In the next month, which so appropriately will bring to Jews all over the world our “from slavery to liberation” holiday, some crucial decisions will have to be made in the Holy Land. Both by the Israelis and the Palestinians; by Benjamin Netanyahu and by Mahmoud Abbas. Will they stand up and deliver their people from slavery, and from endless conflict, war, occupation and terrorism – you name it – to freedom and liberty? The long road is getting shorter, and the margin of error is getting narrower. And the upcoming days, counting to the end of the ninth-month-period, designated originally to achieve a final peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, will fall off the calendar one by one faster than you can say Passover.
Full disclosure: two matters I need to state upfront. One: though I’m a longtime supporter of the “Two-State Solution,” it’s been a while now – and the regular readers of this blog can attest to that – since I all but gave up on the possibility of that solution becoming a reality. (You can read my talking points from a presentation I gave on the subject “The Two-State Solution, Dead or Alive?” posted under “Notes,” or read previous blog posts on the topic.) But I have to hand it to John Kerry: his tenacity and determination made a renewed believer, albeit a skeptical one, out of me. Two: the notion that it’s now or never. In other words: the two sides better reach an agreement this time, or they will never do so, due mainly to facts on the ground. Now again, since I thought that it was too late from the get go, I’m a prime candidate to subscribe to that very notion as well. And indeed, I do believe it is quite true. Almost. Or never say never. Things can still happen in the future, however unlikely they may seem to us now.
Let’s see how and why; who and what. We will start with Netanyahu, and not because he is an Israeli, and Passover is a Jewish holiday, but because he comes to these negotiations, and to these days of decision from a position of strength. To begin with, he is at the top of his game politically, and holds in his hands most of the cards in this high-stake poker game. Secondly, he has the Israeli army on his side, with no one to threaten its overpowering strength and advantage in the Middle East. Period. And thirdly, he and his settlers are sitting pretty in the territory the Palestinians call home, and yearn to see as their future sate. The hard decisions that Netanyahu, as the true leader of his people, needs to make are – surprisingly – only two: One, give up on your belated demand that the Palestinian side will recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And the second, agree to divide Jerusalem, keep the larger part of West Jerusalem and other surrounding areas as the capital of Israel, and enable the Palestinians to have East Jerusalem as their capital.
Sound too difficult? Of course, but not insurmountable. As to the first one, it is a deal-breaker; Abbas will not sign a deal demanding that of him. I wish, personally, that he would; but that’s beside the point. And the point is: Israel, by law of the Knesset is defined as a “Jewish and democratic state.” Do we need the Palestinians to approve that, too? No, we don’t; certainly if it will break the deal. The Palestinians have a legitimate concern for the Arab citizens of Israel (21% of the population or so), who are not Jewish. The UN partition resolution 181, which had set the original framework for solving the conflict, already certified it as a state for the Jewish people. Other Israeli leaders did not demand that from Egypt and Jordan when they had signed peace agreements with these Arab countries. And no other Israeli leader, in previous negotiations with the Palestinians, had made such a similar demand. It does look, the more one examines it, as indeed a “rabbit out of the hat” kind of a thing, meant to derail the peace negotiations. Give up on it, Mr. Netanyahu, and you will be more than half way toward a final peace agreement. Israel for the Israelis; Palestine for the Palestinians – that is the right equation!
As for Jerusalem, according to the experts – patriot Israelis I’m talking about here – the city is divided de facto (in spite of all the efforts by Israel and American Jews to reverse that predicament). Close to 300.000 Palestinians live in the eastern part of the city, while some 500,000 Israelis live in the western part. With some exceptions, of course, due to the efforts by Israel to evacuate Arabs from their homes and replace them with Jews, and build new homes for the settlers. (“Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, told a news conference that Israeli policies bore “unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing”.) Why not make it official, then? Do you want to have a Palestinian mayor in the united Jerusalem in ten years, Mr. Netanyahu? No, you don’t. So secure in the coming agreement access to the Temple Mount, and International regime controlling it, and of course keep the Western Wall in Israel hands. Again – do the right thing, if you want to end the conflict.
As for Abbas and the Palestinians, they have also two decision to make. One: give up on the “right of return” demand. It won’t work and it won’t fly. Even your friends in the Arab League of nations had realized that already. Settle for monetary compensations, and give them the right to settle in what would be the new Palestinian state. Two: understand and respect Israel’s security concerns in the Jordan Valley, and be flexible on that; a year more or a year less, more Israeli troops or less of them, you’ll get your state in return. Because, quite surprisingly, it does seem that all the other issues, chiefly among them the borders and the settlers, are solvable in comparison. Swaps of land; swaps of citizenship – solution to these problems will be found and will be accomplished. Those that need to be moved, will be moved; those preferred to stay, let them stay. There are Arabs/Palestinians living in Israel, citizens of the state, even if mostly feeling like second citizens. Give them the right and opportunity to stay in Israel, or move to Palestine; and the same opportunity give the Jewish settlers in the new Palestinian state: stay and become Palestinian citizens, or leave.
What cannot be compromise on, and what cannot be borrowed from other leaders in the world, is your own courage and leadership. Be your people’s Moses, Netanyahu – and you Abbas, too – and make the courageous decision to cross the great divide, the desert of endless war, and bring your people home to the land of peace.
* Published originally on “The Times of Israel.”
** “Leave a comment” link is the last tag below, in blue.
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