A few years ago, while serving as defence minister under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak unburdened himself of a comment that spoke volumes. Barak, no dove, claimed that the current Israeli government was incapable of making peace with the Palestinians. Regrettably, Barak’s analysis remains as true today as back then.
Netanyahu professes to desire peace, but talk is cheap. He claims he supports a two-state solution, but does nothing of consequence to advance it. He presides over a government that is focused on conflict management rather than on conflict resolution.
It’s a prescription for disaster.
Two of Netanyahu’s most important cabinet colleagues, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon and Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Liberman, constantly denigrate the idea that peace is attainable. Meanwhile, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett expresses sharp opposition to a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
As the combustible situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem simmers and sometimes explodes into violence, claiming the lives of yet more Israelis, the Israeli government blithely announces new construction projects designed to tighten Israel’s grip on these areas.
Israel’s unilateral policies are intended to create facts on the ground and determine the outcome of future negotiations, should they ever take place.
All the while, Netanyahu and his chief ministers denounce and undermine Mahmoud Abbas, the most moderate and reasonable leader the Palestinians have produced in recent times. Abbas is far from perfect, as everyone recognizes, but compared to his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, and the rejectionist leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Abbas is a credible partner-in-waiting that Israel should be encouraging and cultivating rather than demonizing and marginalizing.
Don’t take my word for it. Of late, several Israelis of repute have said as much.
Speaking at a rally on the 19th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, former Israeli president Shimon Peres levelled serious accusations against Israel’s current leadership.
In an allusion to the latest round of failed peace talks, which collapsed last April after nine months of fitful negotiations, Peres declared, “There are those who have turned the word ‘peace’ into a derogatory term, and there are those who consider ‘peace supporters’ as delusional people. I say clearly today: Those who have given up on peace are the delusional ones. Those who gave up and stopped looking for peace, they’re the naive ones …”
Peres added, “We have all sorts of smart people who talk about ‘managing the conflict’ instead of peace. Take a look at what happened in Gaza over the summer and what is happening in Jerusalem. That is what ‘managing’ the conflict looks like.”
The status quo — the lame and self-destructive option that Netanyahu and company cling to — will imperil Israel, Peres warned.
Tzipi Livni, the Israeli minister of justice and Israel’s chief negotiator at the U.S-sponsored peace talks, was just as emphatic. “In the absence of a peace process, one must act responsibly,” she said. “Declarations of construction (in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem), fiery statements and provocations must be avoided.”
Such policies, she suggested, “harm our ability to keep Israel secure.””
In an open letter to Netanyahu, more than 100 high-ranking Israeli security officials, including two former directors of the Mossad, urged him to relaunch talks with the Palestinians.
The initiator of the letter, Amnon Reshef, a retired major general and the former commander of the Armored Corps, said he had hoped that Netanyahu would find a way to restart negotiations. “This did not happen. I saw no positive reaction. What I did see, however, was (Israeli) settling in Silwan, all kinds of delusional thoughts on building in the West Bank, authorization of illegal settlements and the building of infrastructure. That deeply upset me.”
If Netanyahu is really sincere about peace, which is doubtful, he should listen to Yuval Rabin, an Israeli high tech entrepreneur and the son of the slain premier.
Rabin, the chairman of the Israeli Peace Initiative, a grassroots group dedicated to forging peace between Israel and the Arab world, believes there’s light at the end of the tunnel. In his view, the Israeli government should seriously consider the Arab peace plan, which was first introduced by Saudi Arabia, and endorsed by the Arab League, 14 years ago.
In exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, Israel’s acceptance of a two-state solution and a mutually acceptable agreement on the Palestinian refugee problem, the member states of the Arab League would officially recognize Israel and establish normal diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
About a year ago, at the urging of the United States, the Arab League modified its proposal, embracing the concept of mutual land swaps between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
It’s in Israel’s long-term interests to end the conflict with the Palestinians in particular and with the Arabs in general. Not to do so will doom Israel to perpetual strife with its Arab neighbors, embitter and alienate its large Arab minority, endanger its status as a Jewish democratic state and jeopardize its relationship with the United States and the nations of Europe.
Israel can no longer afford to keep its head in the sand.
Sheldon Kirshner, a journalist in Toronto, writes an online journal, Sheldonkirshner.com.