There are those who want and can’t, those who don’t want and can, those who don’t want and can’t, and there are those who want and can. Mahmoud Abbas has been one of those who wanted and couldn’t, as was Ehud Olmert. Binyamin Netanyahu is probably one who doesn’t want but can. A Palestinian national unity government, should it come to life, will also be one that doesn’t want but could. The Obama administration is definitely one that wants and can, but what will it do in the face of those in the Middle East who so clearly don’t want?
Netanyahu offers us his plan of “economic peace” – the logic is sound and rational, but it completely ignores the fact that there is nothing logical at all about Middle Eastern politics. He says, let’s allow and encourage the Palestinians to develop their economy. Let’s ensure that they have jobs and a chance for prosperity, so that the Palestinians have something to lose, a reason to fight terror and to become peaceful neighbors. Only once the Palestinians provide Israel with security will Netanyahu be ready to speak to them about other political issues like statehood with limited sovereignty.
But who will invest in Palestine without a political horizon? With the global economic crisis, who has money to invest and risk in a place with almost no hope? Will Netanyahu remove the roadblocks and open up movement and access for Palestinian businesses – the same ones that Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak refused to open? We all know that he has a short historical memory – perhaps he should be reminded that the two intifadas exploded on us at times when there was more economic growth, more jobs, more investments and a more promising economic horizon that at any other time prior to that.
Despite the economic promise, Palestinians were willing to lose those personal economic gains for national goals, pride and dignity. They chose to fight for real statehood and freedom from occupation. Netanyahu may be able to make a few Palestinian collaborators richer, but his economic “peace plan” will never provide security if it is detached from a genuine political peace plan that will end the occupation and enable the Palestinians to establish their independent state next to Israel.
We would never have accepted a British plan for economic growth detached from our demand for national liberation and the establishment of our own independent state, even if that meant going to war with all our neighbors with no guarantee of victory. We were willing to lose everything and to place thousands of our own people in the battlefield so that we could remove ourselves from British control and claim sovereignty over our own destiny. Why is it so difficult for us to understand that the Palestinians, in this regard, are no different than us?
NOW, AFTER our “victory” in Gaza, we are facing an empowered Hamas, receiving more and more international recognition and legitimacy, a weakened Mahmoud Abbas, an impending resigned government of Salaam Fayad which has systematically and quietly fought against the infrastructure of terrorism in the West Bank, along with the determined implementation of the Dayton plan for the training and deploying of Palestinian security personnel throughout the main West Bank cities, bringing back law and order and engaging, for the first time, in real counterterrorism activities. A Palestinian government of national unity that will include Hamas is in the process of being born with the knowledge that this time even friendly governments in the West will recognize and work with it – without its accepting the Quartet demands for recognition of Israel, adherence to the Oslo agreements and a renunciation of the armed struggle.
Missed opportunities, unfulfilled promises, false hopes and endless peace processes – nothing better characterizes the history of our two peoples. The hope for peace has been decimated by the violence of extremists on both sides. The believers in peace in Israel and Palestine have been reduced in numbers and have withdrawn into despair and depression. Xenophobia, fear and hatred have replaced hope, desire for understanding and tolerant visions of a better tomorrow.
ISRAELIS AND PALESTINIANS no longer speak about peace. We are not enticed by the promise of normalization with 22 Arab countries offered in the Arab peace initiative. We don’t dream anymore of getting into our cars and eating humous in Damascus. We would rather eat the humous in the safety of our homes. The cold peace with Egypt and Jordan do not inspire Israelis to make concessions to the Syrians or to the Palestinians. Israelis don’t want to visit Egypt or Jordan anymore, and no longer care if Egyptians and Jordanians visit Israel – in any event the State of Israel doesn’t offer visas for more than a few Egyptians and Jordanians.
The global economic crisis will cancel many of our plans to travel to Europe or beyond, so who cares if Israelis are not so welcome around the world today? There is no place like home anyway. All we want is quiet. But is quiet possible when the Palestinian citizens of Israel feel more threatened than ever? Is it possible to have security while the occupation continues and the Palestinians have no hopes for a political horizon?
The regional threats are on the rise. The Arab masses are far less concerned about an alliance of radical regimes than are the leaders of those countries. The main catalyst for greater Arab and Islamic unity is the new government in Israel. The Arab League will be meeting in three weeks and there are those who are speaking about removing the Arab peace initiative from the agenda. The region is heading toward the development of an area proliferated with weapons of mass destruction. The nuclearization of Iran seems almost unavoidable, and the march toward becoming nuclear will spread to all of our neighbors following Iran’s success.
Our continued missed opportunities, our overconfidence and our arrogance have led us into a dead end. Eight years of the Bush administration and three years of the Olmert regime have left Israel in a far worse strategic situation than we were before. The public has grown used to living in a state of false security – appearances of personal security have been given prominence over real strategic security gains, which are perceived as including painful concessions. As a result we have engaged in policies that have weakened those who want to make peace with us, and the self-fulfilling prophecy of “no partner” emerges with equal potency as the Arabs claim that they too have no partner.
The people of Israel elected a right-wing government which can but does not want and the Palestinian people elected a Hamas-led government that also probably could but doesn’t want.
Some people say we get what we deserve; perhaps that is true.
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.