Friday, August 10, 2007

What's in it for us?

Those who still have faith in the workability of a two-state solution need to do more to convince the Israeli public they're right.

Josh Freedman Berthoud

It is hardly a surprise that most Israeli settlers oppose any talk of further withdrawals from the West Bank. The evacuation from Gaza two years ago, has strengthened their resolve and provided "evidence" to back up their claim that withdrawal doesn't work: the endless rocket attacks on Sderot are held up as proof that the Palestinians don't want peace and the infighting in Gaza is shown as evidence that the Palestinians are incapable of ruling themselves.

But it is not just the settlers who have no faith in the land-for-peace ideal. Ordinary centrist Israelis - those who supported withdrawal in 2005 - have also had their belief shattered by the fallout from Palestinian autonomy in Gaza. Recent Haaretz polls indicate that while 70% of Israelis favour a two-state solution, only 39% believe that this is possible in the near future. Thus while a great deal of progress has been made in the normalisation of the concept of a Palestinian state in the last 30 years or so, the Israeli public are still a long way from believing that it is presently achievable.

It is easy for the right wing in Israel to dismiss the position of the left as the ultimate in wishful thinking. When I spoke with a highly intelligent Russian Israeli yesterday, he parroted the left's view as either "we just want quiet - give them what they want, then build a big wall between us and we'll be fine" or "the Palestinians are so depressed - they need a state. If they get one they'll thank us and live in peace." Gaza, and the rise of Islamism, was then used as a demonstration of why these naïve views won't hold.

It is clear to see why neither of these statements is realistic. Regardless of the need for a Palestinian state, it is deluded to imagine that there aren't elements in Palestinian society who will try to wage war against Israel, if they have the state and resources from which to gather strength. It is wrong to think that Islamist support for the destruction of Israel will die out overnight. It is also simplistic to imagine that a mere wall will be enough to prevent attacks on Israel.

But these claims alone shouldn't be capable of defeating the public's support for two states. And yet somehow the example of Gaza is being effectively used in this way. And for that reason the government, the Israeli left and, crucially, the Palestinian leadership need to be dedicating more time to persuading the wider Israeli public that these threats are not insurmountable and that, in the long run, a two-state solution will mean less confrontation, not more.

For that reason, Ehud Barak's reference yesterday to his intention to invest in a multilayered missile defence system was a step in the right direction, not because a military resolution to conflict is favourable, but rather because it is a direct response to the public's criticisms of the Gaza pullout and will help to show that there is a way to protect the public from Qassam rockets that may be fired from a Palestinian-ruled West Bank. It also shows that the government is prepared to listen to the Israeli public's genuine concerns, where Sharon, and Barak before him, were both deemed to be impervious to general counsel.

However, the Iron Dome project, while perhaps necessary, is nevertheless a very expensive remedy for a symptom and not the cause. In essence, it is the same as the big wall idea - a sophisticated manifestation of a simplistic solution - and will not encourage the Israeli public to believe that the Palestinian populace intend to live in peace with Israel.

Those people - Israelis and Palestinians alike - who do believe that an independent Palestine can live in relative peace alongside Israel need to be doing a lot more to convince the Israeli public of why. They need to demonstrate that it was the method, and not the fact, of the Gaza withdrawal that threatened Israeli civilians. They need to show how Islamist militancy will be more easily overcome once the economic and nationalistic problems that fuel its recruitment drive are removed; they need to demonstrate that Israel's support for Fatah won't blow up in its face, just as its support for Arafat did previously. Israel needs to show how economic independence and prosperity bring political stability and how the removal of an occupying army reduces the number of points of friction. The Palestinian leadership needs to show that it is capable of reining-in militias. The international community must demonstrate its readiness to dedicate sufficient forces with adequate powers to prevent an escalation in hostilities. Israel must dedicate its PR to show, using examples from around the world - including Israel - that when a people demanding a whole land compromises to receive a workable amount of land along with independence, moderate factions begin to outweigh the extremists who want all or nothing. In short, the Israeli public need to have their faith restored in a two-state solution. They need to know what's in it for them.

Because no matter how just it is that the Palestinians receive their own state; no matter how little right Israel has in arbitrating over the Palestinians' entitlement to self-determination, it is the Israeli public who will elect a government with the mandate to proceed towards a peace agreement - or not. And what with the instability of Israel's system of proportional representation, a government can be ousted in a flash if the public isn't convinced that a two-state solution is practicable. And with Bibi, Liebermann and the rest itching on the sidelines, that can only spell bad things for the prospect of a Palestinian state.


Post a Comment

<< Home