If it wants peace, Israel must take the initiative

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the U.S. Embassy in Rome this week.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the U.S. Embassy in Rome this week. AP

If you asked Palestinians and Israelis today why the peace process is at a deadlock, they will probably give you the same answer: lack of trust.

Palestinians believe that the Israelis are bluffing when they say they want a two-state solution, because in reality, they keep expanding the settlements, thus making that solution impossible. Israelis believe that the Palestinians don’t really want peace, because otherwise, why would their President, Mahmoud Abbas, reject Prime Minister Netanyahu’s repeated invitations to come to the table and negotiate peace?

Mahmoud Abbas even went a step further in convincing the Israelis that there was no credible Palestinian partner for peace, when he told the European Union Parliament last week that rabbis had been instructing Jews to poison Palestinian water supplies, which, in his words, was a “clear incitement to commit mass killings against the Palestinian people.”

Later, Abbas retracted his blood libel, and his office issued a statement that “he didn’t intend to do harm to Judaism or to offend Jewish people around the world.” Which reminds me of Winston Churchill, who bumped into the editor of the London Times in the toilets of the Parliament. As they were carrying on with their business, the editor said: “Prime Minister, yesterday we were too harsh on you in our editorial. I apologize.” To which Churchill retorted: “Next time badmouth me in the toilets and apologize in the newspaper.”

Anyway, the harm to whatever was left of the Israeli trust was done. Prime Minister Netanyahu said on Sunday: “I think that people can conclude from this who wants to advance peace and a peace process — and who does not.”

Again, lack of trust prevails on the Palestinian side as well. Palestinian Public Opinion Poll No. 59, conducted in March 2016 by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), shows that 42 percent of the Palestinians think that armed action is the most effective means for establishing a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel, while 24 percent favor popular non-violent resistance. Only 29 percent of the Palestinians still believe that negotiation is the most effective means for reaching that goal.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that our prime minister is right, and that the Israelis want peace while the Palestinians don’t. What then? With the lack of progress towards a two-state solution, Israel is moving slowly but surely towards becoming one bi-national state, where Israel will either lose its Jewish character or its democracy. Netanyahu, who has been at Israel’s helm in the last seven years, must do something to avert such a disastrous scenario. But what?

Gen. Amos Yadlin, Israeli Defense Forces (Ret.), has an answer. The general, a former fighter pilot who participated in the raid on the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, who served as the Chief of Israeli military intelligence and today is the President of the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) — not a peacenik who would compromise Israel’s security — suggests that in face of the deadlock, Israel shouldn’t be taken hostage by the Palestinian veto power, but it should rather take the initiative:

Prepare together with Israel’s allies a comprehensive peace proposal; launch a diplomatic campaign to get maximum legitimization for it; leave IDF forces in the Jordan valley to block infiltration of arms or aggression from the east; pull back to borders that Israel is determined to keep in any future contingency; compensate Israeli settlers who will have to be uprooted; and leave some areas in the West Bank as bargaining chip with the Palestinians, if and when they decide to show up at the negotiation table.

While giving up territory always looks like “making concessions” to the Arabs, this move will be taken not as a result of a Palestinian pressure but rather as a calculated act of the Israelis, meant to advance pure Israeli goals.

Indeed, on his visit in Washington last November, Prime Minister Netanyahu pondered at such an idea. “Unilateralism . . . I suppose that’s possible too, but it would have to meet Israeli security criteria and that would also require broader international understanding than exists,” he said at a meeting at the liberal Center for American Progress. However, upon his return to Israel, the vehement attack from the ultra-rightists in his government made him retract this.

Since this region doesn’t tolerate a vacuum, the lack of Israeli initiative will continue to spark alternative plans: The Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, the recent one of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the French and European Union moves and more. Israel rejected them all. At one point, though, a weary American president — any president — might decide that since the Israelis don’t give him or her anything to work with, perhaps the U.S. should stop vetoing anti-Israeli motions in the United Nations.

It’s time for the Israeli leadership to wake up before that happens.