Palestinian Statehood Could Be Escape Strategy

Israel Needs a Plan Beyond Years of Stalling on Talks

Opening for Peace: Israel fought the Palestinian bid for statehood tooth and nail. But a new statehood bid could be a chance to push peace forward, to everyone’s benefit.
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Opening for Peace: Israel fought the Palestinian bid for statehood tooth and nail. But a new statehood bid could be a chance to push peace forward, to everyone’s benefit.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published August 14, 2012, issue of August 17, 2012.
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In a conversation over breakfast in New York, where he was touting his ideas in early August, Ayalon focused mostly on the settlers. He calls them Israeli “heroes”: By putting their lives on the line and going where various Israeli governments sent them on the other side of the 1967 lines, they helped force the Arab world to recognize Israel within the 1967 lines. Now he thinks their job is done, and Israel should start the process of helping them come home: setting up a massive resettlement fund, planning new neighborhoods in Israel proper, creating jobs — all the things that weren’t done for the settlers evacuated from Gaza in 2005.

By starting the process of evacuating the areas beyond the de facto border created by the security fence, he says, Israel will show its serious intention to reach a genuine two-state peace. By keeping its soldiers in place until a deal is signed, it shows its determination that the peace must be genuine.

To be honest, I don’t see how this Israeli government is likely to start a unilateral process of evacuating settlers while it’s hard at work expanding the settlements. Ayalon doesn’t seem to have an answer to that one. He approaches the issues as a strategist, not a politician. Before he was a spymaster he was a career soldier, rising through the naval commandos to chief of the Israeli navy. He now teaches counter-terrorism strategy at the University of Haifa. His approach to winning over the political arena seems to be saying what he thinks and hoping for the best.

It seems equally unlikely that the Obama administration will take a politically risky step like endorsing a Palestinian U.N. bid between now and September 27, when Abbas is scheduled to address the General Assembly. It’s conceivable that it could do so after the November 6 election. Some pro-Israel conservatives suspect Obama is waiting to do just that. There’s a group within the Palestinian leadership that favors delaying the actual General Assembly vote on their bid until November, in hopes that Obama will then be free to act. The Palestinians who work most closely with the Americans seem to think there’s no chance of that happening..

Even if the administration were considering such a move, holding out until November wouldn’t allow them to participate in the drafting of the resolution. Getting it to say what it must in order to do some good would require a lot of arm twisting and table pounding, and that sort of thing couldn’t be kept secret.

On the other hand, somebody else could play that role. Somebody like Britain, for example. The Brits have credibility with Israelis and Palestinians alike, excellent ties with Washington and a permanent seat on the Security Council. The Conservative government of David Cameron also has forged good ties with the Romney campaign and could begin laying the groundwork there in the event that the Republican wins in November. Looking back at the history of the region over the past century, one could reasonably argue that they got us into this mess, and now is their chance to get us out of it.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


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