Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right when he says Israel cannot return territory to the Palestinians that will then be used to attack it. Israel must be sure as possible that in recognizing Palestine next to Israel, genuine peace will exist between the two states. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians can afford to risk more failed peace processes. The past failures teach us that security arrangements are at the core of any possible agreement and that prior to taking additional risks we must be sure that territories no longer under Israeli control will not become breeding grounds for terrorism.
Netanyahu claims that he continues to believe that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the two-state solution. Anyone who believes in the twostate formula must understand that we have to find the proper balance between the Palestinians’ needs and right to sovereignty and Israel’s right to genuine security. We must find the formula that will enable the Palestinians to live free from Israeli control and occupation and yet not entrust Israel’s security to third parties which will never be able to replace the security provided for Israel by Israel.
Netanyahu is right when he asserts that UNIFIL- or UNDORF-type forces cannot be relied upon to ensure that bomb- and rocket-manufacturing industries do not pop up in areas Israel withdraws from. Nor can Israel rely solely on the word of the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s answer to these dilemmas, however, is to do nothing rather than trying to advance some kind of understanding with the Palestinians. Not only that, he continues to foster settlement expansion that makes it plain to see that there will never be a chance to create a viable Palestinian state.
He knows that he cannot, at this time, advance the plans of the extreme right-wing members of his government to annex Area C – 62 percent of the area of the West Bank.
That would turn the entire world, including the United States, against Israel. So instead, combining no initiatives toward peace with active plans to remove as many Palestinians as possible from Area C, continue to impoverish Palestinians in east Jerusalem and pressure the young people there to leave, Netanyahu is pushing the Palestinians toward a new round of violence, which is already beginning in Jerusalem.
This is the perfect strategy to make his case that Israel has no partner for peace. If more radical groups like Hamas take over the West Bank, Netanyahu hopes that the enemies of the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State and other jihadi movements will finally understand that they can find common cause with the State of Israel and no longer support Palestinian nationalism and a dangerous radical Palestinian state in the neighborhood.
Netanyahu is busy creating the enemy that he needs so as to not have to give up territory and to be able to continue to expand throughout the land untethered by the constraints of do-gooders in Europe who, according to him, have no understanding of who the Arabs really are.
So far the Palestinian leadership, understanding how hard Netanyahu is working to provoke a violent response, have been working equally hard to control and restrain that violence in the territories where they have control.
They do not have control in Jerusalem – Israel has full control over all of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem becomes a release valve for anger which is growing throughout Palestine and in the whole region.
But by allowing Jewish extremists to provoke violence on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif, Netanyahu is playing with explosives that have the potential to blow up not only in Jerusalem, but also in Amman, Cairo and throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
Netanyahu’s strategy of no peace initiative, continued settlement expansion and constant provocation of Palestinian violence is leading Israel to disaster.
Not only is Israel marching toward the possible binational end of its Zionist dream, Netanyahu is placing Jews around the world in danger because of their identification and affinity for the State of Israel. It is clear that the Jews of Israel and the Jews around the world have not yet come to terms with the severity of the situation – but they will.
It will be unavoidable and all of Netanyahu’s excuses that Israel cannot take risks at this time in this dangerous region must be challenged now, before it is too late.
There can be a balance between Palestinian needs for sovereignty and control of their own destiny and Israel’s legitimate security needs. There can be ways to mitigate risks, including Palestinian agreement to a demilitarized state with regional security arrangements and performance based implementation of the agreements that will take place over years. There are ways to create joint security structures that would enable Israel to continue to have a non-intrusive security presence in areas required to guarantee the implementation of agreements and security arrangements in the framework of joint Palestinian-Israeli command and operations, with joint patrols. There are possibilities for trustworthy third-party monitors and verifiers of implementation of agreements and obligations.
These are not replacements for Israeli security personnel, but verifiers of implementation by both Israel and Palestine of their responsibilities regarding securing the peace.
Just as Netanyahu is working diligently to enhance animosity and enmity, it is possible to invest energy and ingenuity into building partnerships and understanding.
But this goes against what Netanyahu wants to advance.
Netanyahu must be replaced as soon as possible. The first step toward replacing him is understanding that there are much wiser and much safer options for the State of Israel. Netanyahu and his plans thrive when no one offers credible, viable alternatives. Netanyahu has succeeded in creating so much anxiety and fear about our neighbors that visions of a better future seem naïve, part of a false reality that will never emerge. He succeeds by convincing us that the whole world hates us, not because of what we are doing, but because they are all anti-Semites who will always hate us, no matter what. Even President Barack Obama, who has provided Israel with more military support and security cooperation than any other president in the history of US-Israel relations, is painted by Netanyahu and his representatives as dangerous for Israel. It is Netanyahu who is dangerous for Israel, not Obama.
In the absence of credible alternatives and concrete plans to demonstrate that peace is really possible, that security can be the core of peace agreements, that we have neighbors who are prepared to live in peace with us, in dignity and mutual respect, but only when we are prepared to end our control over their lives, we end up with Netanyahu, Bennett, Liberman, etc. etc. etc. No initiatives for peace, no hope, only threats, fear – and Netanyahu as the only credible leader able to face the disaster that he has created.
So far cottage cheese and Milki revolts are the focus of the masses, but there will be no progress on the economic front until we all understand that it is all connected to not having peace with our neighbors. And yes, it does take two to tango, but when we control the electricity, the radio airwaves, we own the music player and we don’t let our dance partner out of the locked room to join us on the dance floor, there will be no tango at all.
Gershon Baskin is co-chairman of IPCRI, Israel-Palestine: Creative Regional Initiatives (IPCRI), formerly known as the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, a nonprofit think tank that combines research with peace-building actions and advocacy across Israel and Palestine. He is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew, and The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press in English.
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.