Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

To those who oppose Israeli-Palestinian peace

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Gershon Baskin asks how could we expect the Israeli public to think differently when no credible opposition has risen to challenge the absurdity of a situation which guarantees a continued lack of security and no hope for anything better?

There is a built-in 30 percent of Israelis who will oppose any agreement with the Palestinians, regardless of what it includes. That 30% includes 99.5% of the settlers, irrespective of that fact that in an agreement some 80% of them would not have to leave their homes and would finally become full citizens of the State of Israel, living under recognized Israeli sovereignty.

The 30% also includes just about all of the voters of the Bayit Yehudi Party and a good percentage of the voters of Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu. There are also some Palestinian citizens of Israel who would vote against an agreement because they do not recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and the two-state solution more than anything else affirms the Jewish people’s right to a state. It also includes some of the ultra-Orthodox who will follow whatever their rabbis tell them to do.

Nonetheless, there are some 70% of Israelis who would accept an agreement with the Palestinians if they were convinced it would provide them with real security and that the Palestinians were more serious about real peacemaking than they have been until now.

Any likely agreement supported by an Israeli prime minister would have the support of the security establishment, including the chief of staff of the IDF, the head of the Mossad and the head of the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) – and that in itself would convince a majority of Israelis to support it. Likewise any possible agreement in the future will be performance-based and its implementation spread over years. The agreement would likely include demonstrative steps in combating incitement that the Palestinians would have to undertake even before the first partial Israeli withdrawal. Each additional risk that Israel would take would be preceded by demonstrable steps that the Palestinians would be required to take to prove that their stated intentions are matched by real acts on the ground.

There are various reasons why Israelis oppose possible peace with the Palestinians. One of them is on religious grounds. These opposers of peace say outright that God gave all of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people and it is prohibited by God to give any piece of the land to non-Jews (in this case to the Palestinians).

To those who make this claim there is no answer. I wouldn’t even try to enter into an argument with them – we live in different worlds and our values and world views never meet.

There are those who oppose peace because of the past 22 years of failed peacemaking, which have led to two intifadas and the current round of violence (whatever we want to call it). It is very difficult to convince these people, but not impossible. They live in fear and in a lot of cases their fear has even turned into hatred. Their claims need to confronted by ensuring the agreement has much better security arrangements and precautions than previous agreements. Risks must be reduced and mitigated. One way of dealing with the risks is by ensuring that the agreement includes a long-term Israeli military presence within the Palestinian state. The only way that this can be achieved is through the development of genuine joint security mechanisms with very clear mandates and structures of command and control. This is difficult to achieve, but not impossible.

There are many Israelis who might oppose peace because they are convinced that the Palestinians are not partners. Partnerships are created and fostered.

They tend to be mutually assuring as they develop and deepen. True partnerships for peace are not built by walls and fences, which are usually interpreted by the Palestinians as cages. Partnerships are built by developing positive relations between individuals – including political leaders, politicians, business people, academics, athletes, artists, etc. They need to be encouraged and fostered. These partnerships are not built and developed when concepts of making peace include statements like: “We want to divorce the Palestinians” (Yair Lapid), or “Us here and them there” (Ehud Barak, Isaac Herzog) – this kind of philosophy of peacemaking is not peacemaking at all and it inspires no one – no one in Israel and no one in Palestine. Genuine peace is made by changing the relationships between people, not by making them invisible to each other.

Yes, there must be a clear border between Israel and Palestine, but that border must be a place of crossing, of movement back and forth for both peoples in both directions.

It is very difficult to believe in peace today. But all of those who don’t believe it is possible have presented no viable alternative. The Bennett, Liberman, Hotovely, Shaked, et al plan to annex Area C of the West Bank is a non-starter for Israel in the world and vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Does any one of these people actually believe that the Palestinians would ever agree to such an arrangement or that the world would accept it? If the violence is bad now, wait until after Israel annexes parts of the West Bank. That will definitely bring back the suicide bombers, will guarantee Hamas (or worse) takes over the West Bank and generate massive support for boycotts around the world.

The prime minister hasn’t presented any new plan or idea. No one knows what he really wants – not even within his own party. In the meantime the situation is not improving and the Israeli public gives him the leeway of not presenting a plan because they are under the delusion that Netanyahu is the best person to provide them with security. I don’t feel secure living in Jerusalem nor do I believe most Israelis feel secure in their homes.

But Netanyahu enjoys a Teflon-coated political existence mainly because no one in the opposition has arisen as a serious candidate with a discernible plan for how it could be different. Herzog is a miniature Netanyahu in terms of his rhetoric and Lapid often attacks Netanyahu from his right flank.

How could we expect the Israeli public to think differently when no credible opposition has risen to challenge the absurdity of a situation which guarantees a continued lack of security and no hope for anything better?

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