By Barry Rubin*
This could be the most important article I write this year. Israel has entered a new era of thinking and policy in which old categories of left or right, hawk or dove are irrelevant under a national unity government bringing together the two main ruling parties.
How did this new paradigm arise?
Between 1948 and 1992, the Israeli consensus was that the PLO and most Arab states want to destroy Israel. When—or if--the day comes that they’re ready to negotiate seriously we’ll see what happens.
Then came the Oslo agreement and a huge shift. The governing view was that maybe the Palestinians and Arab states learned the cost of their intransigence enough to make peace possible. The left thought a deal could bring real peace; the right thought it was a trick leading to another stage of conflict on terms less favorable to Israel. But both expected a deal to materialize.
The year 2000, the Camp David failure, the Syrian and Palestinian rejection of generous offers, and Second Intifada destroyed illusions in Israel.
Since then, Israel has groped for a new paradigm. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon offered unilateralism; Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni constantly offered more in exchange for nothing. But the more they did so, the more international abuse Israel received.
Now a new approach has finally emerged capable of reversing this situation. It goes like this: Israel wants peace but doesn’t hesitate to express not only what it wants and needs but also what’s required to create a stable and better situation. To ensure that violence and instability really ceases requires:
--Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Without this step, the aftermath of any “peace” agreement would be additional decades of Arab effort to destroy Israel in all but—temporarily—name.
--Absolute clarity that a peace agreement ends the conflict and all claims on Israel. Otherwise, the Palestinian leadership and much of the Arab world would regard any “peace” agreement as a license for a new stage of battle using Palestine as a base for renewed attacks and demands.
--Strong security arrangements and serious international guarantees for them. Have no doubt; these will be tested by cross-border attacks from Palestine.
--An unmilitarized Palestinian state (a better description than “demilitarized”), with the large security forces they already have: enough for internal security and legitimate defense but not aggression.
--Palestinian refugees resettled in Palestine. The demand for a “Right of Return” is just a rationale for wiping Israel off the map through internal subversion and civil war.
If Israel gets what it requires—and what successful peace requires—it will accept a two-state solution, a Palestinian Arab Muslim state (the Palestinian Authority’s own definition) alongside a Jewish state, living in peace.
Part of the new thinking is to understand that precise borders and east Jerusalem’s status, while important, are secondary to these basic issues. If those principles are resolved, all else can follow.
This new posture is not one of desperately asserting Israel’s yearning for peace but rather saying: We’re serious, we’re ready, we’re not suckers but we’re not unreasonable either. We want peace on real terms, not just more unilateral concessions and higher risk without reward. Not experimenting with our survival to please others. Not some illusory celebration of a two-state solution for a week and then watching it produce another century of violence.
Is it really such a brilliant idea to rush into giving a state without serious conditions to a Palestinian regime which has failed to govern competently what it already has, daily broadcasts incitement to murder Israelis, is profoundly corrupt, has already lost half its patrimony to a rival whose goal is a new genocide but whose own most fervent wish is to merge with that rival, and whose program is merely for the world to pressure Israel into handing it everything?
The best outcome would be if this program was met by Palestinian cooperation. If they are suffering so under alleged occupation, if so desperate for their own state, there’s nothing in this offer they can’t accept.
If, however, they prefer rejectionism, exposing their claims as false, that, too, is acceptable. The truth would be known: the Palestinians and much of the Arab world can’t make peace with Israel because they don’t want peace with Israel. And that is because they don’t want Israel to exist. Period.
Around this program, Jews outside Israel should rally, putting aside old conflicts about who’s more passionate about peace, who more concerned about security. The same applies to other countries and those well-intended who want to see a strategic situation more in accord with both their interests and humanitarian considerations.
In this context, there is no more puerile and misleading notion than that Israel’s government has put forth a program encompassing a two-state solution because of U.S. demands or pressures. This is a plan that organically grew out of the country’s situation, experience, and a broad national consensus.
A second notion Israel’s new paradigm rejects is the argument that either Israel is so strong that it can give without receiving or so weak that it must do so. The country simply does not desperately need a deeply flawed "solution" to be grabbed either out of misplaced "generosity" or "fear."
Another mistaken conception is that the status quo is intolerable and that any change would be for the better. More risks, concessions, and the establishment of an unstable and hostile Palestinian state--the most likely outcome at present--would make things worse.
Equally wrong is the notion that time is against Israel, a strong and vibrant society surrounded by weak, disorganized neighbors. Israel’s strategic situation has dramatically improved over the decades. It is a strong, confident society visibly meeting the challenge of the modern economic and technical environment.
Finally, and of the greatest importance, is the fact that Israel’s new policy is truly based on a consensus. It merges both the conservative approach--proper suspicions and demands for security and reciprocity—and the liberal approach--a proper readiness to compromise and desire for true peace--into one package.
Both elements are now blended in the thinking of the overwhelming majority of Israelis. A new national consensus has emerged which will be strong, and durable. If the world pays attention to it, there might actually be some real hope for peace.
But as long as Western governments and media are only interested in two things--what the Palestinians demand and new concessions from Israel--the situation will remain frozen for many years to come.