Here We Go Again: Another Attempt at Peace
Israeli leaders are embroiled in yet another U.S. attempt to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. Current Israeli Justice Minister, Tzippi Livni, who has been a big proponent of a two-state solution, has been pushing for renewed peace talks since she became a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in March 2013. Under a coalition agreement with Netanyahu, Livni assumed responsibilities as Justice Minister, and also as Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians. She has been meeting with American Secretary of State John Kerry since U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel in March. Soon afterwards, Kerry began his shuttle diplomacy to Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan, in an attempt to jump-start the peace talks.
When Livni was a member of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government (2001-2006), she was already convinced that in order for Israel to be both a Jewish and democratic state, there would have to be a division of land. She relied on 2001 statistics, published by Israeli Hebrew University Professor Sergio DellaPergola, which revealed that Arab families were populating at a much faster rate than Jewish families. Livni was persuaded that this would eventually cause Israel to have an Arab majority, and therefore, cease being a Jewish State. As long as Israel held on to the territories in Judea and Samaria (the W. Bank), Livni feared that Israel would become a permanent occupying power.
|[Livni] has been
Not willing to take into consideration a future mass Jewish immigration to Israel, Livni believed, wholeheartedly, that the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem was a two-state solution. She has been promoting that cause ever since.
As Foreign Minister of Ehud Olmert’s government (2006-2009), Livni pushed for peace talks, based on this same two-state scenario. Olmert agreed with her as he, too, had adopted the two-state solution ideology when he was a member of Sharon’s government. And, he, too, did not want to believe in a future mass Jewish immigration to Israel.
Despite attempts to finalize a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Livni and former Prime Minister Olmert failed to get Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to sign a peace deal with Israel. Since then, there has been only one short time where peace talks were underway, during Netanyahu’s second term in office (2009-2013). He met with Mahmoud Abbas in September 2010 for a few weeks after a 10 month controversial freeze on settlement construction in Judea and Samaria. Those talks also failed.
The Palestinians and the Israelis signed the Oslo Peace Accords in September 1993, which led to Oslo II, the Wye River Agreement, the Hebron Accords, the Road Map, and the Annapolis Process …. all pathways to peace that eventually failed.
In 2000, former U.S. President Bill Clinton was able to get former Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to sit down together and discuss terms for a peace agreement at Camp David. Clinton later developed new parameters which the Palestinians rejected. Israel would have been required to give up 97% of Judea and Samaria with a 1-2% land swap; and, an agreement to divide Jerusalem.
Olmert’s peace proposal in 2008 would have given the Palestinians 93.5% of Judea and Samaria, with a full 6.5% land swap. This also included the division of Jerusalem.
Today, the prospects of Netanyahu meeting Palestinian demands is more unlikely than in his previous term, because of a predicted shake-up of his current government coalition. Right-wing members, such as Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi party have threatened to bolt the government if Netanyahu agrees to give up any of the territory in Judea and Samaria. Israeli Labor Party Chairman Shelley Yachimovich has stated that her party would join the government and give Netanyahu the safety net he needs to sign a peace deal with Abbas.
However, Netanyahu also has to be concerned about members of his own Likud Party who are against a two-state solution that would include an Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 lines. They believe that those borders are indefensible for Israel, and they object to removing major settlements. Looking for a way to stabilize his government, Netanyahu is pushing a bill through the Knesset, which would become Basic Law, calling for a referendum on any peace deal requiring the withdrawal from sovereign Israeli land. Judea and Samaria, today, is considered disputed Israeli territory. So, it would not be included in the referendum. But, land swaps would be in that category.
The Palestinians, along with the Arab League, expect Israel to withdraw to the Green Line with only minor land swaps. They also expect Israel to allow hundreds of thousands of Palestinians the right to settle not only in a Palestinian state, but also in Israel, itself. This would assure an Arab majority which so many Israeli politicians fear would cause the state to cease being the homeland for the Jewish people.
Meanwhile, the status of Jerusalem is the thorniest issue in peace negotiations. Israel has claimed that Jerusalem is the undivided eternal capital of Israel which they see as a biblical and historical right. Now, the Palestinians are claiming that Jerusalem is the undivided eternal capital of a Palestinian State. Neither party in the peace process wants to share Jerusalem, even with U.S. suggestions of a custodial relationship regarding the holy sites in the Old City. America would like to bring Jordan into that framework as sharing responsibility in the control over some of those sites. Older Israelis remember only too well what it was like living under Jordanian control over east Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967, when Jews had little access to the Western Wall or other Jewish holy sites.
The Palestinians have yet to agree that they would live side by side Israel (as the recognized state of the Jewish people). They have also not agreed to an end of the conflict once a peace deal is finalized. They want international peacekeeping forces to control the Jordan Valley (the eastern border of a Palestinian state). Israel is demanding its own military presence in that area, not agreeing to foreign interference.
The differences between the two parties are greater than ever, and the gaps are wider. Abbas has been operating as Palestinian President beyond his term of office which ended in 2009. His legitimacy as the sole representative of the Palestinian people is questionable. After Israel unilaterally withdrew all Jewish settlements from Gaza in 2005, Palestinians there eventually elected Hamas, a terrorist organization, to run their government. Hamas has called for the destruction of Israel and therefore, the Israelis are not willing to negotiate directly with Hamas. Therefore, any Palestinian peace deal with Israel would only be including part of the Palestinian population (i.e., the Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria).
Most Israelis and Palestinians are skeptical that these current talks will lead to a final peace deal. Many believe that Netanyahu and Abbas were dragged into the talks by the United States because American President Barack Obama wants to re-establish a U.S. leadership role in the peace process. With a failed track record in his Middle East foreign policy, Obama needed to broker a deal to regain U.S. strength and influence in the region.
sit for 9 months
in direct talks.
The prisoner release has cost Netanyahu politically, as he promised the Israeli people he would not agree to pre-conditions before direct talks proceeded with the Palestinians. To back out on such a promise, knowing that 88% of the Israeli population is against the prisoner release, must have been hard on the Israeli Prime Minister. His Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said recently, “Releasing prisoners came as a result of choosing a bad option over a worse option… We reached the decision to avoid the worse [option]. Many strategic considerations, which may be revealed in the future, stood behind this, and hence we must go forward with a release of pre-Oslo prisoners.” (7/30/2013 Jerusalem Post).
Netanyahu must have been pushed into a corner by the U.S. Administration to risk losing the trust of his own people, which he did in agreeing to release Palestinian and Arab-Israeli prisoners with “blood on their hands.” A majority of these terrorists slaughtered and maimed Jewish citizens. This has been a bitter pill for Israelis to swallow and already there are protests going on, which threaten to polarize Israeli society.
Israeli officials admit the prisoner release could damage Israel’s security and deterrence capabilities. The fact that Netanyahu would agree to release these terrorists during a peace process without any peace agreement has shocked the general public. Citizens complain that Netanyahu went too far in conceding to Palestinian demands, against his own personal convictions, in order to get Abbas to the peace table. Israeli citizens are tired of conceding to Palestinian demands without getting anything in return.
In the future, the Israeli government may find that releasing terrorists without a definite peace agreement was a foolish undertaking. This may also undermine the legal framework for bringing terrorists to justice and keeping them in jail. If a terrorist knows that he may not spend his life in prison for murdering a Jew because he will later be released in a political deal, this may give him the incentive to take the risk. Israel has now entered murky waters.
It may not be the time or season for successful peace talks. Israelis know the gaps are too wide, and both sides aren’t able to bridge the gaps because political positions have hardened. Without legitimate Palestinian representation and governing leadership; without an Israeli government that is set on giving up land for peace and uprooting settlements; without an agreement on the essential core issues which have plagued the talks in the past, nothing will be accomplished this time around. The U.S. Obama Administration may be the only happy partner to these peace talks. For sure, the Israelis and Palestinians are looking over their shoulder at past failures, while barely able to take steps forward towards what may be another failure to agree on a final peace deal to end the conflict.
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:277