Israelis Still Want Peace – the Right Peace
Prior to the Israeli elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under fire for securing his right-wing base when he stated, “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel.”
Those on the left, he cautioned, are ignoring reality by “burying their heads in the sand.” From there he went on to say that he would not support such a Palestinian state.
But would any Israeli government support such a state?
Netanyahu ran on a national security ticket and underscored the growing threat of Islamism and Iran. He did not need to remind Israelis about their last war with Hamas in Gaza, but rather pointed to growing regional instability. All represent real predictors of a radicalized West Bank, especially under a Hamas-Fatah coalition. If one looks at Gaza, the West Bank in its current state could easily be transformed into an ISIS like environment, and a clear and present danger to Israel perhaps worse than those Israelis face along their southern and northern borders.
Moreover, Netanyahu has always argued for a demilitarized Palestinian state. His recent statement was not a policy departure from the about kind of neighbor Israel’s seeks.
Critics have concluded that the Netanyahu’s pre-election comments abandoned the two-state solution proposed in his 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, but a closer look reveals more about animosity towards Netanyahu.
This was only one of the misreadings surrounding the election. The Israeli media badly misread the pre-election signs and exit polls. These showed that while there were a plethora of domestic problems articulated by Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid and company, the majority of Israelis see the real threat to Israel as Islamist. For them, Netanyahu still represents a reassuring voice.
Diplomatically, the two-state solution is still the basis for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations which has been advocated by most of the international community, spearheaded by Washington. Reaching it is the official policy of both the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but it is no secret that Hamas does not support this notion, with or without PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
More importantly, from Yasser Arafat to Abbas, we have witnessed generations of Palestinians support rejectionism rather than statehood. They cling to the notion of being a refugee for life rather than a citizen of any country. Neither Herzog nor Netanyahu can overcome this.
In the heyday of the Oslo peace process, the push for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement was done on every possible level, socially, politically and militarily, and even reached a point where being “anti-Oslo” connoted being anti-Israel. But 20 years later of bitter experiences, Oslo has lost its allure and has been replaced by a more skeptical prism of the region.
The alleged centrality of the “settlements” is really an empty issue, which deflects attention from the real issues that obstruct a negotiated settlement. There is little debate over the fact that – should a peace agreement be completed – there will be a redistribution of land. Most of the bargaining is about whether these exchanges will take the shape of a total phased Israeli withdrawal, or exchanging the most populous Israeli towns for lands in the Jordan Valley or Negev desert. But this must be left to the parties to decide and not imposed by outside powers.
The Israeli commitment to a two-state solution predates Netanyahu and represents a consensus that encompasses the left to the right. As late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon stated during his UN speech in 2005:
“…The essence of my Jewish consciousness, and of my belief in the eternal and unimpeachable right of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel. However, I say this here also to emphasize the immensity of the pain I feel deep in my heart at the recognition that we have to make concessions for the sake of peace between us and our Palestinian neighbors. The right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel does not mean disregarding the rights of others in the land. The Palestinians will always be our neighbors. We respect them, and have no aspirations to rule over them. They are also entitled to freedom and to a national, sovereign existence in a state of their own. I am among those who believe that it is possible to reach a fair compromise and coexistence in good neighborly relations between Jews and Arabs. However, I must emphasize one fact: There will be no compromise on the right of the State of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, with defensible borders, in full security and without threats and terrorism.”
Sharon’s final caution clearly mirrors that of Netanyahu and represents the majority of Israelis.
Israelis have not lost hope in peace but they are more prudent about the process. Netanyahu still underscore that “just as Israel is prepared to recognize a Palestinian state, the Palestinians must be prepared to recognize a Jewish state.”
Both sides need to make concessions, but Israel’s security and Jewish identity concerns deserve as much attention as Palestinian territorial claims.
This article was originally published by YNet News.