Yossi Klein Halevi writes that Israel Is Resilient but Watchful--in the face of the current wave of protests in the Middle East. The overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt raises questions about the wisdom of land-for-peace agreements with dictators--making the idea of such an agreement with Syria's Assad that much less palatable--
Israelis are asking a similar question about Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is widely resented by Palestinians as corrupt and represents at best only part of his people. Why negotiate a land for peace agreement with an unelected, one-party government? Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad is the first Palestinian leader to place economic growth before ideology, but he lacks a political base. In a time of regional change, Israelis are even more reluctant to risk irreversible strategic concessions for a deal that may well lack popular legitimacy.Under such conditions, a second Palestinian state--especially under the control of Fatah and Hamas--would only add to the instability of the region.
But Netanyahu has to do something, if nothing else--then to demonstrate that Israel is part of the 'democratic spirit' that is sweeping across the Middle East:
The least dangerous way for Israel to communicate that message is by declaring an open-ended building freeze in the settlements. That freeze would not include Jerusalem. No government—left, right or center—would stop building in East Jerusalem's existing Jewish neighborhoods. But a freeze should be unilateral—without expectation of reciprocity from the Palestinians. At the same time Israel should transfer control to the Palestinian Authority of more of the West Bank, and continue encouraging economic growth there.This of course will have a cascading effect internally in terms of the current political situation:
Mr. Netanyahu cannot impose another freeze while maintaining his present coalition. So he should seriously examine the new offer of opposition leader Tzipi Livni to form a unity government between the prime minister's Likud party and Kadima. A combination of policies—military restraint, an unconditional settlement freeze, realism regarding a Palestinian state—will express the resolve and sobriety of the Israeli public.If only Abbas and the Palestinian Authority were in the mood to make a similar move to illustrate that they too have caught the 'democratic spirit'.
For its part, Israel's Disengagement from Gaza is not even just a memory--it is forgotten in a world that insists on newer--and more 'courageous'--unilateral concessions in the interest of a peace that no one wants to be pinned down in having to describe.
You have to ask whether a freeze will be received any differently.
This is a different Israel, with a different Bibi Netanyahu then we saw when he first took office in 1996. He has openly accepted the idea of a Palestinian state. Netanyahu spoke about building up the West Bank economically before people were talking about the Fayyad Plan. The Muslim world is in a state of flux now too. We don't know where all this is heading, but there is movement, and old conceptions have some catching up to do.
Meanwhile, Ari Shavit of Haaretz suggests that Israel needs to catch up with the reality that come September--the UN is likely to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank:
At that moment, every Israeli apartment in Jerusalem's French Hill neighborhood will become illegal. Every military base in the West Bank will be contravening the sovereignty of an independent UN member state. The Palestinians will not be obligated to accept demilitarization and peace and to recognize the occupation.Shavit is concerned that Netanyahu and Barak will channel Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan who in 1973 did not react to the growing threat of war and were caught unprepared. As it is, in the middle of the current unrest in the Middle East, there is no way to resolve the issue of a second Palestinian state peacefully--at the same time, there is no way to preserve the status quo either. A creative solution is required.
Shavit, not surprisingly, sees the two-state solution as the key:
Israel declares that, if the Palestinians agree to a complete demilitarization, true mutual recognition, significant border amendments and a total end to the conflict, Israel will end the occupation peacefully.But what if Abbas will not accept Israel's offer? Shavit has thought of that too--Israel should go and withdraw anyway:
Also, Israel declares that if it emerges that the Palestinians are not accepting these basic conditions, it will have to act unilaterally.But wait! There's more:
In this case, too, the aim will be decisive: and end to the occupation. But in this case, the way to ending the occupation will be long. In the absence of a Palestinian partner for peace, the Israeli withdrawal will have to be gradual and phased. It will entail getting the approval and backing of the international community.
A realistic Israeli initiative would immediately hand over to the Palestinians sizable chunks of the West Bank while evacuating about 20 isolated settlements. In this way, Israel will prove its seriousness and the Palestinians will be challenged. They will be able to establish a state on 70 percent of the West Bank without ideological concessions they can't yet make. They will be able to advance the process championed by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad before they are compelled to make difficult historic decisions.
But this not enough. The Israeli initiative must offer a gradual withdrawal to the separation line in the West Bank in exchange for recognition of that line as an interim border between Israel and Palestine. The separation line must be the border until peace is made.This is Shavit's idea of a "creative solution"?
Only if the same answer is applied to every situation.
Is it really effective to threaten Abbas that if he doesn't agree to our conditions for a Palestinian state--we're going to pull out and create on anyway?
When Israel turns over those "sizable chunks" of land will the Palestinian Arabs be 'challenged' the same way they were 'challenged' by the Disengagement?
Can Israel really bank on Fayyad being around long enough--or even have the necessary support if he is--to make these concessions work?
If peace is not made, is the separation line a suitable and safe border?
Both Halevi and Shavit see the challenges facing Israel in the Middle East and the UN
Both men see the need for Israel to do something, and not just sit and wait.
Both men agree that the 'something' has to be some kind of unilateral concession.
Both men see the current situation as justifying positions they have already taken.
Back in October, Halevi was writing that a settlement freeze is essential:
For all the ambivalence toward the settlements, there is good reason why the Israeli government should heed Defense Minister Barak’s advice and extend a settlement freeze. If nothing else, a freeze would prove that the obstacle to Middle East agreement isn’t the settlements—blueprints exist, after all, for resolving the settlement issue in a comprehensive peace agreement—but the more basic refusal of the Palestinian leadership to accept the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty over any part of the land.Neither is Shavit now proposing withdrawal for the first time. Not only that, back in 2007 Shavit wrote about the importance of Sderot as an argument for withdrawal:
Indeed, it is the litmus test that will teach us in real time what we can expect in the future when we withdraw completely. This being the case, Sderot should have been the apple of the eye of all those preaching withdrawal in the past, and of everyone who still believes in withdrawal. Sderot should have been the city of peace writers and peace singers and peace industrialists. A "peace now" city. A city of Israeli solidarity. A city of mutual responsibility. A city where strong Israelis stand together with Israelis who are less strong in the face of Islamic zealotry.Maybe Shavit hasn't noticed, but Sderot is still not "the city of peace".
The challenges Israel is not facing are undeniable--and both Halevi and Shavit offer what in their view are proper responses to those challenges.
But keep in mind that they were suggesting the same thing before the current wave of protests in the Middle East and before Abbas threatened to go to the UN.
Technorati Tag: Middle East and Settlements and Protests and Occupation.