Who Stands Against Peace?

Palestinians Are Sounding Reasonable as Israel Drifts Right

getty images

By J.J. Goldberg

Published November 29, 2012, issue of December 07, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

The last days of November 2012 were an awkward time for Israel in the international arena. After years of presenting itself as the reasonable party in the conflict, saddled with a Palestinian negotiating partner that won’t negotiate, its ruling Likud party wound up a two-day Knesset primary vote on November 26 by choosing a slate of candidates dominated by hard-line rightists who oppose Israeli-Palestinian compromise and reject Palestinian statehood.

The next day, Tuesday the 27th, the Palestine Liberation Organization formally asked the United Nations to recognize Palestine as a non-member state “living side by side in peace and security with Israel.” As expected, the proposed state would be set up “on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, with delineation of final borders to be determined in final status negotiations.” The negotiations would let Israel seek border adjustments to protect its airport and preserve its main settlement blocs.

The timing of the two events could hardly be worse from Israel’s point of view. Israel objects to the very idea of the Palestinians asking the United Nations to grant them statehood. According to the 1993 Oslo Accords, Palestine’s ultimate status is to be decided in direct negotiations between them, not by an outside party.

Israeli spokesmen say the Palestinian U.N. gambit is a violation of the 1993 accords. This sounds a bit rich coming from people who’ve spent the last 19 years denouncing the accords as an Israeli “suicide pact,” but that’s politics for you.

More to the point, defining the contours of the Palestinian state “on the basis of the pre-1967 borders” is a poison pill, at least to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. In his view, this pre-empts the biggest question before talks even begin, leaving only details to be negotiated. Netanyahu insists negotiations commence without such preconditions. The Palestinians’ U.N. bid looks like an end run. It lets them come to the table on his terms while the world body watches and keeps score.

However you slice it, the events make for terrible Israeli P.R. Just when the Palestinians are putting their best face forward, asking for international certification of their desire to live peacefully alongside Israel, Israel’s political system adopts a blueprint for a government after the January elections that seemingly has nothing to offer the Palestinians but the back of a fist.

Further complicating Israel’s position, the PLO resolution calls “for a way to be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the capital of two states.” That should be music to Israeli ears. It’s the first formal international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, at least since the handful of embassies once located there decamped for Tel Aviv in the early 1980s. If the holy city’s status were resolved, it would clear the path for America and the other 85 countries with embassies in greater Tel Aviv to end the insult and move their offices to the capital. That is, if Israel were to willing to play ball and allow a Palestinian capital in the city’s eastern half.

That was hard to imagine before the Likud primaries. The complexion of the party’s next Knesset faction, coupled with its new alliance with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, makes it even more unlikely.

It is conceivable that after examining the combined Likud-Beiteinu ticket, Israel’s voters will hand the baton to the center-left, which generally accepts the principles of adjusted 1967 borders and a shared Jerusalem. But the odds are slim. The main opposition leaders seem unable to overcome their oversized egos and present a united front. Besides, polls show the voters are in no mood for big concessions.

The biggest mystery in all this is what Netanyahu actually wants. He’s on record accepting the principle of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. If he means it, the U.N. resolution should be welcome news. Practically speaking, it does nothing more than ratify the principle of statehood and set the table for negotiating the details. Moreover, it gives a boost to Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas and his policy of peaceful coexistence, slowing the momentum of the rejectionist Hamas. Against all that, the technicality of bypassing the Oslo process is small stuff.

But Netanyahu’s position is more complicated than that. Although he embraced the two-state idea in 2009, his government never endorsed it. His Likud party openly opposed it even before the November primary. He’s never tried to win approval from the government or the party. Critics question whether he ever really meant it.

Then there’s the matter of getting to the table. Netanyahu has called since taking office for negotiations without preconditions. Abbas has complained — most recently in a lengthy Yediot Aharonot interview in October — that Netanyahu’s “no preconditions” actually meant dismissing all the progress made in 2008 talks between Abbas and former Israeli leader Ehud Olmert, and starting again from zero. Abbas cried foul and refused. President Barack Obama’s settlement freeze idea was a clumsy attempt to sidestep that impasse.

Netanyahu’s been saying ever since that Abbas refuses to negotiate. That’s technically true. But Israel’s military and intelligence leaders, both past and present, continuously urge Netanyahu to get back to the table, suggesting that they don’t believe Abbas is the problem. Many of them privately say they think Netanyahu simply doesn’t want a deal.

Abbas and Olmert both say they were about two months away from concluding a peace agreement when Olmert was forced from office by a scandal (he was later acquitted). Both sides had made extraordinary concessions. The result was a deal both could live with. The main outstanding issues were the fate of the Jewish West Bank city of Ariel and the precise number of refugees Israel would repatriate in a symbolic, one-time “right of return.”

It’s possible Netanyahu envisions a Palestinian state with far more limited borders than Olmert and Abbas discussed, with Israeli keeping control of the Jordan Valley and extensive security zones in the West Bank, along with groundwater, airspace and the electronic spectrum. He may have thought he could stonewall until he lowered Palestinian expectations. He may have thought he could negotiate a deal and get his coalition partners to acquiesce without endorsing it, much like the emerging concordat between Abbas and the Khaled Meshal faction in Hamas.

If that was his hope, the events of late November have made his task much, much harder.

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


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.