the UN.”

A protester places a Palestinian flag at the Israeli barrier fence in the West Bank village of Rafat near Ramallah (photo credit: REUTERS)
A protester places a Palestinian flag at the Israeli barrier fence in the West Bank village of Rafat near Ramallah
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A few months ago, I spoke in the Knesset. I got lucky: Benjamin Netanyahu sat and listened to me in the chamber. It was right after the failure in the peace negotiations, in the days when President Mahmoud Abbas was declaring his intention to ask the UN to recognize a Palestinian state. This was long before Operation Protective Edge, and long before the parade of foreign parliaments lining up to unilaterally support recognizing the Palestinian state.
“Mr. Prime Minister,” I said to Netanyahu in the Knesset chamber, “Israel needs to be the first to recognize the Palestinian state at the UN.” The prime minister threw me a glance and immediately returned to looking through the papers on his desk.
“Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state is not only a Palestinian interest. It is an Israeli interest,” I continued. “You, Mr. Prime Minister, who speak of two states, must understand that no state is built with words only, not an Israeli state, nor a Palestinian one. You must understand that Israeli recognition of Palestinian statehood will tangibly advance the two-state vision and will eliminate the dangerous one-state vision that extremists on the Right and the Left are advancing, among us and among the Palestinians. One state would be the end of the Zionist dream and it would eliminate the dream of the Palestinians to have a state of their own. With this, we would doom ourselves to perpetual conflict – a lose-lose situation."
That’s not why we established a state. The Palestinian dream of a state of their own should also be our dream. Not simply to make the Palestinians feel good, but primarily to ensure a better future for ourselves.
First we should recognize the Palestinian state, and then we should argue over the borders. First we should turn the Palestinian “entity” into a state, and then we can enter into the stormy negotiations. This way, we declare that we are serious about negotiations.
This way, we ensure that when we end the conflict there will be two states here, because there is no other choice. This way, we ensure that the destructive vision of “‘one state for two peoples’ will be dead and buried once and for all.”
The prime minister did not respond to me. He listened, but he did not throw me another glance. Not to say yes, and not to say no, as is his wont. I was not offended, because I didn’t expect anything.
This week we commemorated the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. I miss him. The man, the vision, and especially the courage, leadership and the taking of responsibility for the fate of our country. We have none of these today; certainly not with this government.
The latest call by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to advance the peace process within the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative was met, yet again, by Israeli silence.
This is so despite the fact that at the close of Operation Protective Edge this summer, Netanyahu spoke of a diplomatic horizon.
He understands that there is no other choice. He understands, he speaks, but he does nothing. He talks about two states, but his actions only distance us further from that destination. Netanyahu doesn’t take the initiative on anything, but instead provides funding for isolated settlements, and repeatedly ignores the Arab Peace Initiative.
Is burying his head in the sand the political horizon Netanyahu was talking about? Does he expect us to believe him when he says over and over, “two states” and “political horizon?” The question is, can a political horizon emerge in the context of today’s political deadlock? The answer is: Of course it can.
Here are a few ideas to start with: official recognition by the government of Israel of the Palestinian state will certainly generate a political horizon. We should not wait for others to do it before us and instead of us. We must lead, not be led. As I’ve said many times, I am not an enthusiast for unilateral recognition by third states of a Palestinian state. I believe that such recognition strengthens the proponents of unilateralism and weakens the proponents of a negotiated solution. Unilateralism is harmful, on our part and on the part of the Palestinians.
On the other hand, Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state will be a catalyst for renewing negotiations, will facilitate the restoration of trust between the parties, and will ensure that there will be two states at the end of the process. A win-win situation.
First, Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state, then sorting out the details in negotiations.
Also, an Israeli response to the Arab Peace Initiative, even if it is a partial and reserved response, would be a prudent step in the creation of a political horizon. It may even prove a big step.
So, too, the true integration of Israeli Arabs into the Israeli leadership and Israeli society can help create a political horizon.
Declaring war on incitement by both Jews and Arabs in Israeli society, and closing rifts between Arabs and Jews living in Israeli, can also help create a political horizon. Israeli Arabs can be a bridge between us and the Palestinians. Has anybody thought of this in our 67 years of existence here? There is much to be done to promote a political horizon, restore confidence and resume negotiations – we have only to decide to do it. And therein lies the real problem. Such a decision is not acceptable to the deadlocked government of Benjamin Netanyahu-Avigdor Liberman-Naftali Bennett.
But this is exactly what the Labor Party would do if it forms the next government.
This is how every Israeli government that cares about the welfare of the Jewish people and the citizens of Israel, Jews and Arabs, should act. This is how a government that cares about a life of dignity and well-being for the Palestinian people should act. A good life for the Palestinians is also an Israeli interest.
It is possible – and essential – to create a political horizon. It is possible – and essential – to restore trust between us and the Palestinians, even before we move a single soldier or evacuate a single settlement. A political horizon and the two-state solution are not only possible but inevitable. Instead of burying our heads in the sand through blindness and indecision, we need to create a political horizon that will advance our national interests and especially our future as a people and a nation. It is possible, and it is in our hands.
MK Hilik Bar is secretary-general of the Labor Party and chairman of the Caucus to Resolve the Israeli-Arab Conflict in the Knesset.