Haaretz continues to publish articles wherein prominent leftists introspect. This is one example. But this idea of “Arab world first, Palestinians later” was a key point made by PM Netanyahu at the UN this week. Ted Belman
For the past 12 years Israel has had at its doorstep a strategy that would enable a U-turn: One that goes from the general (the Arab world) to the specific (the Palestinians).
The two-state solution – if it still has any chance of realization – will not be implemented in negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. The path of direct negotiations between the two has been sterile for years, and no additional fertility treatments will help. How can something that has been infertile all these years become fertile? Why should something that has been unsuccessful so many times in the past succeed now?
Israel and the Palestinians simply don’t know how to save themselves by themselves. And the involvement of the United States and the European Union in the past 20 years has also yielded spoiled fruit.
For the past four decades the Israeli left has diagnosed the need for a solution to the conflict between us and the Palestinians as being a precondition for Israel’s acceptance in the region. For the past 30 years the left has been explaining that this solution will be implemented only by means of direct talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives – namely, the PLO. In the past 20 years Israeli governments have adopted this thesis. The left can console itself by thinking that although it is not in power, it has succeeded in writing Israel’s diplomatic agenda vis-a-vis the region.
But for the past 20 years the Israel-PLO path has been a disappointment. Without apportioning, in terms of percentages or proportions, the responsibility of the Israeli and PLO governments for this failure – this fact is unequivocal. Negotiations (direct and indirect) between the PLO and Israel don’t lead to anything. Maybe only to short intermissions between the rounds of war.
The diagnosis that Israel’s future is linked to its relations with the Palestinians is completely valid even today. But the medication we are taking – negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians – is no more than a placebo. Anyone who still believes that the two-state solution is possible has to come up with real, effective medication.
What was the basis of the strategy the left bequeathed to Israel? The approach that the process of finding a solution would begin from below (i.e., involving the PLO and Israel) and move upward – that is, “from the bottom up.” That a solution to the Palestinian question would enable normalization of Israel’s relations with the Arab world, from the specific to the general. This is a dangerous mistake that we can already admit to making. The theory of “Ramallah first” does not hold water. Israel is unwilling and the PLO is unable, or perhaps it’s vice versa. It makes no difference. The result is the same.
The pathetic hope that the PLO and the Palestinian Authority will play a central role in mediating between Israel and Hamas will also prove to be a disappointment. And we will once again open our eyes wide in astonishment and think that there’s something wrong with us. The only thing that’s wrong with us is out adherence to a sterile mode of conduct.
In the past two decades the regional picture has changed drastically: The tension between Israel and the Arab world is gradually lessening, and is far more moderate than the level of tension between Israel and the Palestinians. This constitutes a deep-seated trend with strategic implications for ways of solving the conflict. For the past 12 years Israel has had at its doorstep a strategy that would enable a U-turn: One that goes from the general (the Arab world) to the specific (the Palestinians).
The 2002 Arab League proposal is the alternative route offered by the strategy of “from the top down”: first, a comprehensive agreement with the outer Arab circle, and only afterward an agreement between Jerusalem and Ramallah, or between West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem. An accord with the Palestinians would be derived from an agreement with the Arab world rather than vice versa.
We can assume that the Arab world is also tired and despairing of the meager achievements produced by the direct contacts between Israel and the Palestinians, and that the Arab League countries no longer believe in U.S. mediation. Is it any wonder? If the left is interested in an agreement and in saving Israel, it must offer an alternative strategy – without giving up its vision. And “along the way,” the left can once again earn its place in determining the national agenda.
Israel’s difficulty – clearly manifested the left – is the difficulty of the pilot who is suffering from vertigo. The instruments are telling him one thing with scientific certainty, but some accursed habit tells him to behave in a way that will cause him to crash. The diplomatic flight instruments are telling us that there is a path that is likely to prevent the crash, but our bad habits, and the endlessly repeated words, and the thousands of contacts, and the ties that have been formed, and our inner convictions – all our maneuvering us toward a crash only because we have become addicted to a placebo.
The writer was a Meretz MK.