The executive director of Peace Now, Shaqued Morag, was in Toronto recently as the guest of Canadian Friends of Peace Now to discuss the prospects of a peaceful resolution of Israel’s long-running conflict with the Palestinians. I asked her several questions about the current situation, and here is a record of our exchange.
1. What should the Israeli government do to advance the prospects of peace?
Change course by publicly working with the Palestinian Authority to restart the peace process, ease the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, and coordinate a withdrawal from the West Bank.
2. Do you expect Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do this? What is his game plan? Is he really serious about peace? Is it already too late for a two-state solution?
No. Netanyahu’s actions indicate that he wants to continue his current direction, namely solidifying political separation between the West Bank and Gaza, sidelining the Palestinian Authority at the political level, and advancing settlements. It’s not too late for a two-state solution, but it will take an Israeli leader with exceptional moral fortitude to carry out negotiations and to pull out of many settlements in the West Bank.
3. What should the Palestinian Authority do to advance peace? Is Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, a reliable partner? Are the Palestinians ready for a two-state solution? Can Hamas be brought into the peace process? Is a peace agreement without Hamas even possible? Should Israel continue with its blockade of Gaza?
Step forward to assume greater responsibility in Gaza, work to incorporate and rein in Hamas in order to unify the Palestinian leadership. Abbas is a reliable partner, despite being stubborn on certain issues. Israel should resume negotiations based on the two-state model. We can never know if Palestinians are ready for the two-state solution, just as we can never know if Israelis are. There are some compromises they will have to make. But we must strive harder to get there because, ultimately, it is Israel that continues to occupy millions of people without full rights. Peace is impossible without Hamas committing not to use violence against Israel. It doesn’t, however, have to be a party to the peace talks. Israel should wind down the blockade of Gaza, as its own current security officials have repeatedly indicated.
4. What peace plan does Peace Now advocate? A full Israel withdrawal from the occupied areas? Minor border modifications?
A two-state solution based on the internationally accepted parameters on the four core issues. Borders would include land swaps so that most settlers wouldn’t have to be relocated.
5. How serious an obstacle to peace are the settlements in the West Bank? Do you expect Netanyahu to annex Area C? What would be the impact of annexation?
Settlements are the biggest obstacle on the Israeli side for peace, especially those located deep inside the West Bank, far from the Green Line (and therefore cannot be annexed to Israel within land swaps as part of an agreement). While people’s opinions and the power of certain organizations can change, relocating well over 100,000 settlers will require significant political stamina in an Israeli leader.
Netanyahu probably won’t annex Area C, at least not soon. There are much less obvious ways to push for annexation, some of which are already being promoted and implemented. Annexation, even de facto, would turn Israel into an apartheid state, where one population has full rights as citizens and one does not. It wouldn’t be the same apartheid of South Africa, which was based on racial superiority, but the reality on the ground would match the definition of apartheid.
6. Do you expect peace in your lifetime?
All I can do is hope for it, demand it from the Israeli leadership, and work hard toward helping my country achieve a brighter future.