Even as the “peace talks” in Israel have collapsed temporarily, the “peace process” lives on, unfortunately. As explained to me two decades ago by a leftist Israeli diplomat, a “process,” by definition, can never fail. Everything – ups and downs, wars and negotiations, terror and concessions – is part of the “process.” A “process” never ends. And yet, thank G-d Israel finds itself today – relatively, and we hope not temporarily – in a stronger strategic position than it has had in years, with new opportunities on the horizon.
One approach suggests that PM Netanyahu has orchestrated the current situation like a master politician. He has clearly learned from the failures of his first tenure, and has focused this term on maintaining his coalition, strengthening the country from within, regularly utilizing the verbiage of peace but without any of the disastrous concessions that marked his earlier term in the late 1990s. It is not that he has been flawless – there is no logic or morality in releasing murderers from prison in exchange for “talks” – but even that is more demoralizing to the nation than it has long-term strategic consequences.
In symbols and words, Netanyahu keeps alive for both domestic and international purposes the illusion that “peace” is possible and is thwarted only by the obstinacy and hatred of the Arab foe. And, unlike his first term, he eschews media interviews or statements, except on his terms and at the time and place of his choosing. He thereby avoids the sharks in the Israel media, which consists disproportionately of unrepentant leftists who actually believe that “peace” is likely if hundreds of thousands of Jews are expelled from their homes in the heartland of Israel and a “Palestinian state” is formed. (The provenance of that fantasy is a lingering mystery.) Leaders who constantly appear on television, speak on radio or regularly give interviews to journalists, ultimately cheapen their message, enable distortions, find themselves caught in contradictions, become very defensive and engender fatigue among their constituents. (Memo to Obama: less is more.)
Of course, that is one approach. The alternate scenario, almost as plausible, is that Netanyahu genuinely believes that some accommodation with the Palestinians is possible, that he is prepared to make the unspecified but frightening “painful concessions” such a treaty might entail, that much is going on behind the scenes that is not known, that he wants to secure his legacy, etc. That is why he surrounded himself with acknowledged leftists and peaceniks, and even designated Tzipi Livni as the lead negotiator, notwithstanding that she and her party were not needed to form a coalition. She bought him credibility with the media and international diplomats.
Oddly, even those close to Netanyahu do not know his true feelings or direction, but one thing is undeniable: the murkiness of his views has enabled both parties of the right and those that lean left to participate in his government, and that – on balance – centrist government has been able to forge a number of accomplishments in spheres which really matter to people. The coalition is secure (in terms of Israeli politics), and its stability is undoubtedly aided by an opposition that is weak, aimless and occasionally shrill.
Given the hostility (masquerading as evenhandedness) of the American president, it is hard to conjure a better scenario than the freezing of talks, even if the US administration chooses to blame “both sides” for the impasse. It is impossible to justify the bizarre notion that Israel must pay the Arabs in advance to negotiate its own surrender, or make preemptive concessions to satisfy the atavistic Arab need for dominance over Jews. It is good to hear a “no” from Israeli diplomats and its Prime Minister. Ad kan. If the focus shifts away from empty negotiations to improving the material situation on the ground – as Naftali Bennett has long advocated – everyone benefits, Jews and Arabs.
Nevertheless, the dynamic of “negotiations” and “talks” and “peace process” (and signing ceremonies) is so ingrained in the international diplomatic culture that it is hard to see a way in which the current suspension will last an appreciable amount of time. No one is willing to concede the obvious –that peace is not coming in this generation or the next, and possibly never, and that Israel can live quite well with the status quo. The charade must continue. Provocation – i.e., terror – is a familiar Arab tool that changes the equation. The wordsmiths at Foggy Bottom are proficient at finding the precise formulations that say nothing to real people in the real world but promote further diplomacy.
For example, I have never been enamored with the gambit that insists that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” For obvious reasons, that terminology sticks in their craw – but if they had any sense, they would say it. Mouth the words. They don’t have to mean it, and they can retract it the next day. They can even say “Israel is a Jewish state!” to great international fanfare and mutter under their breath “that is why we want to destroy it.” It’s only words, and thus foolish to make concessions for empty words. The fact that Abbas and his corrupt crew cannot bring themselves to say it – knowing the goodies that would come their way if they did –is a powerful indication of the dysfunctional Jew hatred that permeates their society. But can they find a way to murmur something along those lines? Sure. And then what?
Among the persistent myths that fuel the “process” is the notion that Fatah is moderate, Hamas is extremist, but there are elements in Hamas that are also moderate. Thus, the PA is trying to spin the unity agreement with Hamas as reflecting the moderation of Hamas. Of course, it could just as readily reflect the extremization of Fatah, as if they need to be extremized. The difference between the two groups of murderous terrorists is that they usually are rivals with each other, Hamas murders Jews and boasts about while Fatah murders Jews and condemns the cycle of violence, Fatah leaders wear neckties whereas Hamas leaders favor the open shirt, and Fatah mouths words that enable them to be subsidized by the willfully gullible West. Both groups would like to see the destruction of Israel, although Fatah seems more patient. Neither should be trusted by Israel.
Israel finds itself in strong position as it nears its 66th anniversary. Egypt under its new leadership has moved closer to Israel’s interests, Syria is torn apart by an endless and deadly civil war, Lebanon and Iraq are neutralized. Iran remains an existential threat, with the tip of its spear – Hezbollah – looming on Israel’s northern border. But the prospect of an Iranian bomb – which Obama will never obstruct militarily and is currently facilitating diplomatically – has brought together Israel and Saudi Arabia in an unprecedented alliance born of the convergence of their national interests.
Additionally, the demographic demon that has bedeviled two generations of Israeli policy makers has been laid to rest. The Jewish population of Israel is enjoying phenomenal growth, in both the secular and (even more so) the religious sectors. The Arab population is in decline, owing to a dramatically lower birthrate and steady emigration. Those who feared for decades that Arabs would soon outnumber Israelis are finding those concerns baseless, and those who nonetheless keep citing old and flawed statistics of the demo graphic nightmare – discredited now for more than a decade – are polemicists first and not at all objective policymakers. Their ideology trumps their reason. There are some writers who persist in reporting that Israel is “five minutes to midnight,” on the brink of self-destruction unless concessions are made, and quickly. The first time I saw that formulation was, I believe, in 1982, written by the Israel-bashing NY Times columnist Anthony Lewis. I guess the clock must have stopped at some point.
That being said, the last thing Israel needs – and, based on precedent, the road down which it will travel – is complacency. Whatever “is” at the moment will not necessarily stay that way in the future, even the near future. The very nature of the hostile elements that confront Israel ensure that the situation is always fluid. That is why it is important to influence events and not just allow events to dictate the course of policy.
Therefore, Israel should take this opportunity to conduct a funeral – and bury the two-state solution once and for all. It was always a pipedream, going back to 1937 and certainly 1947, that Arabs would countenance the existence of a Jewish state on what they construe to be Muslim land. Nothing has changed to alter that conclusion. Everyone recognizes that even the treaties that Israel has with some neighbors – Egypt, Jordan – are inherently fragile and vulnerable to changes in government. In the 1970s, a Palestinian state was deemed to be antithetical to Israel’s existence, and advocates of such were construed as implacable haters of Israel. A cursory perusal of some of the speeches of, for example, Golda Meir and Menachem Begin (whose political views generally were polar opposites) reveal that both explicitly stated numerous times that a Palestinian state posed an existential threat to Israel.
In the forty years hence, and despite all the rhetoric, negotiations, fantasies and concessions, their words ring even more true today. Such a Palestinian state – without any resources, much less legitimacy – could only find its purpose as a base from which to destroy Israel. When all is said and done, the best PR flacks in the world have not been able to construct a coherent historical narrative that could justify the creation of such a state. It would have only one purpose – to be the instrument that could wage a total destructive war against Israel – and before the Palestinians became international darlings, such was even conceded openly by other Arab leaders.
Caroline Glick, in her powerful new book “The Israeli Solution,” articulates in a very compelling way why the demise of the ‘two-state solution’ is obvious and imperative. (Caroline will be speaking at our shul on Sunday, May 11, at 8:00 PM, for those interested.) Her book, for one thing, should be mandatory reading in every yeshiva high school, because its overview of Israel’s history and the failed diplomacy going back decades –the retread of the same unsuccessful initiative under new names and with new advocates – is informative and comprehensive. It will equip every college student with the knowledge to confound and confront all the disinformation and propaganda they will encounter in their schools.
One need not agree with every policy prescription to realize the enormous contribution this new book makes to the debate. I would not be so quick to offer full citizenship to every Arab in Judea and Samaria, even if the demographics justify it; not every individual living in a democratic society has the right to become a citizen and vote in national elections. Americans certainly realize this, hosting here some 11,000,000 illegal aliens and 13,000,000 legal resident aliens, according to 2011 statistics. And America’s non-citizens are not generally hostile to the polity as are Israel’s non-citizens.
What is most refreshing about her book, though, is the willingness to look anew at an intractable situation and the recognition that the lives of people – real living, breathing people, both Jews and Arabs – will be greatly enhanced by the abandonment of what obviously will not work and the embrace of what might work. As anyone familiar with her writings can attest, Caroline Glick is fearless, passionate, and keenly analytical. The empty cliché “two states for two peoples,” which wafts through the air like pollen and is equally insufferable, is simply not grounded in reality. It will never come to fruition as its fantasists imagine.
It is high time that we realize that, state the obvious, and recall the admonitions of the 1970s and 1980s, all still viable today. Now is the perfect time for that. Israel can prosper in the current environment; it can thrive even more when the “two state solution” is buried and more realistic means of accommodation are entertained. That dose of sanity could even energize the “process” and provide full employment for a new generation of diplomats.