Jewish Youths in Israel wave flags and stand atop a hill. The author recalls his own young days in Zionist youth groups

A free people in our land

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If we do not negotiate, the Palestinian nat’l movement will drop the strategy of seeking a state and will call openly for full democracy.

It was never really about the timing. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s apology to US Vice President Joseph Biden enabled the Tel Aviv University speech to conclude the visit on an up note. The ice-cold water from Washington came only after the prime minister thought that he had successfully passed through the storm.

The current government has excelled at putting the country on a collision course with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the government and the media are focusing attention on the relationship with the US and completely missing the real point of our predicament. It is not about our relationship with Washington, it is about our existence in the region and our relationship with our direct neighbors. It is time for the Israeli public to wake up from the hibernation of a long spring of calm and comfort. The hot summer is approaching and with it disaster.

The country needs to make a choice; there is no escape from making tough decisions. The clock is ticking and soon the choice will be made for us, if we don’t decide on our own. The “status quo” of business as usual, a sense of personal security and the illusion that we can keep the territories and make peace with our neighbors is about to end.

SINCE THE signing of the Oslo agreement in 1993 the Jewish population living over the Green Line has increased by 300 percent. Even as Netanyahu repeats the “two states for two peoples” mantra, we continue to build more housing units over the Green Line. The so-called building freeze is no more than an exercise in self-delusion. The binational reality of life over the Green Line is apparent to anyone who crosses it.

The Palestinian leadership remains firmly committed to the two-state solution, but it too knows that the chances of partition based on the Green Line are rapidly fading away. Yes, the Gaza disengagement proved that settlements can be removed, but Israel is so deeply entrenched over the Green Line that a vision of peace based on an independent Palestinian state on those territories seems virtually impossible.

The country has apparently made its choice – it prefers territories to peace. By our own hands, we are putting an end to the Zionist enterprise. A people that occupies another and denies it self-determination, liberation and freedom cannot be a free people in its lands.

THE AVERAGE Palestinian and more so the intellectuals are voicing a new understanding: There is no longer a chance to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with east Jerusalem as its capital. A new strategy is developing and Israelis should be worried about what this strategy will mean for them.

Phase one of the strategy will be what is already being termed a “white intifada.” This is a strategy for massive civil disobedience and a refusal to cooperate with the occupation. This strategy is based on non-violent confrontation with the occupation authorities. We have seen evidence of this in Bil’in, Ni’lin, Budrus, Masara and other places that are so far unfamiliar to Israeli consciousness. The Palestinian Authority is actively advancing the boycott of settlement products and will soon encourage Palestinian workers to stop working in settlements.

The challenge will be to stick to non-violence and to finetune their message. The political purpose of the struggle will be to give the two-state solution a final chance. The Palestinians will seek to gain international support as they will capture the higher moral ground. The world will see images of IDF soldiers shooting at unarmed crowds, including women and children, in points of confrontation at roadblocks and checkpoints, and around settlements.

Palestinians will design symbolic acts of removing roadblocks, building in Area C controlled by Israel, setting up roadblocks on settlement roads to stop and check Israeli drivers and more. Thousands will be arrested, many shot and possibly killed. Every use of force against Palestinian defiance will result in increasing support for them around the world and the continued rapid deterioration of support for Israel.

IF THE strategy of nonviolent confrontation fails, if the price is too high to pay or if, God forbid, it turns to violence, the Palestinian national movement will drop the strategy of seeking an independent state and will call openly for full democracy within Israel – one person, one vote. This strategy will eventually be embraced by the international community as the growing delegitimizing of Israel gains strength.

This year there were 40 university campuses around the world taking part in the “Israel Apartheid Week” campaign; next year it might be 400 or more. Once the Palestinians adopt the strategy of “democracy” as their solution, they cannot lose. It will only be a matter of time before the world treats Israel like it treated the last white government of South Africa.

Most of the world, and certainly the entire Arab world, has never really comprehended that the State of Israel is a nation-state of the Jewish people. Most of the world thinks of Jews as a religion and not a people. The opportunity to support a “democratic” solution to the conflict will be warmly embraced and supported because it makes more sense than partition, which gives the Palestinians only 22 percent of historic Palestine.

Israel will lose the battle. There is no longer a way to prevent the Palestinians from becoming a free people in their land. The only way to ensure that the Jewish people will remain a free people in our land is by making the decision to end its occupation over the Palestinian people. All settlement building must end now, not because of our relationship with the US but because we cannot advance peace until we do so. If we want to continue to build in those areas that will eventually be annexed to Israel, we must first negotiate an agreed border and territorial swaps.

The days of unilateralism are numbered. Israel will not be able to annex more than 3% of the West Bank, which would accommodate some 80% of the settlers. There simply is not more than that in equal territory to swap. Jerusalem must become a shared capital – if we don’t share it, we will surely lose it as the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

The realities of a need for an immediate course change are so unambiguous that without it our survival as a Jewish and democratic state is sure to end.

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.
Gershon Baskin