The government of Israel has failed to provide its citizens with security because it has rejected ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. Some would go all the way back to the 1950s when Prime Minister Ben-Gurion expressed his lack of disappointment that the Egyptians were too demanding, because he believed that time was on our side. Many things, not least of which the 1967 war, proved that wrong.
His successors turned down peace at least with Jordan, out of a desire to hold onto an expanded east Jerusalem and the Jordan Rift Valley (despite the fact that peace with Jordan would provide far greater protection than the occupation of a hostile population, an armed border and a continued state of war.) Similarly, some 20 years later, the Shamir government also rejected the peace plan worked out between Shimon Peres and King Hussein. In between, who knows how many proposals were ignored or rejected, not least of which those offered by Sadat that could have saved us the thousands of lives lost in the Yom Kippur War.
But let us allow that peace with Jordan, and Egypt, would not have (and has not) relieved us of the central issue in the conflict: the Palestinian issue. The Palestinians’ was a clearly zero-sum demand: Palestine in place of Israel. Until 1988, that is.
Once the PLO, in 1988, accepted the two-state solution, agreeing to a state only in the West Bank (including east Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, along with recognition and peace with Israel, the end of the conflict became possible. This decision was the breakthrough equivalent to Sadat’s historic trip to Jerusalem. The rest would be difficult; there would be determined negotiation over specifics and procedures, exact borders, people (settlers, refugees) and, as in the case of Egypt, the Americans might be called in to smooth the way. But peace became possible.
The main obstacle: Settlements
Belatedly the Israeli government, under new leadership and for many reasons, did grasp this opportunity. Rabin exacted just one clarification and binding assurance for the future, the PLO’s explicit recognition of Israel’s right to exist.
We know what has happened since then – opponents, on both sides, by means of terrorism, settlement expansion, assassination, did what they could to prevent peace, leading to the collapse of Oslo. No wonder that Israel’s rejection of the PLO’s “historic compromise” led to the growth of rejectionist Hamas and its violence against Israel.
Oddly enough, in what apparently was a genuine effort by the Olmert government to reach agreement, the remaining problems were not Jerusalem (on which both sides were willing to make some compromises) nor even the refugees (the major compromise coming from the PLO). The outstanding issue was the settlements – namely how much territory Israel would take from the West Bank to accommodate the settlements. This is what it boiled down to: The settlements.
Needless to say, the next, right-wing government of Netanyahu has shown no interest in beginning where Olmert left off, and Mahmoud Abbas has been left defending his compromises and seeking alternatives.
And if the failure of the PLO’s compromises has strengthened radical Palestinians, let us not be surprised by the popular anger in the region (and outside) over Israel’s continued rejection of the Arab Peace Initiative, which promised Israel what this country has ostensibly sought since its inception: Peace, normal relations with all the Arab states and security.
Would it work? Would it last forever? Is it a gamble? Maybe, but what is not a gamble, but rather a sure thing is the following: Rockets from the south, at some point rockets from the north, a renewed Intifada and terrorism from the east and inside, to say nothing of political and maybe even economic isolation in the world. This is the “security” the government is promising us.
Professor Galia Golan, professor emerita Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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