Mark Rosenblum, the founder of Americans for Peace Now, used to be cautiously optimistic about the prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Olso peace accords in 1993 and 1995 gave him reason to be hopeful.
But yesterday in Toronto, Rosenblum sounded a pessimistic note. Speaking at a Canadian Friends of Peace Now meeting, he said, “To be an optimist today in the Middle East, you have to be misinformed.”
In reference to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, he observed, “Peace is not inevitable, as I once thought.”
Rosenblum, a professor of history at Queen’s College, City University of New York, said a “sense of despair” has overcome Israelis and Palestinians since the outbreak of the latest round of violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The bloodshed proves that Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, is a divided city. It’s also a preview of what could happen should Israel turn into a binational state, he said.
Noting that the level of distrust between Israeli and Palestinian leaders has reached “toxic” proportions, he claimed that neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor President Mahmoud Abbas are interested in advancing peace talks.
From his vantage point, the Arab-Israeli dispute has entered one of its most bleakest moments.
Quoting Yehoshafat Harkabi, a scholar of Palestinian affairs and the former director of Israeli military intelligence, Rosenblum warned that Israel will face an “existential demographic threat” should it continue to occupy the West Bank.
In another nod to Harkabi, a hawk-turned-dove, Rosenblum added that Israel’s lust for land is suicidal and could yet transform the Jewish state into a binational state.
The current schism between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas pleases the Israeli government because it pushes the possibility of a two-state solution further into the future, said Rosenblum.
By his estimation, peace may still be possible if Israel and the Palestinians agree to mutual territorial exchanges. Israel would keep three percent to five percent of the West Bank, where 80 percent of Jewish settlers live, and in return, Israel would give the Palestinians an identical amount of land.
This would mean that Israel would not have to go back to the pre-1967 lines, he said. The Arab League has formally accepted this outcome, and so would the international community.
“I don’t think Netanyahu will agree to this,” he said.
Rosenblum predicted that Netanyahu will come under pressure to pay serious attention to the 2002 Arab League peace plan, which broadly calls for a full Israeli withdrawal from lands captured during the Six Day War in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel.
The plan, twice renewed since 2002, is supported by Sunni Arab states, which share Israel’s fear of Iran and Islamic State, a jihadist organization bent on establishing a caliphate in the region and erasing European colonial borders in the Middle East.
According to Rosenblum, the Arab state system has been crumbling since the eruption of the Arab Spring rebellions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria. Non-state actors like Islamic State, Hezbollah and Hamas have begun to fill the void, he said.