Why Now Is the Time for Israeli-Palestinian Peace
In recent weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been warning about the threat that Iran poses, now that Bashar al-Assad has won the war in Syria. Netanyahu believes that Assad’s victory will put the Iranian threat right at Israel’s doorstep.
It would be a terrible mistake, however, for Netanyahu to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the back burner. In fact, because of the increasing Iranian threat, Netanyahu should do everything in his power to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians now, in the context of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. In so doing, Netanyahu could not only neutralize the Palestinian threat, but potentially mitigate the Iranian menace as well — at least to a certain degree.
Iran’s involvement in Syria is not new, and predates the civil war by several decades. What is new, however, is that Tehran is now determined to establish a third front in Syria against Israel — in addition to its efforts to support Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel’s military command is particularly concerned about the possibility that once hostilities break out between Israel and Hamas, Iran could become involved as well.
In a recent speech commemorating the Israelis who were killed in the 1992 embassy bombing in Argentina (in which Iran was implicated), Netanyahu stated: “The regime in Tehran aspires to plant its flag atop the ruins of the free world. It continues to threaten to annihilate Israel.”
Although Netanyahu realizes that he cannot persuade the Trump administration to revoke the Iran nuclear deal, he wants to make certain that Washington remains attentive to Iran’s mischievous and destabilizing conduct in the region. In addition, Netanyahu wants to ensure that Washington understands the danger that emanates from Iran’s military presence in Syria.
In addition to its presence in Syria, Tehran also continues transferring an array of weapons to Hezbollah, including rockets. In spite of the fact that Israel continues to intercept and destroy many such weapons shipments, significant quantities of Iranian arms still manage to reach their destination in Lebanon.
It is now estimated that between Hamas and Hezbollah, anti-Israel terror groups have nearly 200,000 short- and medium-range rockets, many of which can reach any part of Israel.
Given the increasing tensions between Israel, Hamas and Hezbollah, a major breakout of hostilities cannot be ruled out. And a multi-pronged war would be a nightmare scenario for the Jewish state.
Even though Israel’s air defense system is one of the most sophisticated in the world, Israel would still be unable to intercept all incoming rockets during such a multi-front conflict. Out of the one thousand rockets that Hamas and Hezbollah can fire daily, a few dozen would no doubt reach Israeli urban centers, causing hundreds of casualties and massive structural damage, especially in areas where shelters are either limited or do not exist.
In addition, Israeli businesses could be closed for weeks, supplies of food and medicine could become increasingly scarce, schools would be shut, and hospitals would be overwhelmed. Moreover, the Israeli military would be stretched, especially if Israel ends up invading Gaza and Lebanon, while also bombing Iranian installations in Syria.
How the Arab world, Europe, the US and Russia would respond to such a war is hard to predict. One thing, however, is clear: much of the Middle East would be on fire, and the consequences would be great.
This may seem like an unlikely scenario, but the probability of it is increasing every day. If Netanyahu is truly concerned about Iran establishing a permanent military base in Syria, then he cannot rule out such a terrifying possibility. His seriousness about the Iranian threat will now be tested by his action or inaction on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I maintain that there is no better time to look very carefully at the two state-solution in the context of a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace, because most Arab states share Netanyahu’s concerns about the Iranian threat.
Netanyahu and some of his recalcitrant ministers can start the peace process by stating that Israel has no intentions of annexing more Palestinian territory, and then declaring a moratorium on the expansion of settlements for at least one year.
If Netanyahu’s coalition partners do not support such an initiative, he should have the courage to fire them and establish a new government with the left and center parties that support a negotiated peace with the Palestinians.
So far, Netanyahu has only paid lip service to the idea of a Palestinian state. But if Israel’s very existence is on the line because of the Iranian threat, then he must pursue a Palestinian state now. Netanyahu has a propitious opportunity to make peace and usher in a more promising and secure future for Israel; he should not waste it.