Haaretz reporter Barak Ravid writes that Secretary of State Kerry is arriving in Israel today amid “no signs” that he’s “nearing a breakthrough” toward peace talks. The funny thing is, it’s in the middle of an article that reports clear signs of a breakthrough. Specifically, he reports on a “senior Likud minister” telling him Netanyahu is ready to withdraw from more than 90% of the West Bank “if Israel’s security concerns are met.”
Those security concerns: demilitarization of the Palestinian state (which was accepted long ago) and a long-term Israeli military presence on the Jordan River — though not necessarily the whole Jordan Valley (a big Bibi concession) and not necessarily under Israeli sovereignty (another big Bibi concession).
An even bigger sign of progress came later on Thursday: a public declaration by Netanyahu, in a high-profile speech (at the annual Theodor Herzl memorial ceremony) that peace with the Palestinians is a must — even though it won’t stop defamation of Israel. Ending the international bad-mouthing and “delegitimization” of Israel is constantly thrown up by the right, with active cooperation from the center and center-left — as a test of whether a future peace is safe enough to justify Israeli withdrawal. Saying that the two — peace agreement and civil dialogue — aren’t the same and aren’t even necessarily interdependent is a big step toward a realistic opening negotiating position.
Peace means not shooting each other. Ending defamation means convincing everyone on your side that this is good enough—and that it’s probably as good as it’s going to get. Israel won’t convince its messianists to give up their yearning for the sacred lands of Judea and Samaria. It shouldn’t expect the other side to convince the most devout Muslims to give up their yearning to restore the full integrity of dar al-Islam. What each side can expect is that the other side’s police will keep the yearners from acting out.
Put that together with Ehud Yaari’s reporting on Monday, deflected but not denied by Ramallah, that Abbas is ready to return to the table without an advance Israeli commitment to borders based on the 1967 lines, and you have a real possibility of movement.
Not yet peace, not the verge of an agreement, not even overt movement toward an agreement, but a possibility of movement.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).