Golda Meir had a technique for fundraising in Israel. Gather a hundred of the wealthiest people in the community, she advised, and lock them in a room until each pledges a designated sum. Tell them that if anyone refuses to contribute, that person’s name and refusal will be spread around town.
Nobody turned her down.
I have been thinking lately, with all the brouhaha between Israel and Washington, that someone should lock the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a room and not allow them to leave until they have committed themselves to basic solutions of their differences, including the most difficult questions. They should be told that if one side refuses to compromise or negotiate to reach a solution, it will be blamed for the talks’ failure and the blame publicized around the world.
Certainly these days Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can be blamed for finding every excuse under the sun to avoid direct negotiations with Israel. He has agreed, finally, to proximity talks through an American mediator and even then added a time limit of four months. The United States can be blamed for accepting Palestinian excuses and not insisting on face-to-face negotiations between the two sides, something they had for years. President Barack Obama can also be faulted for his coolness toward Israel, an attitude not conducive to building the trust Israelis need to make the kind of concessions he wants from them.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be blamed for making no visible effort to live up to his promise given last year at Bar-Ilan University of bringing about two states for two peoples.
It’s one thing to build at Ramat Shlomo in Jerusalem, although as everyone on the face of the planet knows, the announcement of that building was ill timed. That area is in a fervently Orthodox neighborhood, not far from downtown Jerusalem, and would undoubtedly remain part of Israel after any peace agreement. But it is another thing to plan expansions into sections of east Jerusalem, like Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, which are inhabited overwhelmingly by Arabs and might logically become part of a future Palestinian state.
You don’t have to love the Palestinians to want them to have their own state. You have only to consider suggestions for a bi-national state that increasingly surface these days. Such a state, in which both groups share sovereignty on a one-to-one basis, means, of course, the end of Israel. As the Arab population grows and outnumbers the Jewish population, as it will, Palestinians will gain control of the land, with Jews as a minority. That is why the majority of Israelis favor a two-state solution. They do not want to lose their state, nor do they want to dominate ever-growing numbers of Palestinians. They want to remain Jewish and democratic and live in peace with their neighbors.
Yet the settlements continue. It has been argued that the barrier to peace in that region is not the settlements, but Iran, with its nuclear ambitions.
This is true. Iran sponsors Hezbollah and Hamas and threatens the world with its extremism. Its anti-Israel rhetoric is poisonous and frightening. But the settlements are the fodder that Iran and other Islamist nations feed their people to whip up anti-Israel and anti-American sentiments. The ever-spreading settlements encroach on lands the Palestinians hope to have for their state. I may resent Mahmoud Abbas demanding a settlement freeze as a precondition for peace talks, but it is hard to convince the Palestinians that Iran is their enemy and Israel their friend while settlers continue in their dogged determination to build more and more.
Ironically, the other Arab nations know that Iran is their enemy. They fear a nuclear explosion in the region and the jihadist mentality that could set it off. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other relatively moderate Arab countries desperately want Israel to solve the Palestinian problem so that they can unite with it in addressing the Iranian threat. That’s not to say that the Arab nations have warmed to Israel. The peace with Egypt is ice
cold, but it has lasted. Nations act out of self-interest, not good will. At this point in history (unlike the days of Ben-Gurion and Golda) these Arab nations recognize that peace with Israel would serve them well. But they cannot act openly while the Palestinian issue roils their populations.
Which is why this is a time for Netanyahu to be creative about Jerusalem, existing settlements, bolstering the Palestinian Authority against its Hamas rivals and about handling his extreme right coalition partners. A standing ovation at an AIPAC convention does not make up for Israel’s isolation in the world today or its rift with its most important ally.
Taking a stand in support of two states, as he promised, might change everything. n
Francine Klagsbrun’s most recent book is “The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day.”
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