June 13, 2012

Israel shouldn't risk for peace? So say so

Those who don't want peace will never have a shortage of statistics and anecdotes to cite in support of their rejectionism. Israel's most vocal antagonists appear politically primitive, often tribal in their allegiances, fractious, racist, absolutist, and wantonly violent. Those who reject meaningful negotiations against such a backdrop feel justified in not taking the risk. But every choice carries a risk, and continuing along the same path day after day -- and settlement after settlement, unpleasant necessity after... is equally a choice, and with real risks. Own it.

My Republican friends like to talk about being responsible for one's choices, so OK. If the "facts on the ground" are so challenging and dispiriting -- and if one is unwilling to recognize even minor blame on Israel's side -- then opponents of the peace process should be clear about their position: There should be no negotiations. Israel's current government has not been clear, at least not in English and not to Washington. The good news for the wide spectrum of Israelis who have come back around to opposing or fearing any negotiations with the Palestinians, is that many months ago U.S. President Obama gave up on any serious effort to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders back to the table.

A few other items that deserve clarity:

(1) "Oslo" did not fail -- it was abandoned, and largely by the U.S. Congress, which held up assistance and support to the Israeli-Palestinian track during the months leading up to and following Yitzhak Rabin's assassination. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu -- in his first tenure -- was unable to get funding for implementation of the Oslo terms.

(2) Rabin had never premised his approach upon any sense that Palestinians like Yasir Arafat would be enlightened humanitarians. There needed to be a diplomatic framework in order for Israel to cast off the main Palestinian territories and set them up on their own, separate path. Rabin was not blind to the Palestinians' flaws -- he was a realist, and that's precisely why he tried to open a pathway to Palestinian statehood.

(3) Territorial compromise does work. The last -- and only -- time Israel engaged in territorial compromise was the withdrawal from Sinai, and Israel has prospered since then. Over 30 years later, Israel's armed forces are largely spared mass mobilizations on the Southern Front, Arab Spring and Gaza terror notwithstanding. And as for Gaza, that Israeli withdrawal was unilateral, since Israel acted on its own and largely in the absence of guarantees from the Palestinians or the international community. The same goes for the withdrawal from Lebanon. (The 1994 Jordan agreement has worked, too, but the territory involved was negligible, and there hadn't even been hostilities for 25 years by then.)

(4) Either the West Bank remains under military occupation, or it doesn't. As I blogged last year, Israel simultaneously claims the dubious exemptions of a "military occupation" while also denouncing anyone who accuses Israel of keeping Palestinians under a military occupation. And Israel routinely invokes the right to re-enter areas from which it has "withdrawn", anytime the security situation justifies it.

So, you think it's still not worth bargaining with the Palestinians? Then please, at least say what you mean, and mean what you say.

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