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Another group accept territorial concessions in principle, but believe it’s dangerous to negotiate now because the Palestinians seek Israel’s destruction and would only use Israeli concessions to weaken Israel.
Israel has been ambivalent about the West Bank since capturing it in 1967. The government announced at the time that it was holding it as a bargaining chip, to trade in return for peace with its neighbors. A minority believed it was Israel’s by right of history or religion. For decades the question was moot, since no Arab authority was offering to trade peace for land. Over decades of stalemate, increasing numbers of Israelis grew skeptical that peace would ever come and comfortable possessing and settling the territory.
Israeli public diplomacy has tried continually to win international support for its position that it has a solid moral claim to the disputed areas. It’s been a colossal failure. In 46 years of trying, not a single government anywhere in the world has been convinced. For much of that time it didn’t matter. Palestinian rejectionism and terrorism made the question moot.
In the past 25 years, however, the tables have slowly turned. Since the Palestine National Council voted in September 1988 to accept the principle of partition into Arab and Jewish states, Israel has found it increasingly difficult presenting the case in the diplomatic arena that its existence is threatened.
In two arenas, Israel diplomacy has been very successful. A strong bloc of Christian conservatives has come to embrace Israel’s religious claim to the entire West Bank. Separately, most of the Jewish community, especially in America, has internalized Israel’s claim that its existence is threatened by continuing Arab rejection.
The Oslo accords in 1993 supposedly tested the Palestinian change of heart. The accords’ collapse into mass terrorism in 2000 destroyed whatever trust had been gained, and strengthened the popular Israeli view that there was no partner.
But one important Israeli constituency didn’t share the popular pessimism: the security establishment. Starting in early 1988, when Military Intelligence first concluded that the PLO had turned a corner toward accepting Israel, the country’s military and intelligence chiefs have been increasingly united in the assessment that peace with the Palestinians was possible and would benefit Israel militarily. Since then, the same events that have soured the public on trusting the Palestinians have strengthened the military’s view that an agreement is urgent.
Thus, torn between optimism and alarm, the Israeli electorate has wavered for two decades, seesawing between the conciliatory governments of Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert and the hardline governments of Netanyahu, Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu redux.