Israel Pulse

Peace with Palestinians not in Netanyahu's plan

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Article Summary
Whatever the composition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, it will never aspire to a negotiated peace with the Palestinians.

Many decent people in Israel and around the world are concerned that the decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to bring the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu into the government — rather than the center-left Zionist Camp — and to appoint Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Liberman minister of defense will undermine prospects for a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. They believe the accusation Zionist Camp leader Isaac Herzog hurled at “radical leftists” in his party for allegedly sabotaging a historic opportunity to promote regional peace. They claim that Netanyahu was a stone’s throw from the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, but as the Americans say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and no one is likely to be tasting any of that pudding. On the other hand, Netanyahu has flunked all his previous exams in Regional Peace 101. The grades of deposed Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon weren't any better.

The current political turmoil will not sabotage prospects for peace. The composition of the new government, like that of its predecessor and the one that never materialized with the Zionist Camp, does not change the fact that zero plus zero equals zero. Even the dovish mien that Netanyahu put on for a brief moment will probably not open the public’s eyes to the realization that the king remains a hawk leading them to perdition. For now it would be best to let the United States along with the other members of the Middle East Quartet — the European Union, United Nations and Russia — try their hand at shaking the Israeli public out of its lethargy. All forces of Israeli society, from the enlightened right to the purist left, must be mobilized now to defend democracy.

The first step is to accept that Netanyahu is not going to change. His designated defense minister is not the only one to have honored him with such epithets as “liar” and “crook.” The course of history would have been no different had Netanyahu accepted Herzog’s demand to personally sign off on the agreements they reached in their talks for a diplomatic initiative. What was Netanyahu’s signature worth on the 1998 Wye River Memorandum alongside those of Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat and President Bill Clinton? Instead of handing over to the Palestinians parts of Area C in the West Bank, as stipulated by that agreement, Netanyahu transferred (and continues to transfer) the land for the construction of settler homes.

What was the point of Netanyahu’s commitment, while a member of the security cabinet of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, to uproot unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank, as laid out in the 2003 road map? Does anyone remember UN Security Council Resolution 1515, unanimously approved at the request of President George W. Bush, to adopt the road map?

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A year ago, Netanyahu addressed the lost opportunity to promote a regional peace before a large audience. At a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Allied victory over Nazi Germany, the prime minister explained that interests shared by Israel and the Arab states vis-à-vis Iran were creating opportunities to promote “alliances and possibly move peace forward.” So he said, and so what?

Even if Ya'alon not been booted out as defense minister, he would not have salvaged that regional peace approach, in general, nor the two-state solution, in particular. Just a brief reminder: In June 2015 at the Herzliya Conference, Ya'alon had said that he saw no chance of a stable arrangement in the region in his lifetime. Before that, in January 2014, he had said, “The only thing that can ‘save’ us is for [Secretary of State] John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace.”

I don’t know a single political analyst who believes that in Netanyahu’s political lifetime, with Herzog and Ya'alon or without them, Israel will move closer to an agreement with the Palestinians. What politician eyeing the country’s leadership will offer to give up the occupied territories, knowing that 70% of Jewish Israelis refuse to acknowldege the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem? Beggars can’t be choosers, goes the proverb. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but for Israelis to keep their state, the slogan “two states for two people” must be archived and replaced by a union of forces to salvage democracy in the State of Israel. The various peace plans must be replaced by a common denominator around which a broad public and alternative leadership can unite — the State of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

Ya'alon, Herzog, left-wing Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On, former Likud Minister Benny Begin, former Likud Minister Gideon Saar, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, centrist Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, former Likud minister Dan Meridor, Zionist Camp co-leader Tzipi Livni and former Yisrael Beitenu Knesset member Orly Levy-Abekasis must form a joint political entity and ask the public for a mandate to implement what the fathers of the state envisaged in Israeli's founding document:

The State of Israel will … promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture. … We yet call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to … play their part in the development of the state, with full and equal citizenship and due representation in its bodies and institutions — provisional or permanent.

These principles also guided Theodor Herzl, the visionary of the Jewish state. “My associates and I make no distinctions between one man and another. We do not ask to what race or religion a man belongs. If he is a man, that is enough for us,” wrote the father of Zionism in “Altneuland.” His moral legacy was “establish your state in such a way that the non-Jew will feel himself well among you.”

In “On State and Social Problems,” Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, wrote that of “three evils” — minority rule, anarchy and majority rule — the third is the least evil and thus the preferred choice. The man after whom the headquarters of the Likud movement — the so-called Jabotinsky Fortress — is named wrote that the role of democracy is to ensure minorities a say in running the affairs of state, given that “a minority is but composed of individuals, created in the ‘image and likeness of God.’”

There is no certainty that such ruminations would gain Herzl and Jabotinsky entry to the current Knesset. It is fairly certain, however, that if a joint front to salvage democracy in Israel is not soon formed, the legacy of Herzl and Jabotinsky will clear the way for the legacy of the right-wing nationalist Rehavam Zeevi — that is, racism and hatred of the other.

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Found in: zionist camp, zionism, yisrael beitenu, two-state solution, peace process, moshe ya'alon, isaac herzog, benjamin netanyahu, avigdor liberman

Akiva Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel and has been translated into English, French, German and Arabic.

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