With the building freeze over for several weeks, Israelis living in the West Bank have been watching PM Binyamin Netanyahu to see if he will buckle under US pressure and reinstate a building moratorium to try to keep Abbas in his seat at the peace negotiations.
Yesterday I learned that Bibi had offered the Arabs an additional two months of no settlement building in exchange for an official Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Personally, I was thrilled. I know many people who think Bibi is slippery, and as weak as any Israeli PM in the face of American pressure. But for some reason I can’t quite pin down, I believe he’ll do the right thing. He’s cool-headed under pressure. He doesn’t lose sight of Israel’s goals and role in history as the cradle of our nationhood and current homeland for Jews everywhere. He knows his support base and weighs their needs and expectations carefully in making his decisions. Because of this, despite being what many would call “hawkish” (a ridiculous term, since the “dovish” left has never succeeded in making peace either), Bibi enjoys a stable coalition in the government, and a generally satisfied—if slightly leery—base among the electorate.
I was also not surprised at the immediate Arab rejection of Bibi’s offer. Critics of the current negotiations have stated that Arafat painted any successor into a corner by declining the offer of land and limited return of refugees to Israel, and refusing to end the conflict. If Arafat did not accept that offer, the pundits say, Abbas cannot accept anything less. In addition, Abbas has no mandate to lead the Palestinian Arabs, since his term of office expired in February 2009, and he’s remained in office, postponing elections indefinitely, for 20 months. Instead, he repeatedly threatens to resign and dissolve the PA if his every demand is not met by Israel and the Americans. And when he’s not threatening to resign, he’s been shopping around the Arab League for permission to dissolve the talks anyway.
So who is really interested in peace here? Bibi has called his bluff. He agreed to the 10 month building freeze to coax Abbas to talk. Abbas waited until one month before the freeze expired to pull his finger out and get on a plane. Now he’s miffed that the housing freeze isn’t being reinstated just to keep him at the table. And for the first time in a long time, an Israeli prime minister has turned the tables on an Arab leader and made a clear, simple demand: recognize the Jewish state for what it is.
But Abbas can’t turn his back on the great aspiration of the Palestinian cause: to one day rule over all of Israel. Their idea of a one-state solution is one with no overt Jewish symbols, Jewish curriculum, or Jewish law of return. In other words, a state to be ruled by its majority, which in time, they expect, will be Arab. Failing that, their idea of a two-state solution is a Palestinian state alongside an Israel that is democratic but not expressly Jewish, so that the remedy for a Jewish state could eventually come in the same way as for a one-state solution. This is not paranoia; it’s fact, stated very clearly in the PLO charter (which has never been revised or discarded), and the raison d’etre of Hamas.
Those who despise Israel will find a way to blame Bibi for the probably breakdown of these talks. Indeed, he’s already been excoriated (not least by Israel’s leftist press) for the offer, which they see as a “political ploy to sabotage the talks.” (It just goes to show that Israel can expect any demands it brings to the table to be rejected automatically, whereas Palestinian Arab demands are part and parcel of any peace negotiation, and Israeli compliance with them is expected.) But those with eyes to see will witness the fact that Bibi takes peace seriously, and Abbas does not. Bibi is willing to give as well as take. Abbas believes it is Bibi’s job to give, and his to take. Bibi is willing to work to see both nations settled successfully in their own lands. Abbas will only work toward the PLO’s goal of seeing every dunam of this land successfully in the hands of the Arabs. Bibi’s goal is to end the conflict. Abbas refuses to declare an end to the conflict until the Jews have been rendered powerless and are at the mercy of the Arabs. Bibi’s plan will allow Arabs in Israel to remain Israeli citizens. Abbas will not allow a single Jew to reside in a future Palestinian state. I don’t know about you, but if no peace breaks out as a result of these talks, I’ll know whom to blame.
I have blogged previously (here and here) about recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. For further reading on the subject of Israel as a Jewish state, Emmanuel Navon recently wrote a blog post explaining the meaning of “Jewish state.” This post by Lurker on the Muqata blog discusses the new, hotly-contested loyalty oath for new citizens of Israel, including a discussion of the nature of Israel as a Jewish and “democratic” state. Sort of. And while some Arabs may anticipate the opportunity to open new hostilities in a third “intifada,” this Arab writer thinks that’s a bad idea.
As my mother-in-law always says at the conclusion of any political conversation, “Well, we’ll see what happens.”