Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right, er, I mean correct. He recently reiterated his willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians—without preconditions—and identified the core problem. “Until the Palestinians recognize our right to exist as a national state, no matter what the borders, and until they declare that the conflict is over, there will not be peace,” Netanyahu said. “Unless these things happen, even if we reach an agreement, it will serve to keep the conflict going by other means.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes his speech in front of a poster of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin during a meeting of his Likud party's Central Committee on September 25, 2005 in Tel Aviv. (David Silverman / Getty Images)
These comments demonstrate that his late father was not the only Netanyahu who knew his history. While Israel has made its own mistakes and presented its own obstacles in the way of peace, these shortcoming do not compare to the ongoing, systematic refusal reflected in much Palestinian discourse and throughout much of the Arab world to accept Israel’s basic right to exist.
This Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state derailed the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, which proposed dividing the contested area into a Jewish and Arab entity, with Jerusalem internationalized. In his important but often overlooked book “Palestine Betrayed,” Professor Efraim Karsh notes that many moderate Palestinian Arabs who had good working relationships and friendships with Palestinian Jews (both sides were Palestinians then), were betrayed in 1947 and 1948 by their extremist leaders. Anti-Semitic fanatics like Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, rejected any compromise and violently bullied many moderates, leading to war.
This broader Arab refusal to recognize the Jewish state led to the three nos of Khartoum, following the 1967 Israeli victory. The message was clear: no to negotiation, no to recognition, no to compromise.
I spent last Tuesday night in Tel Aviv at an Intelligence Squared debate on the topic: “If Israel continues on its current course, it cannot remain a democratic Jewish state.” We argued yes; our opponents—who included former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman—argued no.
The responsibility for Israel’s continued control of the West Bank, Gillerman insisted, rests largely with the Palestinians. Israel, he declared, has already produced five “De Klerks”—Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert—leaders willing to cede land and midwife a Palestinian state. But the Palestinians have not yet produced “a Mandela,” a leader truly dedicated to nonviolence and the two state solution.
This photograph, taken on May 1, 2013, shows a tent in the Palestinian village of Susiya in the southern West Bank. (Peter Beinart)
Put aside the fact that by Gillerman’s standards, Nelson Mandela—a man who for decades advocated armed struggle in pursuit of a one state solution—wasn’t a “Mandela” either. Or that Sharon’s chief of staff, Dov Weisglass, famously argued that his boss’s decision to dismantle settlements in the Gaza Strip was designed to “prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.” What gobsmacked me was the analogy itself. To suggest that Israel needs “De Klerks” and the Palestinians need “Mandelas” is to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa. If an elected official or Jewish leader served up that analogy in the United States, they’d likely find themselves looking for work. When Jimmy Carter used the term in his 2006 book, Peace or Apartheid—despite insisting that he was referring only to the West Bank and not Israel proper—the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman called him “bigoted.” For using the far-less incendiary phrase “Jewish lobby,” Chuck Hagel almost lost his bid to run the Pentagon earlier this year.
But here was a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. using the analogy casually. And Gillerman is not alone. In 2010, Ehud Barak predicted that “If…millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.” In 2007, Ehud Olmert warned that “when the two state solution collapses” Israel will “face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights.”
Let me absolutely clear: I do not think Israel is an apartheid state. Inside its original boundaries, Israel offers Palestinians citizenship and the right to vote. There are Palestinian citizens in the Knesset and on Israel’s Supreme Court. None of this was true in apartheid South Africa. As I’ve written, and argued countless times, calling Israel an apartheid state debases the term because if Israel deserves to be tarred with this unique epithet, various other Middle Eastern countries deserve it more.
Most observers agree that if the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” is still alive it is on life support with the plug half hanging out of the socket. Last year’s vote at the United Nations, when most of the world opposed the United States’ position and voted for Palestinian statehood, was an international referendum on U.S. mediation. It is undeniable, more than two decades after the Oslo accords, that new thinking is urgently needed.
So what new thinking does John Kerry, the newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State, come up with in an effort to break through the stalemate? He’s decided to dig up the now 11-year-old Arab Peace Initiative and modify some of its language to—of all things—appease the Israelis.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on April 09, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Matty Ster / U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv via Getty Images)
The Arab Peace Initiative was never, despite some recent reporting, “revolutionary”. In fact, the Arab Peace Initiative merely recalled well established international law and resolutions as a basis for a peace agreement. Having always rejected international law as terms for peace, Israel too rejected the Arab Peace Initiative.
Most absurd, however, is the renewed effort to change language in the Arab Peace Initiative to accommodate Israeli colonial behavior. Kerry sought and received statements from Arab foreign ministers regarding “land swaps” as part of a territorial agreement. After this, Kerry hailed the statement he’d been working to secure as a “very big step forward.”
If this is a step in any direction it is indeed a step backwards. PLO negotiators, the same party recognized by the Arab League, have long embraced the notion of land swaps. In fact, as leaked documents in the Palestine Papers archive show, land swaps were thoroughly discussed in negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis then led by Ehud Olmert. The problem was that when Palestinian negotiators objected to the extent of additional Palestinian land the Israelis wanted to keep, the U.S. representatives acted as an enforcer for the Israeli position. Then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice responded to Ahmed Qurei’s objection to Israel keeping Ma’ale Addumim, a massive colony deep inside the West Bank, by saying “Then you won’t have a state!”
Every single way the U.S. can possibly intervene in Syria has its own pitfalls. The cliché has almost never been more true: there are no good options. The full range of interventions being discussed—from a no-fly zone to arming rebels to securing Syrian chemical weapons—each holds perilous risks. And no end-game for any sort of involvement has yet been outlined by proponents of American action. While some advocates of intervention are frank about these risks, they see work-arounds; some of the most prominent hawks, though, won't even take public stock of the dangers.
Win McNamee / Getty Images
Take John McCain. McCain literally phoned it in to a CNN panel discussion this week where he acknowledged virtually no potential drawbacks, and minimized any risks of intervention. The commentator Andrew Sullivan harried McCain about the risks of war, recalling Iraq. But McCain flatly dismissed him, pointing instead to testimony by top military brass "that we can take out Syrian air on the ground with cruise missiles, and we can defend a safe area with Patriot missiles and other weapons." Citing the brass is fine on a no-fly zone, but when it came to the Pentagon's estimation that tens of thousands of ground troops would be needed for securing chemical weapons sites, McCain was again dismissive: "By the way, 75,000 is a gross exaggeration as the Pentagon tends to do"—though McCain didn't offer any lesser estimate, which would have been at odds with his avowed position of having no troops in Syria. Sullivan again, and rightly, raised Iraq, where McCain went along with the Bush administration in bucking the Pentagon's recommendations for force size and failed to articulate any risks of the war going in; it was supposed to be a cakewalk. Sullivan pointed out that we all know how that movie ended.
Nonetheless, pressing for a no-fly zone is not an entirely unreasonable position. The most clear case for a no-fly zone was made by former Marine aviator Scott Cooper in the Washington Post. Cooper didn't shy away from enumerating risks: robust Syrian air defense systems; pilots potentially being shot down; the lack of an end-game strategy; and the "slippery slope of escalated military involvement." But he recounted the narrow aims of a no-fly zone: "Its purpose is not to resolve the conflict but to prevent escalation, protect innocents and provide leverage to negotiations," Cooper wrote. "In essence, a no-fly zone takes away a single tool of violence—the use of aviation—possessed by the oppressor." Cooper pointed to Bosnia as an example of a successful no-fly zone. But here he and McCain come up short.
On April 28, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported that Hojjat al-Islam Mehdi Taeb, a senior Iranian cleric close to Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, recently said that the Jews are the most powerful sorcerers in the world today, and that they have used their powers to attack Iran. Believe it or not, Taeb is not entirely incorrect. Certain fringe elements of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Israel do, in fact, engage in rituals pleading for divine wrath to be inflicted upon the enemies of the Jewish people. Perhaps luckily for Taeb, though, those targeted so far have been Israelis, not Iranians. Besides, the theological basis for such incantations is dubious at best.
As recently as April 10, a Jewish "death curse" known as the Pulsa Dinura (Aramaic for "lashes of fire") was directed at an Israeli politician—in this case, Israeli Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett. Bennett was ostensibly chosen because of his role in governmental reforms that will likely end the longstanding policy of exempting the ultra-Orthodox from service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The anonymous letter bluntly warned:
You will die. The Pulsa Dinura has been done to you... Already you will have no peace at home... A bitter life awaits you. From this day your life is ruined... It is better not to mess with Torah sages... Just one tear of theirs is enough to paralyze you for life. [You are] one who caused grief to the ultra-Orthodox and rose to prominence, but in the end you will be like Sharon.
Naftali Bennett, head of the Israeli hardline national religious party, Jewish Home, looks over during the first high-tech conference for Israel's Haredi Sector, on January 15, 2013, in Jerusalem. (Gali Tibbon / AFP/ Getty Images)
The mention of "Sharon" is a reference to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was a recipient of the Pulsa Dinura in July 2005, about six months prior to the debilitating stroke he suffered in January 2006. The Pulsa Dinura was also aimed at former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in November 1995, less than a month before his assassination at the hands of the Jewish terrorist Yigal Amir. Both Sharon and Rabin were targeted for the Pulsa Dinura by Jewish extremists because of their planned land-based concessions to the Palestinians.
"I hear them as if they are in my room."
--Danny Awad, a Beirut resident, Tweeted what many Lebanese reported: An Israeli military operation yesterday in Lebanon.
- High Court orders Defense Ministry to halt construction of part of West Bank barrier - The High Court put a wall in Defense Ministry's path to building the separation barrier around Batir, after villagers and environmentalists successfully argued it would damage ancient agricultural terraces. (Haaretz+)
- Watch: Settlers avenge Borovsky's death - Palestinian villagers documented settlers' vandalism following Tapuach murder Tuesday; videos feature masked settlers hurling stones at houses. (Ynet+VIDEO)
- Brother of stabbing suspect 'arrested in Israeli raid' - Israeli forces detained the brother of a man accused of killing a settler near Nablus on Thursday, the prisoners center in Ramallah reported. Soldiers raided Muhammad al-Zaghal's house in Shweikeh village in Tulkarem, beating him before he was arrested. (Maan)
- Secret meeting between Lapid and Adelson suggests shifting alliances, draws criticism - After heavily attacking Sheldon Adelson, owner of the pro-Netanyahu newspaper Israel Hayom, during the recent election, the finance minister met with him secretly two weeks ago, as first reported on in Al-Monitor. (Haaretz+)
- Israeli court orders demolition of part of mosque in Jerusalem - An Israeli court has rejected an appeal to stop the demolition of part of a mosque in Ras al-Amoud in East Jerusalem, the mosque's imam says. (Maan)
- Israeli tanks and bulldozers enter Beit Hanoun in Gaza - Witnesses told Ma'an that several Israeli military vehicles crossed 300 meters into a border area near Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza, searching and digging the lands. (Maan)
- Gaza rocket fire at Negev resumes - Rocket or mortar shell launched from Gaza Strip hits Eshkol Regional Council; no injuries or damage reported. (Ynet)
- Hamas arrests six Islamist extremists in Gaza - Statement by the Gaza government comes days after an IAF airstrike killed a Salafi said responsible for recent rocket attack on southern Israel. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- IDF still doesn’t know who fired recent drone - More than a week after the Israeli air force shot down an incoming drone off the coast of Haifa, the question marks surrounding it have been proliferating. (Haaretz+)
I get the exhaustion that everyone feels each time reports of “new” efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians together emerges. Especially since, as usual, the contradictory statements of Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans make for a confounding experience. But having said that, and while certainly there are plenty of suspicions still in the way, we are at the most opportune moment to restart serious talks in the last five or six years, if not more.
Jim Watson / AFP-Getty Images
Obama’s recent trip to the Middle East is now paying dividends. Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing hard to create the conditions for a return to negotiations, while the Arab League has revised its Arab Peace Initiative to be more flexible to meet Israel’s demands. More importantly, the political winds in Israel seem to be blowing in the same direction: members of Israel’s government have accepted the change and called for Jerusalem to begin negotiations (not unexpectedly Tzipi Livni, but even the Prime Minister’s Office and Netanyahu himself have hinted at the moment); Labor has publicly stated its willingness to serve as a safety net should the coalition fall on account of real negotiations; and the opposition in the Israeli Knesset has done what it should have been doing all along—critiqued the official government policy and pushed back against it.
Lots of work remains to be done, of course, to overcome serious obstacles. These include: Israel’s insistence on being recognized as a Jewish state; Yair Lapid’s ambivalence on the peace process; the inability to mobilize Israeli public opinion on the issue; Hamas; events in Syria and or Iran; a deflation of will in the Obama Administration in the face of resistance from the Israeli or Palestinian governments; and timidity on Mahmoud Abbas’s part.
The nature of the pro-Israel lobby’s influence on the American political system has been raised again this year by senatorial confirmation hearings, policy conferences, sequestration, and White House initiatives. This influence is typically attributed to campaign contributions, but this view is unsophisticated. The power of the pro-Israel lobby is, in fact, defined by the dominance of various pro-Israel narratives in American culture.
President Barack Obama shakes hands with board members after addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual policy conference. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
The standard line that pro-Israel sentiment is defined by dollar signs is easily refuted. The two largest pro-Israel contributors—the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and J-Street—together approximated $3.25 million in lobbying in 2012. While this sounds substantial, it’s a meager .09 percent of the total $3.28 billion spent on overall political lobbying that year.
America’s most tangible contribution to Israel is the annual $3 billion dollars in military aid that Israel subsequently spends, largely in the American defense sector. The biggest vested interests in these expenditures are well-known, and their lobbying contributions many times over exceed that of pro-Israel organizations. Boeing and Lockheed Martin spent $15 million each on lobbying in 2012.
"It's like summoning the police and then getting billed for it."
--Israeli Arab citizen Osama Halihal, whose car was set on fire by Jewish extremists, on the bill he get from the Fire and Rescue Dept.
- Israeli military court releases three Palestinians illegally arrested near Hebron - WATCH: Palestinian man films soldiers making the arrests for being on disputed land in the West Bank; court says a soldier who attacked one of the men could face charges. (Haaretz+ + VIDEO)
- Report: Settlers start over 50 fires in West Bank -Palestinian civil defense report said firefighters dealth with 57 fires set by settlers. Hundreds of olive and almond trees were damaged and large areas of cultivated crops were destroyed. The settler attacks were revenge following the fatal stabbing of a settler south of Nablus. (Maan)
- Israeli military vehicles enter border area inside Gaza - Seven Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered a border area in the southern Gaza Strip near Khan Younis on Wednesday and destroyed agricultural land, including trees. (Maan)
- Foreign Ministry initiating 'PR Attack' on Hispanics in the US - Prime Minister Netanyahu, who serves as Foreign Minister, decided to put emphasis on getting closer to biggest minority in the US, some 52 million people. Already the ministry is working with Spanish-speaking locals at Israeli consulates. (Maariv, p. 1/NRG Hebrew)
- Israel to release 2 hunger strikers early - An Israeli military court has reduced the administrative detention of two hunger-striking prisoners from Jenin by two-weeks. Jaafar Izz al-Din and Tariq Kadan have been on hunger strike for 90 days in protest over being held under administrative detention [detention without charges that is often renewed continuously for years - OH] (Maan)
- Supreme Court hears proposal for 'green' fence along Green Line - Israel's nature authority says a chain-link fence with security systems would balance environmental and security concerns in a West Bank area that could soon be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but environmentalists and Palestinians disagree. (Haaretz+)
- Palestinians poll highest among world's Muslims (justifying) suicide bombings - In most of the 21 countries where the question was asked, few Muslims endorse suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians • 40% of Palestinian Muslims see suicide bombing as often or sometimes justified, while half take opposite view. (Israel Hayom)
In the last eight years, the Israeli government has sought to rebrand Israel as a “liberal haven” for gay rights in an otherwise-homophobic Middle East as a means of increasing tourism and international goodwill. Critics refer to the campaign as “pinkwashing,” an attempt to whitewash the Israeli occupation by focusing on gay and lesbian issues. Many of these critics are queer people themselves, and their movement against Israeli policies is building within the LGBT community. But recent pro-Israel initiatives hope to change that; rather than simply promoting Israeli gay images in the international sphere, these Israel advocates are actually attempting to sanitize LGBTQ spaces of pro-Palestinian activism entirely.
The most recent battleground is Toronto, where Councilman James Pasternak has proposed offering extra money to the Pride parade if the organizers prevent pro-Palestinian group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA) from marching this June. Pasternak had previously attempted to withdraw funding from Pride altogether, claiming QuAIA’s use of the phrase “Israeli Apartheid” constituted hate speech; when that failed, he proposed granting what he calls a “diversity bonus” if Pride keeps QuAIA off the roster. Pasternak’s idea is simple: we straight people will only support you if you exclude any dissenting voices.
A group marches past spectators during the Pride Parade in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people on June 27, 2004 in Toronto, Canada. (Donald Weber / Getty Images)
Unfortunately, this thinking isn’t limited to straight people, and many in the gay community—especially gay Jews—are also attempting to keep LGBT spaces clear of any pro-Palestinian sentiment. Two years ago, a small group of gay Jews successfully campaigned the New York Gay and Lesbian Center from allowing Siege Busters, another pro-Palestinian group, to hold an event, claiming the group’s politics made them feel “unsafe.” As they see it, Israel is a natural “ally” to the gay community—so what does that make pro-Palestinian gays?
The latest twist in the saga over women’s prayer at the Western Wall has seen the Women of the Wall group abandoning its previous support for the Sharansky plan. Tasked with finding a compromise between women’s prayer activists and the (male) Orthodox rabbis who control the Kotel prayer area, Jewish Agency chief Natan Sharansky had proposed expanding and elevating the Robinson’s Arch area—which had already been operating as a smaller and limited-hours egalitarian prayer space since 2004—to make it flush with the Kotel plaza, including a joint entrance.
A recent and groundbreaking Jerusalem District court ruling stating that Women of the Wall can continue to pray as they see fit in the women’s section has led group leader Anat Hoffman to abandon the compromise. “We have three options: to reject Sharansky’s plan, to embrace Sharansky’s plan or to say that right now it is not relevant for Women of the Wall,” Hoffman said, adding that “it’s completely not relevant for us.”
Hoffman’s about-face has left me feeling stung. As a Jewish woman who enjoys leading prayers, chanting from the Torah, singing aloud, and whose custom it is to wear a tallit (prayer shawl), I have championed Women of the Wall’s struggle against the draconian laws governing the public space. I can certainly admit that my personal spiritual needs—when I next find myself at the Kotel—will have been protected by the recent court ruling. But to me there is a yawning gap between the protection of women’s rights to pray undisturbed in the women’s section, and the kind of egalitarian Judaism that deserves to be emboldened, particularly in Israel.
For most PhD researchers, lack of laptop battery power is a minor inconvenience, solved by an awkward exchange with a stranger whose sweater is blocking all the power outlets at the local coffeehouse. Not in Gaza. For Mohammed Omer, a Rafah resident taking a critical eye to factional broadcasting in the Hamas era, the “low battery” beep represents something far more imposing: the decisions of governments near and far. Each day the power goes out across Rafah at some point, with one deeply disturbing exception: the morgue. When desperate enough, Omer pulls up a seat next to his recently deceased neighbors and borrows just enough of their generator’s power supply to continue the work he thinks will ultimately benefit his community.
Palestinian school children do their homework on candle light during a power cut in Gaza City on March 27, 2012. (Mohammed Abed / AFP / Getty Images)
Since 2007, Israel has placed restrictions on what can enter the Gaza Strip, at points going so far as to base food imports on daily calorie calculations for citizens. The list of items allowed into Gaza has increased steadily since 2010 and the cease-fire negotiated to end Israel’s “Pillar of Defense” assault resulted in further liberalization, at least on paper. Nonetheless, prices on basic goods remain inflated and energy in places like Rafah is no less scarce. According to sources in Rafah, much of the Qatari oil that was supposed to enter Gaza as part the agreement remains in limbo at Egyptian-Israeli crossing points. In any case, the materials and resources necessary for daily life, let alone the reconstruction of a space so recently demolished by war, remain scarce.
The fundamental fallacy found in much thinking about Gaza is that the restriction of resources harms the forces of autocracy. The opposite is the case. On the most obvious level, any material deprivation at this juncture will inevitably be associated by a majority of Gazans with the destruction wrought by Israeli bombs, as opposed to the failings of Hamas governance. There are more subtle concerns however. For example, it must be understood that it is Mohammed Omer, not the Hamas minister of information, who must sneak into the morgue to send an email.
I help advise Omer, a twenty-eight year old journalist, in his doctoral studies at Rotterdam University. He has a record of turning a critical eye on all political entities, including Israel, Fatah and Hamas. In 2009, bedridden at a Dutch hospital while recovering from injuries suffered at an Israeli checkpoint, he decided to pursue a PhD. Unable to make media from Gaza, he chose to study and critique it. It’s an important topic with relevance far beyond Gaza.
"He does not need to accept the Initiative as it is. He is not supposed to agree to every article of it. He needs to make a positive sign heard."
--Right-wing Maariv commentator Ben-Dror Yemini calls on his Prime Minister and Israelis to give the newly updated Arab Peace Initiative a chance.
- Palestinian stabbed in Jerusalem, Israeli police say - A Palestinian man was stabbed in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Israeli police said. (Maan)
- Israeli defense minister: Gaza assassination in line with terms of November truce - Moshe Ya'alon says the Gaza militant Haitham Mishal, 24, who was killed by the Israel Air Force on Tuesday was involved in the rocket attack on Eilat two weeks ago. In first assassination since Operation Pillar of Cloud, Yaalon says that Israel has the right to defense itself against terrorism originating in the Gaza Strip. (Haaretz+ and Ynet)
- DFLP brigades 'will respond' to Israeli airstrike - The military wing of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine on Tuesday said it would respond to Israel's assassination of a Palestinian in the Gaza Strip. (Maan)
- Jerusalem yeshiva student arrested after attacking Arabic-speaking detectives - Police are looking for the other four students involved in the attack, the latest of several nationalist-motivated assaults on Arabs. (Haaretz+)
- Minister Ariel: State must fund settlement construction - Habayit Hayehudi member meets with Netanyahu, stresses that party will not support budget if cuts to West Bank settlements are presented. (Ynet and Israel Hayom)
- Pope Francis accepts Peres' invitation to visit Israel - The new pontiff accepts invitation by Israeli president to visit Jerusalem 'with willingness and joy,' says spokesman. (Agencies, Haaretz)
- Iran decries use of chemical arms by anyone in Syria as a 'red line' - Islamic Republic reiterates calls for United Nations to investigate assertions by Assad regime that Syrian insurgents have used chemical weapons, says Damascus government not guilty of such use. (Agencies, Haaretz)
After meetings with top Obama administration officials, a representative of the Arab League appeared to modify the group's historic 2002 Mideast peace plan to include swaps of territory between Israel and the Palestinians that would modify the pre-1967 division between Israeli and Arab lands. Speaking on behalf of the League after talks with John Kerry, Qatari Prime Minister Sheik Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani said, "The Arab League delegation affirmed that agreement should be based on the two-state solution on the basis of the 4th of June 1967 line, with the (possibility) of comparable and mutual agreed minor swap of the land." The language appears to soften the stance of the original proposal, which mentioned the 1967 border but not land swaps. Those swaps would allow Israel to strike a deal without dislodging some of its most populous settlements, many of which are in close proximity to the so-called Green Line.
US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani after a meeting with the Arab League at Blair House in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2013. (Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images)
Israel's top negotiator and Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni, quickly praised the apparent modification by the Arab League, calling the news "very positive": "Israel welcomes the encouragement given by the Arab League delegation and the Secretary of State to the diplomatic process," she said. While Livni's deal to enter Benjamin Netanyahu's ruling coalition made her Israel's lead negotiator, any diplomatic moves by Israel must go through a super-committee dominated by hard-right members of Netanyahu's government, not least of which are members of the Jewish Home party that oppose any Palestinian state whatsoever. How Netanyahu reacts to the Arab League's statements will matter more than what Livni thinks. And, with history as a guide, things are unlikely to go smoothly.
In May 2011, Obama delivered an address in which he laid out exactly the parameters expressed by the Arab League yesterday. "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps," Obama said at the time. Still in the opposition in 2011, Livni backed Obama's call then, too. But it was Netanyahu who reacted badly. He released a statement publicly making demands that Obama clarify the remarks—ignoring the remarks about land swaps that the Arab League echoed yesterday—and said Israel's 1967 borders were "indefensible." He complained that withdrawing to the 1967 borders "would leave major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria"—the West Bank—"beyond those lines." The American pro-Israel right was quick to back up Netanyahu: the L.A.-based Simon Wiesenthal Center went so far as to rehash an old reference to the lines as "Auschwitz borders."
Despite the heroic efforts of the new American Secretary of State John Kerry, the creation of two states for two peoples in Israel and Palestine is looking increasingly unlikely. The resignation of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was last week described as “another nail in the coffin of the two-state solution” by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. It might be the final nail. Moreover, Friedman is not alone. Writing from Pretoria, Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy put forward the suggestion that Palestinians follow the black South Africans in demanding “one person one vote.”
So is it time to start looking for an alternative to the two-state solution?
David Silverman / Getty Images
A majority on the left will reply with a firm no—no, exclamation point—and that is part of the problem. For many years, a majority on the left in Israel has been expressing horror at the very idea of a single state. It has been termed “a disaster,” or “a recipe for perpetual civil war.” It is predicted that the establishment of a state of all its citizens in the area between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean will inevitably lead to a Muslim Arab state.
There are many problems with this way of thinking, which is fundamentally just as anti-Arab as the dogma of the Israeli right. It is perfectly legitimate to want a Jewish state and to point out that this will be difficult to achieve if there is no withdrawal from the West Bank, but there is also an increasingly clear subtext: “Who needs all those additional Arabs?”
Yaakov Katz on what the delivery of advanced Russian missiles would mean for Israel.