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The New Zeitgeist: Israeli-Palestinian Status Quo Is Untenable

peace now sign 186x140.jpgToday, a group of leading Israel cultural figures, among them winners of the prestigious Israel Prize, gathered in Tel Aviv to announce their welcome of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel, with its borders based on the 1967 borders.  
Their rally was to culminate in the presentation of a one-page declaration whose main message (according to the New York Times) is: 

"We the undersigned citizens of Israel call upon all our compatriots, all the members of the Knesset, the Government of Israel and the governments and citizens of the world to join us in welcoming and endorsing a newly born Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders which were formed at the end of the 1949 war and on the basis of further agreed arrangements between the two sides. 

Sadly but not surprisingly, their rally for peace was disrupted by right-wing protesters accusing the speakers of being "traitors," and a "fifth column."  Slogans associated with the outlawed, terrorist/racist Kach movement were reportedly also in evidence.  

These right-wingers were able to disrupt the rally, but they are helpless to stop the new zeitgeist that is taking hold in Israel and in the American Jewish community (for an example, this recent article by Edgar Bronfman writing in Haaretz, and this one by JJ in the Forward).  This same "spirit of the times" accounts for the fact that today's endorsement of a Palestinian state by Israeli intellectuals comes on the heels of the Israeli Peace Initiative (IPI) - an initiative led by former senior Israeli security, military, and intelligence officials as a (much belated) response to the Arab Peace Initiative (and welcomed by APN).  Both reflect the increasing recognition that the status quo - the continued occupation, with all it means for the health of democracy and rule of law for Israel, and with all it brings to Israel in terms of international criticism and pariah status - is intolerable and untenable.

Another element of this zeitgeist is the embrace of a Palestinian state based on what has become commonly known as the 1967 border (which is actually the 1949 armistice line).  This is no small matter.  Embracing the 1967 line as the starting point for any final borders - and agreeing that any deviations from those lines must be agreed by both parties or, as indicated in the IPI, that there must be one-to-one land swaps - dictates, within some narrow parameters, where any final status agreement can go, whether on settlements or Jerusalem.  If 1967 line, with land swaps, are the starting point, than Israel must reconcile its appetite for every inch of West Bank (and East Jerusalem) land with its readiness to give up land inside what is now sovereign Israel.  This is precisely why successive Israeli governments have refused to take such a position.  

These initiatives, and all the media attention surrounding them, send a powerful message to the world in general, and the Palestinians and the Arab world in particular, that there is still today a constituency in Israel for peace, based on the kind of realistic positions that will be required in order to achieve an agreement.  

They also send an unmistakable message to the Obama Administration and the Netanyahu government:  with the peace process effectively dead and the September UN General Assembly meeting looming, there is an important and influential Israeli constituency that will refuse to play the game of rejecting a Palestinian state recognized by the UN General Assembly based on the 1967 lines.  They will refuse to do so either on the terms of the Israeli government (which suggests that such recognition will be tantamount to a declaration of war by the Palestinians), or on the terms of the Obama Administration (which generally rejects any resort by the Palestinians to the UN, for any purpose).

This should be a wake-up call to both the Netanyahu government and the Obama Administration.  September is coming, and the Palestinians' decision to seek recognition at the UN is being met, in many circles, with a combination of resignation and sympathy.  Two decades of "peace processing" have failed to deliver a two-state solution and have seen more and more of the West Bank and East Jerusalem eaten up by settlements and the security barrier.  Is it any wonder that the much of the world - including many Israelis and American Jews - are neither shocked nor outraged at what appears to be the Palestinians' (risky) action of last resort?   And the Obama Administration today appears to be suffering from self-imposed powerlessness regarding Israel, while Netanyahu goes full steam ahead on settlements.  Is it any wonder that people around the world, including in Israel and in the American Jewish community, are sympathetic to the Palestinian leadership's view that, since it is determined to not permit a return to armed struggle against Israel, it has to find some other constructive path forward?

In this context, yesterday's New York Times report detailing the White House and the Netanyahu government's political calculations surrounding the announcement of a new proposal is disheartening.  First, because according to this report, these calculations have little or nothing to do, for either side, with actually getting a real peace process going again.  And second, because it seems to describe a U.S. administration in which the President - the elected leader of the country - and his Secretary of State want to pursue a serious strategy to break the deadlock and get peace efforts back on track, but they are being vetoed by one un-elected, unconfirmed advisor who has a long track record of failing to achieve peace.

As former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk told the New York Times, "Instead of focusing on peace-making, everybody seems to be focused on speech-making...  And unless the speeches generate peace negotiations, making speeches will not generate peace."  He is exactly right.  The time for political gamesmanship is long past.  If Netanyahu and Obama are truly concerned about the UN General Assembly acting in 5 months to recognize a state of Palestine based on the 1967 lines, they have precisely one option for stopping it: get a serious, credible, peace effort going immediately, and make sure that it is one that will yield rapid results.  If not, whatever they do will only be an exercise of delaying the inevitable, and they will both find themselves pushing up against the growing zeitgeist, in Israel and the U.S., in support of a Palestinian state.