Vol. 10, No. 14 December 14, 2010
- I am convinced that there is a golden opportunity now in the region to reach a breakthrough for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. There is a convergence of interests which is quite rare. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have come to the realization that there is such an opportunity. The Labor party is in the government coalition because we want to make sure that we are not missing a golden opportunity for peace.
- The Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is justified. The issue of the Jewish homeland is derived from the 29 November 1947 UN resolution which decided on the establishment of a Jewish homeland and a Palestinian homeland.
- There is a lot of misunderstanding on the subject of construction in the settlements. The real growth is in two major ultra-Orthodox towns – Modi’in Ilit and Beitar Ilit. There is no problem in building within the boundaries of those towns, and in any solution they will be part of Israel.
- Both Netanyahu and Abbas are stronger than perceived. Abbas has shown that he could change his constitution and postpone electoral processes in his own regime. Prime Minister Netanyahu has a grand coalition. If he goes forward with the peace process, he will find a broad spectrum of Israeli politics backing him.
- Iran is becoming this era’s greatest danger. Every European citizen should ask himself why Iran is building missiles that can reach Europe, and not only Israel.
A Convergence of Interests for Peace
I am convinced that there is a golden opportunity now in the region to reach a breakthrough for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. There is a convergence of interests which is quite rare. Both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have come to the realization that there is such an opportunity. There is huge support from the United States and its Western allies who are eager to reach a breakthrough, something that was not there at the Camp David talks in 2000. There is clear support by the moderate Arab states in the region, who understand as well as the West the challenges posed by Iran. The moderate coalition of nations in the region clearly would like to reach a two-state solution.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has impressively presented his platform in the last year and a half for a two-state solution and agreed to a moratorium in construction in the settlements. This gives an answer to those who are hesitant about how far he is willing to go.
My view, as well as that of the Labor party, is that we are not willing to waste this opportunity. We realize that the impediments lie also with the Palestinians. We realize that the Palestinians play hard to get at times and are hardening their positions. I hope that both leaders will take bold steps to break through on all of the core issues and move toward a permanent status agreement.
One of the most complicated questions is how to resolve the Gaza issue. We have always talked about a two-state solution, not a three-state one. We said Israel and Palestine, not two Palestines.
As opposed to the Camp David summit in the year 2000, during which I served as government secretary, I feel now that both the Israeli and Palestinian publics are ripe to see peace achieved. We hope to see a stage whereby the talks will resume and move forward.
Recently I had a long meeting with the King Abdullah of Jordan, as well as with many other officials in the region. My feeling is that on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides there is clearly a readiness to form a Palestinian state. I think that King Abdullah is playing a very constructive role, and he reflects the feelings of regional leaders who understand the threats emanating from the east and who would like to see a grand coalition of peacemakers in the region.
Israel Seeks Security and Recognition as a Jewish State
Prime Minister Netanyahu is absolutely correct in raising the security issue. Whoever sees the geo-strategic situation in the region understands that the Iranian strategy is to influence what is going on here and in the neighboring countries.
In addition, the Israeli demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state is justified. The issue of the Jewish homeland is derived from the 29 November 1947 UN resolution which decided on the establishment of a Jewish homeland and a Palestinian homeland.
The Settlement Construction Moratorium
I feel it is a tragedy that the issue of the moratorium on construction in the settlements has become the central issue. The real issues are those outlined in the Clinton parameters of 2000, which I and my party believe in. I think too that for somebody to decide that he wants to dictate a solution in the region unilaterally will be unproductive and will not serve the cause of peace.
The Labor party has made it clear that we are in favor of extending the moratorium on construction in the settlements. Originally, toward the end of the moratorium, my proposal was to extend it by two months and to even agree on certain facets following the two months.
There is a lot of misunderstanding on the subject of construction in the settlements. If one looks at the data, certain settlements are dwindling and their numbers are going down. The real growth is in two major ultra-Orthodox towns – Modi’in Ilit and Beitar Ilit. I think that is what gives the impression that there is a huge wave of settlers moving into the West Bank. As Minister of Social Affairs, I see the data on population in the towns, and I know how they are changing. There is no problem in building in the center of Modi’in Ilit or Beitar Ilit, within the boundaries of those towns, and in any solution they will be part of Israel.
Finding Backing for a Peace Deal
In the end it boils down to both leaders cutting a deal. The rest involves moral backing. In 2000, Arafat said he did not have the backing of the Arab League. Abbas has now gone into a process whereby he gets backing from the Arab League. From the Israeli point of view, this looks a bit odd. Why is he delegating from his authority and responsibility? Because he wants to be covered.
He knows that the moderate Arab states are in favor of a peace process, and this political backing may be helpful at times. In the Arab League, the key players are the moderate nations who want to seek peace with Israel, and this is the forum we should interface with behind the scenes. The Egyptians, Jordanians, and Saudis have a constructive role to play right now in the process.
One needs to carve out the parameters of the deal and then see how to get moral, religious, and public-opinion backing for such a deal. We are not there yet. We need to see whether the two leaders can sit down and start talking about maps, refugees, and Jerusalem – about all of the difficult core issues. The Palestinian leadership sometimes places too much weight on UN resolutions without really confronting the core issues. I know that Israel is ready to confront the core issues.
The Labor party is in the government coalition because we want to make sure that we are not missing a golden opportunity for peace. We are not willing to declare the talks over and dead. Contrary to that, we support talks and interfaces between the Israeli leadership, the American administration, and the Palestinians.
I would like Israeli society to take this very difficult step in unison. The fact that there is a center-right element strongly involved in these deliberations can actually serve the cause of peace. We view this cause as the primary reason for staying in the government, and it is a unifying element in our party. We pay a price for staying in the government, but we would like to give peace a chance. I feel that Prime Minister Netanyahu is serious, but there is a very limited time span for an opportunity.
Both Netanyahu and Abbas are stronger than perceived. Abbas has shown that he could change his constitution and postpone electoral processes in his own regime. Prime Minister Netanyahu has a grand coalition. If he goes forward with the peace process, he will find a broad spectrum of Israeli politics backing him, including the Kadima party. Right now the Obama administration is making a huge effort. We should commend the Obama administration for these efforts and move on and try to see whether we can reach a formula to move into the talks.
The Danger from Iran
We are all very concerned about Iran. Anybody who has any understanding of the region and the Iranian regime understands that Iran is basically procrastinating. Iran is becoming this era’s greatest danger, threatening the stability of the region and the entire world.
Every European citizen should ask himself why Iran is building missiles that can reach Europe, and not only Israel. Europeans do not understand Ahmadinejad’s school of thought – a very extreme Muslim school of thought which does not accommodate other religions and ways of thinking.
The Battle Against Delegitimization
There is an organized and orchestrated effort to delegitimize Israel. The current generation is far removed from the Holocaust and does not understand the root cause for the existence of the State of Israel. There is a political campaign against Israel going on throughout the world, as we have seen with the Human Rights Council and the Goldstone Report. The Palestinian Authority is involved in this campaign, which has led to a strong protest by Israel.
There is a legal battle being conducted on various fronts, all aimed at delegitimizing Israel. The most troubling aspect is the money involved. NGOs throughout the world receive money directly from Iran and Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Gulf. Parallel to that, there is a disguised effort – namely, the creation of various human rights NGOs – which are clearly for a single cause: the delegitimization of Israel.
This is a very big battlefront for Israel, and we are trying to tackle it by various means with our friends, on campus, on the web, and on the legal front. Part of the answer to this is to move forward on peace. Any movement toward peace undermines the efforts of our enemies.
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MK Isaac Herzog (Labor) was first elected to the Knesset in 2003. Since then he has served as Minister of Housing and Construction, Minister of Tourism, and Minister of the Diaspora, Society, and the Fight Against Anti-Semitism. He is currently serving his second term as Minister of Welfare and Social Services. This Jerusalem Issue Brief is based on his presentation to the Institute for Contemporary Affairs of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on November 1, 2010.