Dear Mr. Secretary of State,
You are putting unprecedented time, effort and passion into your attempts to revive the moribund Israel-Palestine peace process. Many have accused you of naiveté; they have said that you don’t realize the depth of this conflict and the bitterness of the clash of the Palestinian and the Israeli narratives, and that you will not deliver easily what all American presidents from George H.W. Bush to Bill Clinton and to Barack Obama in his first term failed to deliver.
While I do not share their cynicism, it is important to recognize your detractors’ reasons for pessimism: Getting Israel and Palestine to the negotiating table has become almost a goal in itself. The only question seems to be which party is guilty of preventing this meeting. In any case, this approach has been tried so many times that it’s unlikely to work now any more now than it did in the past, for reasons I have analyzed elsewhere.
I would like to suggest a psychopolitical hypothesis for why a purely bilateral approach to the Israel-Palestine problem is unlikely to succeed.
The great paradox of Israeli voting patterns was reaffirmed by a recent poll. It showed that 67% of Israelis support this solution of two states, based on the 1967 borders with land-swaps. Only 19% are in favor of religious right-winger Naftali Bennett’s plan of Israel’s annexing 60 percent of the West Bank and thus preventing the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
So why on earth do Israelis keep voting for parties that prevent a peace agreement, even though they support it? To understand this you need to listen carefully to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s position since the 1980s has been that the Middle East conflict is not about Israel-Palestine, but about the question whether Arabs truly accept Israel’s existence. He believes that they do not.
Netanyahu keeps being reelected, because Israelis share this fear. As you well know, Israelis keep reiterating that the two-state solution is but the first step of a two-stage solution of obliterating Israel. And their fears are constantly reinforced by statements by Iranian leaders, Hezbollah’s Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and many Hamas leaders that Israel must disappear from the map of the Middle East.
This puts Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas into an almost impossible situation. I believe he is offering peace in good faith, but Israelis think that he simply won’t be able to deliver; that after Israel retreats to the 1967 borders, forces other than Fatah will resume hostilities and Israel will face rocket attacks on its population centers from a weaker strategic position.
Seemingly there is an answer to Israelis' fears. For years now Abbas has been telling his interlocutors that negotiations should proceed on the basis of the Arab League peace initiative, which has been on the table for more than a decade.
This initiative clearly states that in return for Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 borders, all members of the Arab League, and, in fact, the overwhelming majority of the Islamic world, would recognize Israel and establish full diplomatic relations with it. This should answer Netanyahu’s great doubt and Israelis’ fears.
The problem, Mr. Secretary, is that most Israelis don’t even know of this peace Initiative’s existence! Here are the http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/most-israelis-back-arab-peace-initiative.html">results of a poll conducted for the Israel Peace Initiative in the last week of May and reported by Akiva Eldar in Al-Monitor.
It found that 73.5% of Hebrew-speaking respondents had never even heard of the Arab League peace initiative, 20.5% reported being "slightly knowledgeable" and only 6% felt they were "very knowledgeable" about it. This means the overwhelming majority of Israelis do not know about the option that the Arab world as a whole would accept Israel’s existence!
But there was also a surprising, positive finding in this poll. After respondents heard what the initiative entails, they were asked what their position would be were Netanyahu to adopt the Arab League proposal. A full 69% said they would support it!
The bottom line is very simple: Israelis are in favor of a Palestinian state if the Arab League guarantees full recognition and security for Israel.
From a psychological perspective, the reason they do not move toward peace is that Israelis are simply afraid to hope again that decades of war and violence and the threat to Israel’s existence could come to an end. So what might change their minds?
Here is where you, Mr. Secretary, play a crucial role. No major Arab leader with the exception of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat has ever addressed Israelis directly and told them clearly that the Arab world is willing to accept Israel’s existence. And none of them has explained to Israel that the Arab world has a genuine interest in finally bringing this conflict to an end. My question to you is, do you think you can get major Arab leaders to address Israelis directly?
This will not be easy: Most Arab leaders will be afraid to take such a risk if they are likely to get a cold shoulder from Netanyahu – and none of us knows whether Netanyahu is psychologically and politically capable of truly engaging with the Arab League peace initiative. The question is whether you think you could persuade him to recognize that this is his one chance to bring peace and security to Israel.
In any case, you could use your influence to bombard Israelis with information about the Arab League peace plan and explain its crucial importance for Israel’s long-term security. I know that this is no easy task, especially at a time when the chaos and bloodshed in Syria makes Israelis skeptical that the Arab world can be trusted, if no one knows what it will look like next year.
You are trying to leave a historical legacy by solving the Middle East problem, Mr. Secretary, and I respect the fact that you are willing to put so much at stake, in an area where so many before you have failed. Your success will depend on not focusing exclusively on getting Israelis and Palestinians to the table. Because only a creative, regional approach stands a chance of bringing peace, stability and dignity to this area of the world, ridded as it is by such deep conflict, fear and hatred.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment