By Andrew Wilson
Since the termination of the January round of Israeli-Palestinian exploratory talks in Amman, Jordan, it is clear that Israel fails to comprehend the seriousness of the international community’s request that it present a position mapping out its eastern border. Instead, it continues to justify settler actions, playing the caring government for those who inhabit illegal outposts. This only shows that when it comes to working towards an agreement on borders, sincerity is a virtue in short supply in Israel. Now that the world community is waking up to the empty policies of Israel’s current prime minister, a reckoning will not be long in coming.
Any number of governments and institutions would be willing to support good-faith discussions between Israel and the Palestinians. Instead, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s focus on the threat from Iran, no discussion on borders has emerged—this despite Israel’s earlier indication that it would give itself three months from the start of the exploratory talks on January 3, 2012.
Many in the world community have not forgotten that promise. Israel, on the other hand, is content to go from day to day, in the face of an increasing number of Palestinian hunger strikers and their rising visibility on the world stage. The Palestinians will continue to make their case, as with last week’s announcement by the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) that it would send a fact-finding mission to the West Bank.
Strong condemnation has come from Europe over Israel’s recent actions regarding the Migron outpost. “As per the road map agreement, Israel committed to dismantle the outposts,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement on March 16. “This decision sends a negative message that negates the willingness Israel expressed to reach a two-state solution. It will further complicate the peace process.” Belgium and Austria then voted in favor of the UNHRC investigation of the West Bank. With Europe in the forefront, the world is abuzz with talk of divestment, sanctions and boycotts of Israeli companies and products.
Israel would not be facing this situation if it were secured by diplomacy that befriends its economic partners. Yet for years now, and not just regarding Iran, Israel has been presuming to tell the world how it should to find security and peace. Now Israel is saying that peace can be had even while it refuses to offer a border and continues its occupation of the West Bank. Unfortunately for Mr. Netanyahu, the world is finally saying, “No!”
Can he handle a world ready to turn the tables on him?
The intense diplomatic lobbying that began in September 2011 can produce a border, and with sustained effort it can also produce two states. It does, however, require Israel to play ball. Israel still prefers to play the waiting game, but this time it may well be the loser, as people around the world are prepared to go to bat for stringent economic sanctions against Israel.
Although the U.S. is Israel’s largest trading partner, Europe is the leading destination for Israeli exports. In 2011 Israel exported over $5 billion in goods to Europe, amounting to 35 percent of overall exports. Israeli voters may well sour on Netanyahu when they begin to feel the effects of an economic decline brought on not by the global economic downturn, but rather as a European-led response to the prime minister’s policies. No one wishes for the citizens of Israel to suffer economic hardship, but it may be the final method to bring about two states.
If sanctions take effect, Mr. Netanyahu may think that Israeli citizens of all stripes will rally around him in solidarity over a core issue of national security. But in poll after poll, however, majorities want a negotiated two-state solution. Even yesterday at the J-Street conference, former Prime Minister Olmert declared Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas a bona-fide partner for peace. Palestine does not pose a mortal danger to Israel like Iran does. When the economy is hurting, Israelis will blame Netanyahu, who coddled his settler supporters while badly mishandling national diplomacy.
Will the people of Israel recover their national soul before they have to suffer such a calamity? I sincerely hope so, but time is running out. Every day Israel has more fires to put out and more voices to counter, which are coming from a wide spectrum of people– both Jews and non-Jews. Israel’s citizens, who wish to take pride in their nation’s democratic character, will in time tire of Israel being an object of the world’s scorn: practicing democracy on one side of the 67 lines and apartheid on the other. To be placed in the same category as Afrikaner-ruled South Africa and the segregated American South is a bitter pill to swallow for a people who themselves carry a proud legacy of determined struggle against centuries of discrimination and prejudice.
Israel can do better. Yet the normally outspoken Netanyahu has uttered nary a word that would promote meaningful negotiations in keeping with the goals of the Quartet (the United States, European Union, Russia, and the United Nations).
For this, there will be a reckoning. Despite American politics, there are sufficient numbers of people from non-Arab quarters of the world who will work to create an environment of such outrage that it will pull the rug out from under the status quo. They will label Israel unjust, challenge its claim to providing a true democracy for all people it rules, and openly call for punitive economic measures, including sanctions.
Although the Arab Spring did not cause any overt change in the political status of the Palestinians, vestiges of it may well come back as seepage flowing not out of Arab nations, but from European ones, in sympathy for any people who lack enfranchisement.
Israel’s identity as a Jewish state is supremely meaningful to its citizens and not to be gainsaid. A one-state solution is not an option; therefore it has no other way forward than to grant the Palestinians their own state. As columnist Peter Beinart argues, Israel can no longer afford the luxury of holding on to all the land, with haves on one side of the 67 lines and have-nots on the other side. If it does not budge from the status quo, it will face the world’s opprobrium. The time is fast approaching when Netanyahu will not even have the option of holding his breath and waiting for the ideal political climate in the Knesset to gingerly move against the settler movement.
Mr. Netanyahu is sorely mistaken if he thinks that the world will return to its slumber and refuse to notice the suffering and inhumane treatment of an occupied population. If ever the Internet will produce a state, it will be Palestine, as the younger generation is linked in the knowledge of who does what, no matter who says what. They can see the inequities and oppression for themselves through videos from the West Bank. Then Netanyahu’s lobbying and honey-tongued speeches will lose their effect.
When Europe unites in sanctions against his government for not complying with the requests of the world community, not even America, Israel’s staunchest ally, will stand in the way. Europeans who in the past had reason to defer to America will be less inclined to do so, particularly when President Obama is signaling distance from the Israeli position.
This week when Israel called for the world to utterly delegitimize the UNHRC over its intention to conduct a fact-finding mission to the West Bank, the Obama administration temporized. Even as she criticized the UNHRC for wading into Palestine, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland praised its work in Syria, Sri Lanka, Iran, North Korea, Burma, Libya, and Yemen, saying the UNHRC had “helped spur action on a series of important human rights situations around the world, in part due to vigorous U.S. engagement.”
Here is yet another signal that even though election-year politics will require Obama to object to European sanctions on Israel, he will be able to live with them because he too knows that they offer the best opportunity to realize a two-state solution. Thus he will not do anything to block the Europeans–with their sense of justice–from becoming the midwives of the Palestinian state.
Mr. Netanyahu has grown too big for his britches. His insupportable behavior and empty policies have accomplished little other than to exacerbate world anger towards Israel. Sooner or later that anger will bring Europe to the point of marginalizing Israel, and the average Israeli citizen will taste the bitter medicine.
Momentum for measures to provide the Palestinians with justice at Israel’s expense is building throughout the world. Who or what can slow it down? Only an Israeli presentation on two-state borders accompanied with steps to limit settlement activity for the sake of good-faith negotiations, not by moves sympathetic to settlers. For the Israelis who live in the settlements, the world has not forgotten where they are: on the West Bank.
Only Mr. Netanyahu can speak to whether he will offer a dignified solution for two states or again leave his chief negotiator Isaac Molcho to be laughed out of the room as he was in Amman, with haphazard discussions on using the security fence as a starting point.
It remains to be seen whether Mr. Netanyahu will be a real statesman and manage to produce an outcome the world would appreciate. In any case, an ever-increasing number of the world’s citizens seem to be growing more active. What drives them? The desire to see human dignity fully expressed, not suppressed.
Andrew Wilson is co-author of the Citizens Proposal for a Border between Israel and Palestine (www.israel-palestine-border.org), an independent initiative to draw a map based on the principles of fairness, contiguity, access, minimizing dislocation of the population, and enhancing conditions for economic development.
(Photo courtesy of Abode of Chaos)