How the ideological siege undermines the peace process

How the ideological siege undermines the peace process

The readily accepted the narrative of the Netanyahu government that there is no negotiating partner, and that the Palestinians are out to destroy Israel and cannot be trusted even if a peace agreement is reached, are views which defy common wisdom and the reality of Israelis and Palestinians on the ground.

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By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

In my column two weeks ago, I addressed the question as to why past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have failed, and last week I suggested that the regional environment is, in fact, conducive to the resumption of peace talks. As usual, I received scores of positive comments and perhaps as much criticism, which made me feel that I am on the right track. I have selected four commentaries that readily accepted the narrative of the Netanyahu government that there is no negotiating partner, and that the Palestinians are out to destroy Israel and cannot be trusted even if a peace agreement is reached; views which defy common wisdom and the reality of Israelis and Palestinians on the ground.

One respondent stated that “Israel and Palestinians are brothers and sisters. I wish peace to both. But I am Jewish and I support [Israel’s] policy.”

While I applaud the sentiment that Israelis and Palestinians are closely connected, what struck me the most is his characterization of himself, as if being a Jew means automatic support of Netanyahu’s policies, regardless of how misguided they may be.

The writer seems to forget that one of the most glaring characteristics of Jews in general is being inquisitive, questioning, arguing, and constantly searching for different answers, new ideas, and the meaning to life.

As a matter of fact, the absence of peace is due to vastly different opinions between competing political parties. Thus, as the old cliché goes, if you put three Jews in one room, you end up with four opinions.

It is therefore the task and responsibility of every Jew to question any policy, be that Netanyahu’s or anyone else’s, particularly when the stakes are so high and when such policies could potentially destroy Israel brick by brick.

The occupation must come to an end, not only because it lacks any moral justification but because it severely undermines rather than enhances Israel’s national security. Netanyahu’s policy toward the Palestinians must be questioned, as there is plenty of evidence that his policy has been counterproductive and puts Israel’s future at risk.

Another respondent’s statement speaks for itself: “Palestinian intransigence and documented goal [is] to destroy and take over all of Israel… If Palestinians laid down weapons, there could be peace tomorrow. If Jews lay down weapons, there would be no Israel and a lot of dead Jews including naive liberals.”

Yes, the Palestinians have been intransigent in the past and many still are, but the writer forgets that the Palestinians have been under occupation for 47 years. If the Jews in Israel were under occupation for the same period of time, would they sit on their hands and wait for the Palestinians to be merciful? Would Israeli Jews be willing to lay down their weapons and surrender?

Moreover, the Palestinians have already agreed that any future Palestinian state will be demilitarized, as any peace agreement must clearly and unequivocally ensure Israel’s national security.

Every Palestinian knows that Israel’s military prowess is unmatched in the region, and it will prevail over any of its enemies under any circumstance. It is this military strength that affords Israel the opportunity and responsibility to utilize it to advance the peace process rather than using it to sustain the ominous status quo.

Another respondent who appears to be so sure of what the future foretells asserts that “Israel has lived with no peace for 60 years, I am sure they can handle it for another 60. It’s the Palestinians who are drowning in their own blood. They have to worry because every year they lose more land. It will come when they will have nothing.”

True, the Israelis lived with no peace for more than 60 years, but then every diagnosis of the Israeli-Palestinian reality suggests that Israel cannot maintain the status quo for another five years, let alone 60, because times have changed.

Demographically, Israel is at a severe disadvantage as the number of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel itself is already equal to the number of Jews living in Israel. Failure to resolve the conflict will inevitably lead to one state, which is unthinkable by all Israeli Jews.

Moreover, the US and the EU in particular are tired of the continuing conflict and blame Israel for being intransigent, damaging their strategic interests; even worse, Israel is becoming ever more isolated by choosing to live by the sword. Can these conditions be sustained for another 60 years?

It should be clear by now that the Palestinians will not simply surrender to Israel’s whims. Time is on their side, and they will continue to fight and die, if they must, because they have little left to lose.

Finally, another respondent claims that “The voters voted for Netanyahu. So if he goes, the voters will vote for another Center Right politician. What these people want is Bibi gone and a leftist in power. Oh and to force [such a change] even if the voters don’t want it.”

Based on everything we know, Netanyahu is not committed to a two-state solution. A new leader representing the center and left of center is needed, one who fully understands that Israel is racing toward the abyss if it fails to bring the conflict to an end.

Moreover, being elected does not mean that Netanyahu is pursuing the right policy that serves Israel best. Netanyahu’s vision of indefinite control of the Jews’ entire biblical land is an illusion as there exists a Palestinian population which is not going anywhere.

What these respondents have in common is that they suffer from an ideological siege, refusing to alter their mindsets. They prefer the status quo as they fear change, however critical it may be to face the reality on the ground.

The founder of the state of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, stated “Better a Jewish state on part of the land than all of the land without a state.” His advice was to treat the Palestinians with sensitivity, because the Jews have no choice but to coexist with them under any circumstances. The late Yitzhak Rabin came to the same conclusion, and was killed for what he believed in.

It is time for all present and future Israeli leaders to heed Ben-Gurion’s advice in order to preserve the Jews’ millennium-old dream of having a democratic, secure, and independent state that offers a safe and lasting haven for any Jew who chooses to call it home.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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