Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bernard Avishai: Olmert And Abbas Provided A "Template For Peace"

In an article in this past Sunday Times Magazine, Bernard Avishai (left) writes about how close former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas came to realizing the two-state solution, the only viable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their talks were overtaken by Olmert's resignation on corruption charges, the election of Netanyahu and the Gaza war; Avishai, however, sees them as a template for the present. The two former negotiators warn that the opportunity must not be lost:

...the Israeli-Palestinian talks in 2007 and 2008 provide an invaluable template for a new, Obama-led push for peace. As unlikely as it might sound, now is the time. Obama’s hand in Israel has been strengthened by events in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. At the same time, the U.S. is paying a growing price for the current impasse between Israel and Palestine and the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands, for which Americans receive much of the blame...

...The issues that were supposed to be intractable — demilitarization of the Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees — proved susceptible to creative thinking. Even on borders, Olmert and Abbas were able to agree on fundamentals: a desire to disrupt as few lives as possible and to maximize the contiguity (and therefore the economic possibility) of Palestinian cities. “We didn’t waste a minute during our months of negotiation,” Abbas said.

...[Abbas] told me he expects America to act to bring about a plan by this fall. That is what the Obama administration once promised, that it would work to secure a deal on a Palestinian state by September 2011. “If nothing happens, I will take a very, very painful decision,” Abbas said. “Don’t ask me about it.” He grew wistful. “We have to live with each other. We have to talk with each other. We have to know each other. Many have criticized me since the 1970s, but until now I am committed to peace. But not forever. I don’t mean I will return back to violence — never! In my life, I will never do it. But I cannot stay in my office forever doing nothing.”

...“There is a danger that the events in Egypt will mislead some to lose hope in peace,” Olmert told me pointedly in an e-mail. “I think the opposite, that there can be another way to challenge the events near us. This is the time to move forward, fast, take my peace initiative with the Palestinians and make a deal. This will be my advice to Prime Minister Netanyahu. Don’t wait. Move, lead and make history. This is the time. There will not be a better one.”


OM said...

I'll believe anything right now. I've lost my faith when Bibi was elected, momentarily had my spirit lifted when Obama was elected, and crashed again when nothing changed. So I'll believe anything, even the idea that Olmert the crook was on his way to peace with Abbas...

Jeff Tone said...

Om: I guess you're keeping hope alive. Olmert apparently is a complex individual.

Mohammad Shihabi said...

The two state solution as it stands right now really is impossible.

There's a separation wall that cuts through Palestinian towns and cities and has literally divided families and long-time neighbors.


There are settlements everywhere, and I think this is the most prevalent issue because the right-wing in Israel is just never going to give up on this issue. The idea that West Bank settlements can actually one day be dismantled is,at least for the time being, impossible. The result is that the West Bank right now is a fragmented collection of cities rather than a territory that can actually serve as a viable Palestinian state. This map is an example:


There is no way a Palestinian state can be created under those circumstances. It's either you evict hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes in the West Bank, or you just don't create a Palestinian state. There isn't any other alternative because to keep the Israeli settlements intact necessitates the continuation of an Israeli military presence in those settlements.

Also, the status of Jerusalem is completely blocking a two-state solution as well. East Jerusalem right now is basically under siege. There are mass evictions, bull dozing of homes, and "architectural projects" designed to diminish Palestinian presence in East Jerusalem. The Palestinians are not going to accept a solution where East Jerusalem isn't part of their state. Neither will Israel accept the division of Jerusalem.

You also have the issue of the division of territory, namely, the fact that between Gaza and the West Bank you have lots of Israeli territory. There is just no way that a functioning Palestinian state can be created under those circumstances. You can't be a sovereign state if all your entire economy is at the whim of another nation's checkpoints.

There are other issues that make it impossible as well. Right of return for the refugees. The status of tens of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, many of them youth, who have not yet been given any say in court as to the reasons behind their detention. There's also the issue of whether there is a Jewish temple under the Al Aqsa mosque or not. And so on.

I think the inevitable solution is going to be a "one-state" solution. Palestinians are eventually going to say, "look, we don't care anymore, you can have the whole thing Israel." This is actually something Israel does not want to happen, but with the way things are going, it looks like the Palestinians are on a path towards a South Africa apartheid-like situation with Israel.

Jeff Tone said...

Mohammed, I am quite familiar with the issues you raise: the wall, the settlements, the fragmentation of the West Bank. For me, the operative words are “as it stands right now” and “at least for the time being.” Yes, there is a right wing that is devoted to the settlements. But there is a precedent for their removal: Yamit in the Sinai and the settlements in Gaza. The settlements in the West Bank certainly ratchet matters up and, yes, they require an Israeli military presence. But they are not viable in the long run, and many Israelis realize that they will leave the state with two undesirable alternatives: apartheid, which you mention, and a binational state, which you propose. In addition, they also leave Israel with continued international isolation.

Due to these pressures, the settlements will eventually be dismantled and the settlers evicted. (Perhaps there will be some settlements that remain along the border through land swaps.) The settler who states that he has to return to Kiryat Arba because God told him to will not be allowed to do so; the same applies to the young Palestinian who states that he has to return to Lydda because his grandparents lived there. (Perhaps there will be a symbolic number of thousands who will return.) I have no doubt of the sincerity of both; each, however, will have to give up part of their dreams and realize the dreams that remain in their own states. A two-state solution can only be achieved through wrenching compromises that will embitter many.

The only way that the settler can stay in Kiryat Arba or the Palestinian return to Lydda would be through a binational state, i.e, the one-state soluton. That, like the dream of a Greater Israel or a Greater Palestine, will never happen. You have written, “Essentially, a one-state solution will guarantee that the Palestinians will become the demographic majority under a joint Israeli-Palestinian state, and thus, inevitably, they will hold more political clout--perhaps the majority of it--in Palestine itself than they have ever had even under the Fatah and the PLO.” You realize, of course, that the Israelis are aware of these implications: that one state means their being subsumed into minority status. There’s not a nation in history that has willingly dissolved itself and entered into minority status with its enemies. The Knesset will not vote in favor of this; Hamas will certainly not join in a confederation; the Palestinian Authority, which is considering a declaration of Palestinian statehood–not a declaration of one state–won’t do it. What we have is a struggle between two nationalist forces, not a struggle for binationalism. I’m aware that there are some Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals who advocate one state; they represent a relatively miniscule minority.

There’s one other problem with one state: it is a recipe for disaster, for sectarian violence as we’ve seen in Lebanon, the Balkans and Rwanda. In the case of Israel/Palestine, consider the layers of enmity built up over a century: there’s not only the political issues, but there’s also the overlay of religious fanaticism on both sides that has a particularly corrosive effect.

There is already a model for a future settlement, the Geneva Accord of 2003. Regarding my article, Olmert and Abu Mazen were working along the same lines, their work tragically cut short. But what they did, along with the Geneva authors, is lay the groundwork for the two-state solution, which is, as I will continue to write, the only viable alternative. In addition, PA Prime Minister Fayyad has been laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state.

I appreciate, Mohammed, your taking the time to read and comment on my blog, given your demanding study schedule. Your excellent writing, research and debating skills will stand you in good stead in your legal career.

Jeff Tone said...

Mohammad: I see I've been misspelling your name. My apologies.

Mohammad Shihabi said...

I really enjoy reading your blog. Thank you for the compliments. I mentioned to Emily that I found your blog really great to read, and I usually end up reading the links you provide in your posts as well.

I actually have fairly liberal views and at one time really supported a two-state solution. But I feel like the realities on the ground don't mirror the agreements made between leaders and former leaders.

The Palestinian Papers are really indicative of how uncompromising the Israeli side has been on the two state solution. I just think that when you strip away all the politics, it comes down to the tens of thousands of settlers in the West Bank whose homes and lives now revolve around these settlements. Evicting them from there would require political capital in Israel that I think is really beyond any Israeli political party right now or in the near future. There's a right wing on the rise in Israel that is quickly changing the situation on the ground to a point where dismantling settlements is going to be impossible. The more they expand, and the more Palestinians are expelled, the more likely it is that the only way a government can represent the West Bank is if that territory is annexed into Israel.


There's also the movement to ban any boycotts against products produced in Israeli settlements.


These are the kind of things that I think are shaping the way this is all going to turn out, rather than any agreement made on the international stage between Abbas and Olmert. Especially considering the fact that, Abbas and Fatah are mired in corruption and other issues that de-legitimizes anything they do or say in the eyes of the Palestinian people (which is really the only reason a violent and hateful organization like Hamas could ever come to power).

Also, I don't know how dismantling the settlements can be done humanely. Whether the Palestinians like it or not, there are communities, neighborhoods, families, etc... living in the West Bank right now. Dismantling that would be uprooting a society and a people from a land they believe their own. It wouldn't be the same as the evictions from Gaza and Sinai. The Gaza abandonment of settlements was as much a strategic as it was a political decision. Gaza is a resource-deprived cesspit and only represented a small portion of Israel's total settlement activity. It just wouldn't be the same. I agree that it's a precedent but especially considering what occurred afterwards (rise of Hamas), I think that's only strengthened the pro-settlement position.

I think, generally, for the pro-settlement movement, a peace isn't in their interest. What would be in the best interest of a pro-settlement movement is the opposite of that. Because as long as there is no peace, settlement expansion doesn't have any defined limits. Palestinians don't own anything, so if an Israeli court today decides that X settlement should expand into a Palestinian town, it will just happen, and probably not get reported on in the media. If Palestinians want to build something, even in the West Bank, they need Israeli building permits, which are almost impossible to get. Recent demolitions in the village "Hirbet Tana" are an example of this. So right now we have basically unchecked settlement expansion and the settlers are taking full-advantage of this.

There's an argument that if Palestinians threatened to go public with a one-state option and if the Palestinian people actually embraced that position, that this would pressure Israel and the pro-settlement group to realize the necessity of a two-state solution in preserving Israel's Jewish character.

Regardless of that, you're definitely right, the one-state solution is a view held by a really small minority of people on both sides and I doubt its going to gain any traction soon.

Jeff Tone said...

Mohammad, Thank you for your kind words. Readers like you are the reason I write.

Regarding the L.A. Times article, I am opposed to what’s going on in Sheikh Jarrah and wrote a blog post on it featuring a video of an excellent speech by the outstanding Israeli author David Grossman:


The bill cited by Haaretz banning boycotts is clearly absurd and worthy of civil disobedience. Consistent, widespread, non-violent civil disobedience by Palestinians and progressive Israelis is the only type of action that can possibly achieve any change (the Sheikh jarrah protests are an example. They haven’t stopped the construction? Non-violent protestors are arrested? Such a struggle is never easy). A violent organization like Hamas only strengthens Israel’s right wing.

We’ve been witness to changes that, years before, seemed impossible in Egypt, Northern Ireland, South Africa and the Soviet empire. Is an historic change for the better impossible in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Part of that change would be the dismantling of the settlements. Yes, it is difficult to conceive of it done humanely. Unlike the Sinai and Gaza, thousands of settlers believe that God wants them to be in the West Bank. Perhaps the only alternative for them would be to go to the settlements that would probably remain, if a agreement is realized, along the border in exchange for swapped land elsewhere.

We are agreed that the one-state solution is not espoused by many and will not gain traction soon. I am convinced that it is an impossibility and, even if realized, a recipe for endless civil conflict. On the other hand, I concur that the one-state idea can be used strategically to pressure Israel to giving up the settlements under the realization that they do indeed threaten the state's Jewish character.