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!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • 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.