For and against Palestinian statehood, simultaneously

Published in The Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom, January 28, 2016.

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Is it possible to oppose a two-state solution under the current circumstances but to be for it in principle? The answer is yes, and that is the de facto position of both the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the declared policy of the official opposition Labor Party, as expressed this week by Labor leader Yitzhak “Bougie” Herzog. Time to calibrate realistic diplomacy to meet this new Israeli consensus.


Is it possible to oppose a two-state solution under the current circumstances but to be for it in principle? The answer is yes, and that is the de facto position of both the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the declared policy of the official opposition Labor Party, as expressed this week by Labor leader Yitzhak “Bougie” Herzog.

It’s time to take a moment and reflect on this complex Israeli consensus, and to calibrate diplomacy accordingly.

In a formal speech and candid radio interview for which he was savaged by the extreme Left, Herzog stated the obvious: A two-state solution is “not realistic” in the current reality between Israel and the Palestinians. Absent the ability “to do it now,” Herzog pledged to continue to “yearn” for a two-state solution, but honestly admitted that a Labor government wouldn’t be birthing a Palestinian state any faster than a Netanyahu government.

In the meantime, Herzog’s plan for the West Bank involves increased security measures for Israeli cities and settlements (fences), souped-up separation from the Palestinians (more fences), and confidence-building measures all around (more economic assistance to the Palestinians; more focused/restrained Israeli settlement policy; and a crackdown on terrorist teachers, preachers and practitioners).

Sound familiar? Essentially this is a gloss on Netanyahu’s approach. The most that Herzog can say to distinguish himself from Netanyahu is to argue that he would be “more serious” in implementing the tough security and moderate settlement policies that both leaders have talked about.

Herzog angrily denies that he is backing “conflict management,” because that is a loaded term associated with the right wing. But essentially Herzog is indeed talking about managing the conflict for the long-term, while “hankering” for better days and especially for wiser Palestinian leaders.

Like Netanyahu, Herzog believes the Israel Defense Forces must remain in the West Bank and especially in the Jordan Valley where it must secure Israel’s eastern frontier. And like Netanyahu and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Herzog seeks a regional security conference with Arab nations that share Israel’s concerns, to discuss new paradigms for peace diplomacy that go beyond the narrow, struggling two-state construct.

(See General Giora Eiland’s creative proposals for four-way land swaps and shared sovereignty arrangements with Egypt and Jordan, published by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies; or the sober proposals of Prof. Shlomo Avineri for “halfway” measures, published in Foreign Affairs; or the modest proposals of former peace negotiator Tal Becker for “tangible” progress, published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy).

In short, a fully demilitarized and truly democratic Palestinian state (in the West Bank, if not also in Gaza, and allied with or subsumed by Jordan) that lives peacefully next to Israel with both Jews and Arabs free to live unmolested on either side of the border – may be an ideal solution to the conflict.

But until a sea change in the Palestinian political culture happens to make that an actual possibility rather than merely a fantasy, no rational Israeli government is about to consider significant withdrawal from Judea and Samaria. That’s an Israeli consensus; rare, but real and valuable.

UNFORTUNATELY, the Obama administration and much of the international community still messianically thinks that immediate establishment of a Palestinian state must be diligently pursued via pressure on Israel, regardless of the circumstances or the complete lack of interest in implementing such a scheme on the part of the Palestinians.

To this end, some are even considering a UN Security Council resolution in 2016 that would gut Resolution 242 (“negotiated” borders and security) and instead attempt to dictate the parameters of, and an imposed timetable for, Israeli withdrawal. Others already are seeking to pressure and isolate Israel via labeling schemes, scolding speeches, and boycotts.

But for people claiming to be friends of Israel, this path must be rejected. The confidence that precipitous Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank will magically create peace is unfounded. It is a belief that must be called blind to reality and hostile to the security of Israel. It runs contrary to the experience-based views of the vast majority of Israelis and Israeli political leaders. It is not consistent with friendship for the Jewish state.

What the world ought to be doing instead is helping to close the “peace gap.” By this I mean helping Palestinian leaders bring their own constituency towards the levels of compromise and moderation that Israeli leaders have successfully achieved in Israel.

Consider the following: As the result of an intensive political-educational process, Israelis have shifted their views tremendously over the past thirty years. They’ve gone from denying the existence of a Palestinian people to recognition of Palestinian peoplehood and national aspirations; and from insisting on exclusive Israeli sovereignty and control of Judea, Samaria and Gaza to acceptance of a demilitarized and peaceful Palestinian state in these areas.

Israel has also withdrawn all-together from Gaza, and allowed a Palestinian government to assume authority over 95 percent of West Bank residents. Israel has made the Palestinian Authority three concrete offers for full-fledged Palestinian statehood over more than 90 percent of the territory of the West Bank (which were rejected by Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas).

By contrast, the Palestinians have utterly failed to move themselves away from rejectionism and towards peace with Israel. Many Palestinian political and religious figures still deny the historic ties of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, and refuse to accept the legitimacy of Israel’s existence in the Middle East as a Jewish state. They continue to demand the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in pre-1967 Israel as a way of swamping and destroying the Jewish state.

They support and glorify Palestinian suicide-bombers, missile launchers, shooters and stabbers against Israel’s civilian population, including the bludgeoning to death of pregnant Jewish mothers in their homes. The Palestinian airwaves and newspapers are filled with viciously anti-Semitic and bloodthirsty propaganda. Palestinian leaders crisscross the globe and lobby every international institution to condemn, vilify, criminalize and isolate Israel.

So there is an enormous gap between the two peoples in their readiness for peace. It is just not true that both Israelis and Palestinians are equally ready to accept one other and to compromise with each other. It is not true that both sides are ready to make difficult sacrifices for peace. There is no ‘balance’ here.

THE TRUTH is that the Palestinians are light years away from being ready to settle amicably with Israel, whereas Israelis are desperately eager to cut a fair deal with the Palestinians.

This asymmetry cuts to the core of the conflict, and explains why PA leaders have religiously reused to re-enter direct and unconditional peace talks with Israel over the past five years. They know that in real peace talks they too would have to compromise, and they know that neither they nor their constituency is ready to do so.

What is now needed is an intensive and sustained peace education plan in the PA-controlled West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The hearts and minds of average Palestinians have to be prepared for peace through a completely different set of messages.

Incitement against Israel and the glorification of violence against Israel – has to end. Denial of the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel (and especially to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount) has to be replaced by a nuanced, albeit difficult, recognition of the Zionist dream that goes all the way back to the Bible. The radicalization and the radical Islamicization of the Palestinian national movement must be checked.

Without a serious attempt to address the peace gap, any new diplomatic initiatives will fail. They sink into the quicksand of Palestinian rejectionism. They will plunge into the peace gap.

The international community ought to be rolling-back Palestinian maximalism, not chopping-away at Israeli conservatism. Modest diplomacy that avoids incautious demands for “two-states now,” and which pushes for real Palestinian peace education, is the only realistic way to move towards Israeli-Palestinian accommodation.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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