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Forget negotiations, Israelis and Palestinians need an intervention

When both sides aren’t ready to make concessions, when one side gets to decide who sits at the table and who sits in jail, negotiations are bound to fail. It is time for the international community to mediate.

By Mossi Raz

U.S. president Donald Trump delivers his final speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem before his departure from Israel, May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

U.S. president Donald Trump delivers his final speech at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem before his departure from Israel, May 23, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A man is standing in a dangerous place, beside him is a wall, and beyond that wall is a safe harbor. The man tries to cross over directly through the wall, time and time again, until he cracks his head. Nearby is a bus that brings its passengers to the other side, but our man won’t board that bus. He won’t let foreigners determine his fate.

This is precisely our story. Since 1967 we have been carrying out an occupation that brings with it killing and moral corruption. We know exactly where we want to get: a two-state solution, which was presented in the Arab Peace Initiative, and whose details were laid out in the Geneva Initiative. And yet we are unable to get there.

In general, it is doubtful whether the two sides can negotiate when one side is so much stronger than the other. One side gets to decide who gets to sit at the negotiating table, and who gets to eat chocolates in prison, who will be detained in a cage for hours because he wanted to pass through a checkpoint, and who will be treated as human.

The reason for the failure thus far has been the attempt to go head first into negotiations. But there is another possibility, one that President Trump spoke about during his meeting with Mahmoud Abbas. He said that he would be a mediator between the two sides. For 50 years we have been trying and insisting on making mediation a possibility, to little success. Now is the time for mediation.

In mediation, the prime minister will neither be made to give nor take. He will arrive in order to demand what he wants. He can claim that Hebron was always ours, that Dahiyat al-Barid is in our blood, that Jews have always longed for Ramallah. The prime minister can go into mediation with whatever he believes is in Israel’s best interest. The media, which once criticized prime ministers for what they “gave up” in negotiations with Palestinians, will only strengthen him. Finally, after a year, the mediator will decide. What will he decide? This we already know: something along the lines of the Geneva Initiative. Most Israelis and Palestinians, along with the governments of the world, will be able to live with this kind of arrangement.

U.S. president Donald Trump with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a welcoming ceremony in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 23, 2017. (Flash90)

U.S. President Donald Trump with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a welcoming ceremony in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 23, 2017. (Flash90)

Negotiations have another built-in problem: there will always be tomorrow, next week, after the next elections. The negotiator will always think that he can obtain more in the future. There is no clear deadline. This is the reason why, for instance, negotiations with striking workers end only after the strike is declared. We cannot allow ourselves to end negotiations with the Palestinians only after another war breaks out. In mediation everything will be clear: every side will have a limited time period to lay out its demands and claims before the mediators, after which a decision will be made. Not after the next war.

The idea of Trump as mediator is neither as revolutionary nor novel as he would like to think. In fact, this is how Israel and Egypt came to a last-minute peace deal. There were misunderstandings about the fate of Taba, after which both sides turned to international mediation, in which Egypt won out. Prime Minister Shamir knew from the onset that he would lose, yet preferred to lose in an international tribunal rather than to give up on Taba ahead of time. It could very well be that the same will happen with future prime ministers, who may prefer international rulings on the end of the occupation over making a personal decision to do so.

The State of Israel was not established as a result of negotiations. Had the British been forced to give and take with Prime Minister Ben Gurion, I doubt he would have allowed the establishment of a Hebrew state without Jerusalem, the Negev, the Galilee, Lod, Ramle, and Jaffa. The Arabs surely would not have agreed to it. But without international intervention, Israel would not have been established at all. Today we need a similar decision to save Israel from itself, and from the occupation.

Mossi Raz is the secretary-general of Meretz. This post was originally published in Hebrew on Local Call.

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    1. Itshak Gordin Halevy

      It is the usual leftist fantasy: a foreign intervention which Israel will not accept. The Israeli left is sick.. That is why Meretz has 4-5 seats in the Knesset only

      Reply to Comment
      • john

        “But without international intervention, Israel would not have been established at all.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Itshak Gordin Halevy

          It would have been established but without UN support.

          Reply to Comment
          • Joshua Fisher

            If so, why didn’t you establish your country several hundreds of years ago? Did nobody tell you the Romans were gone all the time?

            Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        The very last paragraph of “A Half Century of Occupation” by Gershon Shafir: “A reformed, more focused BDS movement with Jewish allies appears the best option for weakening the commitment to colonization, sparing bloodshed reversing the occupation, and improving the circumstances of both the Palestinian refugees and Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens.”

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          (1) The Palestinians are never going to agree to a compromise peace with Israel. If BDS were to work the way you pray for by forcing Israel to carry out unilateral withdrawals, the situation would only get worse, there would be more violence and peace would be ever farther away. Israel did exactly what you wanted in southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, and withdrew unilaterally. All this did was energize the most extreme elements who said “see, they are weak, they capitulated here, so if we keep up the pressure, they will eventually give up Tel Aviv as well and flee the country”. Israelis who supported those withdrawals feel burned and have learned the lesson.

          (2) In any event, mobilizing international support for BDS and pressure on Israel won’t work simply because most people in the world couldn’t care less about Israel, the Palestinians, the settlements, etc. Most of the world views the Arab-Israel conflict as just another unresolved international problem and they don’t go around thinking about it all the time, unlike the “progressives” we see here who seemingly devote every waking moment to worrying about the settlements and the Palestinians. There isn’t going to be mass political pressure to enforce a settlement.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You just have to stop kidding yourself that Israel has ever offered a compromise.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This of course is Halevy’s illusion: that foreign intervention is something new that Israel does not accept. There has always been loads of foreign intervention by the Europeans and the Americans that Israel has not only accepted but taken for granted, intervention that has steadfastly protected and advanced Israel, and enabled its occupation, and given it a special pass no one else gets. This is a wholesale illusion that Israel goes it alone, “the whole world against us.”

        Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      The intervention that Israel needs is that Meretz and Labour disappear in the next elections.
      Only the electoral dissolution of the Oslo criminals will be a fitting rebuke for these warmongering appeasers.

      Reply to Comment
      • Mark

        Without opposition democracy is a sham. Just look at “Palestine” or any other of the Arab satraps in thrall to wahabbism!

        Reply to Comment
      • Joshua Fisher

        Lewis wants his Füherestaat, without any opposition. Is this what selfproclaimed “the one and only democracy in the Middle East” means?

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          No, I want a democracy. Yesh Atid versus Shas & United Torah Judaism or Kahlon’s workers’ party versus Likud etc.
          I just hate the appeasing warmongers like Meretz and Labor. Their historical role is to vacate the electoral scene. 1500 dead Israeli souls are crying out for justice.

          Reply to Comment