Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still believes that the establishment of a Palestinian state next to Israel is an Israeli interest. He has stated, since the elections, that he does not want to see Israel becoming a bi-national state and therefore a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state that recognizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and acknowledges Israel’s real security needs is in the interest of the State of Israel. That is also the position of most of the nations of the world, including Israel’s best friends. Netanyahu does not believe that now is the appropriate time to establish the Palestinian state because of regional turmoil and threats and because he believes that there is no Palestinian partner either willing or able to make a deal with Israel.
It is quite clear that neither Israel nor the Palestinians are willing to enter into serious negotiations and that both believe that there is no partner on the other side. However, the freeze in the peace process does not freeze the reality on the ground. The current relative calm could give way to new rounds of violence at any time. The continuing pressure on Israel in the international community could be geared up seriously by civil society organizations and even governments at any time. A new round of violence coming from Gaza and leading to another major Israeli military operation ending with more destruction and death of non-combatants is something which is entirely possible. The question is what can be done to prevent all of this which could be so negative for Israel?
The United Nations is perceived by most Israelis as an anti-Israeli diplomatic battleground. There are rumors that France is about to cave in to pressure coming from Jerusalem and Washington and will not submit a draft resolution to the Security Council in September on ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If the rumor is true, I would describe the Israeli-US pressure as nothing less than an own goal. France has been planning to submit a draft resolution to the Security Council that would clearly spell out the parameters of a two-state solution, dealing with most or all of the core issues in conflict.
The draft resolution is also likely to include a timetable for implementation leading to the end of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Israel’s control over Gaza and the establishment of a Palestinian state on those territories.
The resolution may even call for formally recognizing the Palestinian state and accepting Palestine as a member state of the United Nations. The resolution is also likely to recognize that to end the conflict and to translate the parameters prescribed in the resolution, the parties – Israel and Palestine – must return to the negotiating table and work out the details of the deal and arrangements between them. There is no way to end the conflict without negotiations.
Israel’s position until now has been to oppose any Security Council resolution that attempts to put down parameters or lock in positions for resolution prior to negotiations.
Most of the international community believes that another round of open-ended negotiations is futile and can only lead to more frustration and violence. The government of Israel would be wiser to engage with the French now, not in an attempt to foil the resolution from the outset or to lobby America and other countries to veto the resolution, but with the express aim of securing a resolution which would include Israel’s concerns and needs.
Israel could impress upon the French the need for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation state.
Even if the compromise language stated that the goal of negotiations is to create two nation-states in the land between the river and the sea, even without explicitly stating a “Jewish nation state,” this would be a victory for Netanyahu and for Israel. If the resolution recognized Israel’s special security needs and recognized that there must be an agreement for a long-time Israeli presence in special security zones, this would be a victory for Israel and for Netanyahu.
If on the other hand Israel continues to lobby against the resolution and foils it, Israel will create more enemies around the world, and support for the Palestinians will increase, at Israel’s expense. A resolution could pass the security, if the Americans don’t use their veto. This is entirely possible, especially if the P5+1 nations reach a deal with Iran in the coming period. That deal will be strongly opposed by Netanyahu and his government, which will increase the tension with US President Barack Obama, who has been re-evaluating the position of the US vis-à-vis Israel over the past months.
It would be so much better for Israel to engage with the French and support the international community’s desire to search for best way to renew the peace process rather than always going against and pushing back, even against some of Israel’s best friends and allies. But it is very unlikely that Netanyahu and his government will engage the French. They will, instead pressure the world against the resolution.
In this case the leader of Israel’s opposition, Isaac Herzog, and the Labor Party should pick up the phone and engage French President François Hollande (the leader of the French Social Democrats – the French Labour Party). By doing this, Herzog would be acting responsibility in advancing the genuine interests of the State of Israel and also finally providing the Israeli public with a political alternative to the destructive policies of Netanyahu and his Likud-led government.
Herzog would be called a traitor by the right wing in Israel, but that accusation would be rejected by at least half of the Israeli public, who would be once again able to understand that the option of supporting peace is once again on the table and in front of the electorate.
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.
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