Published on Haaretz
We must define our borders, freeze settlement expansion and recognize a Palestinian state – not for the sake of the Palestinians, but because failing to do so hurts Israelis most of all.
What should the Israeli left say to right-wing critics who charge that there is no partner for peace; that the Palestinians are no longer interested in negotiations? Why should we, the left, believe that reaching an agreement is still possible after the Palestinians have rejected numerous offers in the past and are staking their future on the United Nations? And if we on the left do believe a resolution is possible, how do we get from where we are today to where we want to be?
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We can start by admitting that negotiations have failed and that the Palestinians are not interested. Whether Oslo collapsed or was never tried, stop-and-start negotiations have led the Palestinians nowhere nearer their goal of liberation, while settlements have proliferated, compromising the viability of a future Palestinian state.
We have to be honest about Hamas. For seven years, the Palestinians have had divided leadership, with two power centers, one of which is openly devoted to our destruction. This gave the right an easy excuse for not negotiating seriously; why make territorial concessions to only one side of the Palestinian camp, especially when the flip side is singing “Death to Israel?” The moment the two sides merged, their new spin was that we could not negotiate with a Palestinian entity that included terrorists.
Right now the Palestinian Authority-Hamas merger seems in tatters, but if it coalesces, the left can accept the united Palestinian leadership, while stating explicitly that our goal is to undermine Hamas and strengthen the Palestinian Authority. This will also lead us to regional negotiations, or internationally sponsored negotiations, since the convergence of interests in our region includes the shared desire of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, the United States and, potentially, European participants to weaken Hamas.
We should pledge to stop all settlement expansion for several years. And if we do not want to include Gilo or Gush Etzion in our construction ban, it behooves us to say so, so our voters will know where we stand.
We are so used to settlement expansion being used as a bargaining chip (or as the international community’s whip with which to lash us) that we have forgotten that we never wanted these settlements in the first place. A total settlement freeze for multiple years will test the Palestinian claim that settlement expansion is the main obstacle to peace.
But we will make it clear that a total settlement freeze is not a concession to the Palestinians; it is for our own good because the occupation erodes a Jewish and democratic Israel. The deeply corrupting culture of the occupation has become normalized, a culture characterized by the midnight arrests of children and the wink and the nod to settler land grabs and the obstruction of Palestinians’ claims to those properties. The occupation also undermines our global standing, but this is secondary; the deeper damage is done at home.
We should terminate the clandestine flow of massive funds into the settlement enterprise (which Labor MK Stav Shafir has been so busy exposing) and publicize the exact budgets wasted on segregation roads and army deployment to protect outposts that endanger Jewish lives.
Just as the Palestinians are acting autonomously by seeking UN support and sanctions against us, so too can we act autonomously. Instead of unilaterally creating settlements and outposts, we can define our borders. Again, not for the Palestinians’ sake, but for our own.
Netanyahu has refused to put a map on the table, either believing that this is a weak negotiating ploy – as soon as we make an offer, the Palestinians will ask for more – or, more likely, because he believes that neither the Palestinians nor the international community has the wherewithal to stop Israel from snatching more land. But the result of leaving Israel’s borders blurry has been an electorate that operates in a fog, that does not understand where our country ends, what our genuine security needs are, and how settlements can advance or obstruct these needs.
It would create too obvious a target to put a plan on the table during the election campaign, but the left should pledge that within a specified number of months from winning the elections and forming a government, it will put a plan on the table for our own citizens – not the Palestinians – to consider. And, we must declare, if that plan fails, what our Plan B is. What we plan on doing if the Palestinians reject negotiations and pursue a solution that is imposed on Israel by the international community.
Let’s jump the line and be the next country to recognize a Palestinian state. Not because we have illusions about the Palestinians and their national aspirations, nor because we believe in a new Middle East, but because it’s in our best interest to do so. Because setting a timetable to reach an agreement, one of the main planks in the Palestinian appeal to the United Nations, would be preferable to Israel over being cornered by UN decrees, threats of sanctions by the International Criminal Court, or by commercial or academic boycotts . Even if it’s not clear how dangerous these threats really are, since they only serve to increase distrust and jingoism. By accepting a timeline, we might avert such threats.
If we continue to foster Palestinian despair, we can only expect more violence, hatred and death. If we want to create hope, we have to realign our national and moral compass. We can acknowledge that we may reach a resolution that does not end all violence and conflict, but we have to be clear that maintaining the status quo – settlement expansion, a corrupt and corrupting occupation, a generation raised on hatred, spasms of terrorism and seasonal wars – Israel will hurt most of all.