Talk of managing, as opposed to solving, the Israel-Palestinian dispute has become increasingly fashionable in these years of a faltering, and at times failed, peace process. For many commentators it had become a case of Israel having to decide not to decide, for now at least. However, with the onset of Secretary of State Kerry’s most recent round of negotiations, we have seen a concerted effort to revive hopes for an imminent resolution of the conflict around a two-state proposal. President Obama’s recent interview in Bloomberg has already drawn much comment. Friends of Israel have expressed fully warranted dismay at the president’s disingenuous attempts to frame Prime Minister Netanyahu as some kind of hardened rejectionist of the peace process as the president willfully ignored the many concessions for peace already sacrificed by Netanyahu. He spoke as if the settlement freezes, prisoner releases and countless hours of negotiating had never happened.
Of course, Netanyahu already embraced the concept of two states as soon as he took office, as outlined in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech. However, Israel’s prime minister has also made quite clear that any genuine peace will have to rest on full Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. This has been responded to with skepticism from much of the international community, particularly on the part of the Europeans. The Zionist left (or at least what remains of it) has also proven pretty cold to this demand, with even moderates from this camp such as Shlomo Avineri appearing unenthusiastic about the Jewish state demand.
However, in this month’s featured essay for Mosaic Yoav Sorek not only proposes an alternative strategy, and indeed attitude, for Israel, but a strategy that places at its core the assertion of the Jewish state and its most fundamental rights. In his essay Israel’s Big Mistake Sorek argues that the path of concession and accommodation pursued by Israel since the early 1990s has been a disastrous one, only weakening it and emboldening the demands of Israel’s enemies. Sorek makes a strong case for the acknowledgement of the fact that since the conflict has not ever been about territory, but rather about ending Israel’s existence, nothing short of a total acceptance of a Jewish state in the Middle East will be able to deliver real peace.
Israel’s mistake has been to buy into the notion that it can purchase from the Arab world its right to exist by trading territory. It has pursued the land for peace equation on the belief that if it shrinks its territory and weakens itself strategically it can placate it enemies’ hostility. But as Sorek points out, logically the opposite is true. It is only by maintaining its strength, asserting its presence, and demanding to be recognized that Israel can have any chance of eventually compelling its neighbors to accept the reality of its existence, and in doing so fulfill the foundational vision of Zionism.
As far as concluding the long running dispute with the Palestinians is concerned, Sorek proposes that Israel might start by not seeking to appease and legitimize the most hard-line elements among the Palestinians. It was the great mistake of the Rabin government, the author argues, to recognize and elevate the PLO instead of continuing the policy of working to defeat Arafat’s terror organization. Instead, Sorek suggests that Israel should essentially take the initiative and simply assert its rights and authority over the entire territory in its control. Whether or not Israel is to find a way to simply fully integrate the Arab communities living throughout its territories, or whether they will ultimately see their future in reclaiming their former Jordanian citizenship, Sorek makes the claim that none of this will prove as difficult as the 20-year long shambles of attempting to establish a Palestinian state.
Obama makes the dishonest claim that he would like to be presented with some alternative to the two-state proposal. But that request is doubly disingenuous, because not only does the president clearly have no desire for an alternative plan, but he also knows full well that Netanyahu is cooperating in efforts to establish a Palestinian state. Yet, Netanyahu is also pursuing somewhat of a synthesis approach by insisting that territorial compromise by Israel must be matched by real Palestinian acceptance of the Jewish state.
Israel’s prime minister may demand this acceptance, but it is a sign of how doubtful the Israelis are that it will come from the region as a whole that they continue to insist that they hold such strategically significant areas as the Jordan valley. As Sorek observes in his essay, Israelis have given up on the hope of ever being embraced by the wider Arab-Islamic world. TS Eliot once wrote of those dreaming up systems so utopian that no one in them would ever need be good. In this way talk of sophisticated early warning systems in the Jordan valley, symbolic deals on token numbers of refugees, land swaps and more, are all part of misguided efforts to negotiate a final status arrangement so watertight that it won’t matter if the Jewish state is still reviled by Palestinians and the wider region.
As Yoav Sorek argues, nothing short of full acceptance of the Jewish state will bring peace to Israel and end the conflict, pursuing that acceptance is the only viable way to bring about a real and lasting peace.