The Labor Party took a wise and necessary decision this week toward preserving the two-state solution.
As the main opposition party, it has begun the process of creating a viable alternative for the Israeli electorate. The party’s decision reflected the reality of the current round of violence and the absence of leadership on both sides of the conflict capable of engaging in a renewed peace process with genuine negotiations.
The Labor Party also finally officially took notice of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and referred to its own platform as an Israeli peace initiative. In the absence of any political initiative coming from the Israeli government, the Labor Party’s initiative reflects a commitment to the modus operandi of the Zionist movement of taking steps that shape the agenda of the State of Israel rather than being responsive to events. As opposed to some two-state advocates frustrated with the lack of Israeli initiative, Labor does not advance unilateralism as its main thrust but does in fact see the need for a negotiated end to the conflict.
While noting several positive steps in the initiative, including the call to freeze all settlement building outside of the settlement blocs (more or less east of the separation barrier), and the general approach that for the sake of Israel, the two-state solution must be preserved against the binational reality that the Netanyahu government is helping to make permanent, the Labor initiative includes several unrealistic elements and some unhelpful proposals.
There are proposals that recognize the urgent need to improve the lives of Palestinians by fostering a healthier Palestinian economy. There is also the recognition that life in Gaza must improve and that Gaza must be part of a future solution in a negotiated agreement, predicated on the return of a more moderate leadership to Gaza.
The initiative however does nothing to encourage the Palestinian Authority and its leadership to re-engage with Israel. The Labor Party vision includes the fundamental separation paradigm (Ehud Barak: “Us here and them there”) which is based on walls and fences.
The proposal does not relate to the walls and fences as a necessary evil at this time for reasons of pure security but rather plays directly into the narrative of fear, which has generated hatred and even racism. This is exactly the kind of sentiment magnified by Netanyahu in his pre-election call warning that the Arabs were voting in hordes and “there will be no Palestinian state on my watch.” These kinds of statements and political platforms are not helpful at all in generating support for peace and a future which must be based on interaction and eventual cooperation between the two peoples living on the land between the River and the Sea.
By not calling for two capitals in Jerusalem Labor repeats the false mantra of the united Jerusalem when in fact Jerusalem is a very divided city, and although the initiative makes mention of separating from tens of Palestinian villages in the Jerusalem area, without a Palestinian state capital in those areas in east Jerusalem where Palestinians live there will never be a Palestinian partner for peace. The initiative in this and other aspects contradicts itself by stating that future negotiations will be based on the Clinton parameters from 2000 but making no mention of the fact that those parameters include two capitals in Jerusalem.
Another completely non-helpful aspect of the Labor initiative is its statement that the IDF will be the only military presence west of the Jordan River. In any future peace agreement the Palestinian state will be non-militarized, yet there will be no long-term IDF presence in the Palestinian state without it being based on joint security mechanisms, command and deployment.
Rather than hiding this, Labor should be not only focused on getting votes by stating things that they think the electorate wants to hear, but should also be engaged in shaping new public opinion which is more realistic in creating a viable and compelling vision for peace. It is good that Labor relates to the Arab peace initiative and speaks of the need to engage the Arab states that share common threats with Israel both from Iran-Hezbollah and from Islamic State, but Labor needs to be more honest and realistic in presenting to the public that the key to opening the door to wider (and very necessary) cooperation with Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabic, the Gulf States and others is the Palestinian issue and ending the occupation.
The party should be more direct in stating that it proposes that Israel should announce its acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for future negotiations with the Palestinians, even though some of the Arab states that signed onto it in the past no longer exist and withdrawal from the Golan Heights is not in the cards at all.
I expect the leading opposition party in Israel to present a vision which fosters hope and challenges the public to come to terms with the need for Israel to end its occupation over the Palestinian people, and that sees a future which will be based on cooperation and interaction and not on building the walls higher and keeping Israel (and the Palestinians) locked in a sovereign cage.
The walls and fences will eventually fall when their primary security function is no longer needed. People and goods will eventually move freely between the two states and beyond. If Israelis and Palestinians don’t cooperate together on providing security, there will be no security and no peace. If Jerusalem is not the capital of both Israel and Palestine there will be no peace and Jerusalem will never be recognized as the capital of Israel.
The vision presented by the Israeli opposition must be realistic, compelling and appealing to what is good for Israel and its people and not only addressing itself to what Israelis fear.
The vision of our future must present to the Israeli public, particularly the young generation, a world view which is based on the interactions of peoples, the desire to build partnerships and cooperation with Israel’s neighbors. The alternative platform for Israel’s future must be positive, optimistic and visionary alongside down to earth, realistic and achievable. The Labor Party must demonstrate its commitment to its platform by rebuilding partnerships first with Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens and then with Israel’s neighbors in Palestine, Egypt and Jordan. Words and platforms must be translated into action and Labor must be proactive in its reaching out to Israel’s neighbors if they expect anyone to take them seriously.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.