For more than two decades political proposals, diplomatic initiatives, and international resolutions, as well as specifically Palestinian and Israeli initiatives, such as the unofficial Geneva Accords, have failed to bring about peace between Palestinians and Israelis. A main reason for this failure is Israeli society’s and its leaders’ repeated failure to address difficult issues, such as Israel’s borders, its treatment of its Arab citizens and its relationship with neighboring countries. Israel’s reluctance to seriously address these issues has left many Palestinians bewildered. For decades Israel and the international community have stated that recognizing Israel and a Palestinian state on only 22 percent of historic Palestine was enough to end the conflict. In the same way, the Saudis thought that their peace initiative – offering Arab recognition of Israel and normalization of relations in return for Israel’s withdrawal to the June 1967 borders and a just solution for the refugees issue – adopted at the Beirut Arab League summit of 2002, would encourage Israel’s leadership to end the occupation and the conflict.
Today, the international community is again at a loss as Israel refuses to abide by international resolutions and international law. Many Israelis until today accuse Arabs and Palestinians of having wasted a historic opportunity for peace by rejecting the 1947 United Nations partition plan. Yet when Arabs and Palestinians offered the Israelis recognition in a territory larger than those outlined by the plan, Israel wasted the opportunity for peace and continued annexing as much West Bank and Jerusalem land as possible. This Israeli approach has not only made peace difficult, it has made a viable Palestinian state impossible.
Today, there are four critical issues Israel must resolve internally in order to give peace a chance. The four issues involve Israel’s borders, its relationship with its Palestinian citizens and neighbors, its relationship with its Arab neighbors, and its outlook on regional security.
When Israeli leaders talk about borders no one knows exactly which borders they mean. When Israeli Education Minister Yuli Tamir proposed that Israel’s borders should be shown in school textbooks to be the pre-1967 “Green Line, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s response was vague. He said, “There is nothing wrong with marking the Green Line, but there is an obligation to emphasize that the government’s position and public consensus rule out returning to the 1967 lines. Which borders, then, are Israelis asking its neighbors to recognize?
It is increasingly apparent that Israel’s “security fence in the West Bank is little more than a plan to annex more land. The most powerful evidence is Israel’s disregard for the International Court of Justice decision concerning the separation barrier. It stipulated: “Israel is under an obligation to terminate its breaches of international law; it is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated. The Israeli government has not only avoided the difficult issues, it often further complicates them. Take the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman a right-wing extremist and bigot, as minister of the newly formed Ministry of Strategic Affairs. The ministry aims to find solutions to difficult strategic challenges facing Israel, yet Lieberman’s “solutions often seem based on hatred for anything that is Palestinian or Arab. He is the one who came up with the idea of drowning political prisoners from Israeli’s Palestinian population in the Dead Sea, and offered to provide the transportation to take them there, according to the Haaretz daily. Many Israelis continue to insist that Jordan is Palestine, even though neither Jordanians nor Palestinians will ever accept such a preposterous claim.
A majority of Israelis and members of security agencies view Palestinian citizens of Israel as a security threat, so the state treats them as second-class citizens. The Israeli government still looks down on its Palestinian citizens, and spends much money and energy to control them, rather than integrating them as full citizens, as doing so would weaken the constitutionally determined “Jewish nature of the state.
Unfortunately, Israeli intellectuals, the political elite and research centers have been reluctant to address these moral and ethical failures, allowing extremists like Lieberman to represent the strategic face of Israel, and wasting many important opportunities for peace. This fault line between Israeli moderates and extremists like Lieberman has worsened since the assassination of the former prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and the failure of intellectuals to directly tackle critical issues dividing Israeli society. Intellectuals are increasingly ceding ground to extremist voices in Israel, weakening any chance of the country being able to play a positive role in the region. Instead, Israel has been reduced to being a burden on American strategic aims in the region. Israeli’s once envied security doctrine has, instead, led to poorly calculated military misadventures.
At the Arab League summit in Riyadh recently, the Arabs renewed their commitment to a historic Arab peace initiative. There have been other Palestinian, regional and international attempts to open horizons for peace through this initiative. However, many observers are not optimistic because Israel refuses to address the most basic critical issues of peace. Israeli society is still not ready for peace due to the shortsightedness of its leadership and elite and its dearth of accomplished leaders of the caliber of Rabin. Only when leaders of such caliber stand up will Israel be able to face the difficult choices that peace demand. Emad Omaris a conflict resolution and media expert. He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.