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A Moment to Breathe – and Act

Netanyahu created awareness of conflict’s complexities but Israel must use the time wisely

The dust has settled on the Obama-Netanyahu summit, speeches, counter-speeches, and instant, predictable analyses. Leaving our politics aside, American and Israeli, we now have an opportunity to go beyond performance analyses and the allocation of blame or praise and reflect on here we stand and where we might go.
From the perspective of the majority of Israeli voters, the end result was viewed as a major accomplishment for Prime Minister Netanyahu. An end result was the bringing back of a measure of complexity into the Israeli-Palestinian discussion. Much of this discussion on both sides tends to sloganeering – ’67 borders, land swaps, settlement blocs, demographic threats, right of return. Israelis very often believe that the world has already solved the issue in accordance with a number of these pre-set slogans. Since the issue is resolved, the only question is: Who to blame for the delay? Under Sharon, Olmert and Livni, the conventional wisdom placed the blame on the Palestinians. And under Netanyahu, the blame is now placed on us Israelis.
Again, leaving politics aside, the vast majority of Israelis are deeply troubled by this perception. While most support a two-state solution, the truth is that we simply don’t know how to implement it. Some interpret this as a lack of desire on our part. While in some cases this may be true, it does not reflect the will of most Israelis. What most Israelis have come to understand is that the combination of a viable Palestinian state, secure borders for Israel, Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, Jerusalem, settlements, and the complex political alliances of the Palestinians – all of the above – are going to require solutions more complex than “a return to 1967 borders with land swaps, with further issues to be dealt with later.”
This is what Israelis also find deeply troubling with the Palestinian Authority’s move to seek unilateral approval for a Palestinian state at the General Assembly. Most Israelis, on the surface, support such an entity, and recognize the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to their own homeland. The problem is that what would be voted on at the UN would be a Palestinian state based on simplistic slogans. The decision of the Palestinian Authority to choose that venue is interpreted by Israelis as an unwillingness to do the serious work, as well as the serious compromises needed from both sides if we are to see a two-state solution in our lifetime.
The outcome of Netanyahu’s visit has created, at least within the United States, and as evident at the G-8 Summit, within Canada as well, some room and some time for serious thinking and initiatives which go beyond the common slogans. The challenge Israel’s government faces today is how to properly use this room and time. We can fall into the trap of replacing the old slogans with some new ones, slogans whose sole purpose it is to take up time and to delay the process until our time is up, at which time we can hope for another invitation to address a joint session of the US Congress or count on the Palestinians to not waste an opportunity to waste an opportunity.
While we now have some time, time is not on our side. We are continuing to occupy another people in opposition to our Jewish and democratic values. We have a group of settlements which are expanding naturally every day, many of which complicate any future two-state solution. We have an Israeli population that is becoming increasingly inured to Palestinian rights and to democratic principles and the need to exchange the short term comfortable status quo for long-term stability and justice. And our counterpart is increasingly seeing us as also falling into a process of sloganeering, and negotiarting with the US instead of them.
If “defensible borders” is not to become our sloganeering response to “’67 borders,” we in Israel must begin a much more serious conversation, not about the lines which will not be crossed, but which lines must be crossed. We need to articulate deal makers and not deal breakers, and recognize it is short sighted to believe this is a bad negotiating tactic.
Consequently, we must recognize that all settlement expansion in any area not deemed necessary for our defensible borders needs to be stopped immediately. We must begin to offer resettlement compensation to encourage settlers who are willing to move now. We must begin to construct cities within our defensible borders to house the tens of thousands who, when the day comes, will have to move. We must never cease to pursue negotiations and implement interim agreements, regardless of whether we believe there is a viable partner on the other side. We must redouble our efforts to strengthen the commitment of our citizens to Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which teaches the principles of democracy, equality, and freedom.
Experience has taught us that there is no shortage of explanations for why the above should not be done today, why we should wait for the other side to take the next step. The past has taught us that both we and the Palestinians are uniquely adept at playing the blame game.
In the time and space that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit has created for us, it is time for bold and forward moves. We must do so in the name of a new vision for our Zionism, a Zionism which embraces the need for a Palestinian state living alongside our Jewish and democratic state. Zionism means a willingness to commit oneself to the viability and protection of our country. Prime Minister Netanyahu has served this Zionist spirit well. It is time for our government and indeed for all supporters of Israel both here and around the world to embrace the new Zionist spirit as well.

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