Winter is Coming

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No post coming out of  the Middle East this weekend can ignore the winter storm that hit the region. Ignoring the petty conflicts of men, mother nature put on a rare display, supplying beautiful images, but also leaving some damage in its wake. As a white and clean layer of snow began to cover the ground in Jerusalem and Ramallah, reality was put on hold, matters of importance temporarily forgotten.

As the ice begins to thaw though, reality kicks in, and as much as Prime Minister Netanyahu would prefer to talk about the weather – there are decisions that need to be made. Gathering from the “optimism” coming out of the Israeli government these days regarding the talks with the Palestinians, we’re in for more winter storms.

Here’s a recap for those who missed out:

Israeli Defense Minister, Moshe Ya’alon: “As someone who supported the Oslo peace process, I’m learning that on the other side we have no partner for two states for two people. There is no one on the other side.”(Jerusalem Post, 12.8.13)

Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman: “We are at a dead end…there may have been something dramatic that I don’t know about. My feeling is that there is great desire but I don’t think it’s possible…we are not even close to a deal, not even an interim one. That is my estimate.”(Ynet News, 12.7.13)

So we have the two most senior government officials, after Prime Minister Netanyahu that is, publicly declaring that the current talks with the Palestinians are hopeless, will culminate in nothing, and are being conducted with Palestinians who can in no way be defined as partners for peace.

The message conveyed by these government officials runs counter to their own government’s policy, as articulated by Netanyahu, which is that the Palestinian Authority under Abu Mazen is a legitimate partner for peace talks. Their comments are far from being constructive and only add to the already tenuous atmosphere, which also makes me question whether they themselves can be deemed “partners” for peace.

These statements also strike me as being slightly off track, or at least partially untrue. The Palestinian Authority is weak and fairly corrupt, but it is also populated by officials who are relatively moderate and reasonably realistic. These officials are currently negotiating with Israel, in peace talks sponsored by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. They are negotiating even while Israel’s government expands settlements on territory that will have to be part of the future state of Palestine for it to be at all viable. If we can’t talk with Abu Mazen, who once said that he has no right to live in Safed, the place of his birth,  and that he has no territorial claims on pre-1967 territory (The Times of Israel, 1.11.12) then hey – we might as well pack up and leave.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m skeptical about these peace talks, and I’m skeptical that a final agreement can be reached in the near future. Nevertheless, I think that among the Palestinians, there are partners for peace. Peace is not made between best buddies, but between enemies.

But let’s say that Ya’alon and Lieberman, and the many members of the Likud Party who share his view, are entirely correct – Israel has no partner. If this is the case, I have a revolutionary suggestion for Netanyahu – why not offer the Palestinians most of what the international community wants it to offer, and what both sides know is the general outline of any future agreement: 100 percent of the West Bank, with appropriate land swaps so that the large settlement blocs could remain part of Israel; a capital in East Jerusalem; and the symbolic right of return, and compensation, for the descendants of Palestinian refugees.

If the Palestinian Authority is indeed no partner for peace – or in other words, if it is not actually seeking an equitable two-state solution, but is seeking instead Israel’s destruction — then what harm could come from such an Israeli offer? The Palestinians would certainly reject it. They would never agree to stop making claims against Israel, which would be one condition of an internationally recognized peace deal. They would never agree to a state that included only the West Bank (and Gaza) because such a state is not their goal.

Such an offer would actually benefit Israel in many ways. Most of the world already endorses the idea of a Palestinian state centered on the West Bank, and much of the world blames Israel for blocking the birth of such a state. Israel could, in a single moment, shift the narrative entirely, placing the onus for the continued impasse on the Palestinians. And if Ya’alon and Lieberman are correct, there would be no danger whatsoever that the Palestinians would accept the deal.

But no. The Netanyahu government will not take up my suggestion simply because it is not particularly brave. Because doing this will cause the settlers and their sympathizers, who represent a core constituency of the ruling coalition, to erupt in fury. And most importantly, they will not follow my suggestion because secretly, the Netanyahu government understands that some Palestinians might, in fact, be ready for such a historic compromise.

P.S

Credit must be given to Prime Minister Netanyahu for scrapping the Prawer Plan that was meant to solve the issue of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. Highly controversial, I described why the plan should not proceed here

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