By Barry Rubin*
April 25, 2009
Ring! Ring! The Israeli prime minister's alarm clock went off. He quickly sat up in bed and immediately shouted out: "Yes! I'm for a two-state solution!"
At breakfast, lunch, and dinner, during his talks and all his meetings, in greeting his staff as he walked down the corridor to the office, endless he repeated that phrase.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what the world seems to want from Israeli policy.
But the fact is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted the two-state solution back in 1997 when he took over in the midst of the Oslo agreement peace process and committed himself to all preceding agreements.
This is not the real issue. The real issue is this: much of the world wants Israel to agree in advance to give the Palestinian Authority (PA) what they think it wants without any concessions or demonstration of serious intent on its part.
The first problem is that the demand is totally one-sided. Does the PA truly accept a two-state solution? That isn't what it tells its own people in officials' speeches, documents of the ruling Fatah group, schools, the sermons of PA-appointed clerics, and the PA-controlled media.
The second problem is that PA compliance with its earlier commitments is pretty miserable, though this is a point that almost always goes unmentioned in Western diplomatic declarations and media.
More often than not the PA's performance could be called one of anti-confidence-building measures. In other words, what it does makes Israel and Israelis less certain that it is ever going to make a stable and lasting peace.
The third problem is that this leaves no room for asking the question: what does Israel want in exchange for accepting a Palestinian state, leaving West Bank territory, or even agreeing to a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem.
How about recognizing Israel as a Jewish state since, after all, the PA Constitution defines its country-to-be as an Arab Muslim state and the PA makes clear that all Jews who have come to live there since 1967 must leave. These stances don't bother me in principle only the hypocrisy of doing one thing and demanding Israel do another.
How about agreeing-which any nationalist movement should be eager to do-that all Palestinian refugees be resettled in the state of Palestine.
How about accepting that a two-state solution would permanently end the conflict?
How about stopping daily incitement to kill Israelis and destroy Israel in PA institutions?
How about being open to border modifications or security guarantees like not bringing foreign troops onto Palestinian soil?
Aid to the PA is conditioned on absolutely nothing of the sort. These points aren't even mentioned and Western diplomats and journalists don't wax indignant about the PA's intransigence.
In short, Israel is asked to give without getting in return.
The foreign policy of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni often consisted of ritual confirmations that yes indeed they favored a two-state solution and couldn't wait until a Palestinian state came into existence.
That behavior didn't bother me, though they should have raised Israeli demands more often as well. Still, the problem is-and every Israeli saw this-that it brought little benefit. Hamas's takeover of the Gaza Strip, criticism of Israel in defending itself against Hizballah attacks in2006, and the general growing hostility of the Western intelligentsia all took place during the era of "We-favor-a-two-state-solution" repetition.
In the longer-term, the growing demonization of Israel has taken place after it pulled out of the Sinai Peninsula, south Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, and large parts of the West Bank; offered to accept a Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem; let the PLO come in to govern the West Bank and Gaza Strip (including bringing 200,000 Palestinians with it); and provided or permitted the arming of its security forces.
Remember that recent history the next time you hear someone say that more Israeli concessions will bring it peace, security, and a good image.
In recent weeks we have still another myth born, that supposedly the Netanyahu government said progress with the Palestinians depends on action against Iran's nuclear program. This never happened. As Deputy Foreign Ministry Danny Ayalon made clear, this government policy has three themes: negotiations with the PA, stopping Iran's nuclear program, and improving relations with moderate Arab states.
There's also a third myth regarding the Arab peace plan. Israeli governments welcomed the plan as a step forward but pointed out two problems preventing them from accepting it. Most important is the demand that any Palestinian who lived or whose ancestors ever lived on what is now Israeli territory can come and live in Israel. This is correctly seen as a ploy to destroy Israel. The other is that borders must be precisely those of 1967. If there's room for discussion t Israel will discuss this plan; if it's take-it-or-leave-it, there's no alternative but the latter.
Finally, the fact that Hamas rules the Gaza Strip is no Israeli rationale for refusing concessions but a huge fact of life. How can Israel make peace with "the Palestinians" when the PA has no such mandate? And how could Israel make peace with a Fatah-Hamas PA regime when such a coalition's effect would not be to moderate Hamas but to make Fatah even more radical.
It's silly to assure Israel that peace will bring it greater security when it's unclear whether the Palestinian government would be taken over by Hamas; wage another round of warfare; fire missiles and be "unable to stop" cross-border attacks; and invite in Iranian or Syrian troops. That king of two-state solution would be far worse than the status quo.
So let's say it again: If the PA shows itself ready to make and keep a reasonable two-state peace agreement there can be a deal. Let them get two dozen billion dollars of international "compensation" Let the Palestinian people live happily ever after in their Arab, Muslim state with rising living standards.
OK, now what's in it for Israel?
* Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org. His blog, Rubin Reports is at http://rubinreports.blogspot.com/.