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In controversy over Peres remarks, Israeli 'center-left' pays lip service to two-state solution

The recent controversy over remarks made by President Peres regarding negotiations with Palestinians exposes how the ‘center-left’ pays lip service to the two-state solution, while still preferring a one-state solution with Jewish supremacy.

During the current election campaign, two of the most popular party leaders identified with the center-left have done almost everything in their power to avoid saying anything left-sounding on the Palestinian topic. Yair Lapid, leader (and personification) of Yesh Atid, and Shelly Yechimovitch, head of the Labor party, have often tried to position themselves to the right of this issue (Yachimovitch saying nice things about settlements, Lapid opposing division of Jerusalem and favoring a free hand for the IDF).

Three weeks before the elections, the past few days have witnessed a rare break in this trend. The occasion was a speech by the supposedly non-political head of state, President Shimon Peres, before Israeli ambassadors to foreign nations. Peres presented his well-known position, that the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is willing and able to make the concessions necessary for an agreement on a two-state solution with Israel. He criticized statements to the contrary, made by Prime Minister Netanyahu and former Foreign Minister Lieberman (both of the Likud-Beitenu party).

His message apparently resonated with the audience who, later in the same conference, complained that defending Israel abroad is made more difficult by the government’s intransigent positions and actions (a point reaffirmed by a recent think tank report). They were promptly told by Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror to keep their opinions to themselves or resign and run for political office.

The president got only a slightly milder treatment. Likud-Beitenu issued a statement expressing disappointment in the president, blasting him for being “disconnected,” causing damage to Israel’s image abroad, and calling Abbas a “peace refusenik.”

Lapid and Yachimovitch could have settled for defending the popular president, an octogenarian who in two-thirds of a century of political activity has gone from defense-establishment hawk to hated symbol of the left to quintessential consensus figure and elder statesman. Instead, they both chose to combine their spirited rejection of the attacks on Peres with a relatively strong defense of the two-state solution, arguing that it is the only Zionist solution with a national consensus behind it.

The latter point is confirmed by a recent poll, showing a majority support for a two-state solution – including the division of Jerusalem – among the general public, and even among more than 50 percent of right-wing Likud-Beitenu and HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home) voters. Indeed, it may explain the response of Yachimovich and Lapid, 90 percent of whose voters support this solution.

Yet the two-state position (tepidly supported by Netanyahu as well) was not the main point of contention in the uproar over Peres’ remarks. Right-wing ire was raised by the contention that Abbas, the Palestinian leader, was a genuine partner for peace talks.

That is the crux of the matter. The real debate among Israel’s major parties is not about the two-state solution. It is about how to best avoid it. Peres, Lapid, Yachimovich and Israel’s ambassadors all prefer the method of endless negotiations, backed by ceaseless proclamations of good faith and willingness to make concessions, which was government policy for most of the last two decades (including Peres’ tenure as prime minister in 1995-1996). The current version of Likud, on the other hand, believes that the best way to achieve pretty much the same goal is to constantly decry any credible Palestinian interlocutor as a fraud.

Abbas is a problem for them because it is hard to pin this label on him. Under his leadership, the Palestinians have boosted security cooperation with Israel, and he has made unprecedented remarks regarding concessions on Palestinian refugees’ right of return, and on recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

In response, Lieberman, when he was still Israel’s Diplomat-in-Chief, called Abbas “a liar, a coward and a weakling,” accusing him of “diplomatic terror” (which is apparently “more serious” than “conventional terror”) for harshly criticizing Israel, promoting an economic boycott of the settlements, and trying to gain recognition for a Palestinian state  in the UN.

The weakness of these charges exposes the precarious position of the current Israeli government (which, nonetheless, has suffered very little internationally for it). Yet is the opposition any better? Yachimovich and Lapid, as mentioned, are trying to stir clear of this topic, except when they need  to show their base they haven’t gone completely off the deep end, as had happened following the attack on Peres.

But even Tzipi Livni, the one leader of the “center-left” bloc who has focused her campaign on negotiations with the Palestinians, is not really credible on this issue. After all, we have now had nearly two decades of negotiations with the Palestinians, with the last round (under the government of Ehud Olmert, in 2008) involving Livni herself as foreign minister.

These negotiations have made it clear that Palestinian leaders understand that the hope of a mass return of Palestinian refugees to Israel is unrealistic. But they have also shown that Israeli governments, of all political stripes, do not show the same realism regarding the second core issue of borders, including in and around Jerusalem.

On this issue, the offer that has been labeled the most “generous” by an Israeli leader was made by Olmert in 2008, included the annexation of 6.4 percent of the West Bank to Israel (with land swaps in other places to compensate for that territory). That proposal, while entailing the eviction of many settlements, would have kept in place towns such as Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel, slicing the West Bank into several isolated enclaves, making any Palestinian state completely non-viable.

Olmert’s offer came on the heels of a Palestinian proposal which suggested annexing 1.9 percent of the West Bank to Israel, keeping in place 63 percent of the settler population, while calling for the eviction of the large settlements that sit at the heart of Palestinian territory.

That is the real issue at stake. Not the two-state solution, nor Abbas’ character as a potential partner for peace. It is a bit more than 4 percent of the West Bank, settled by less than 3 percent of Israel’s population, and necessary for the making of a viable Palestinian state. This is the 4 percent that Livni is not willing to give up (she even thought that Olmert’s offer went too far), not to mention Lapid or Yachimovich.

If the choice is between that 4 percent of territory or a one-state solution based on Jewish supremacy (the status-quo ante), they prefer the latter. As long as that is the case, their main contention with the right is, and will remain, over diplomatic tactics rather than substance.

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    1. Peres publically ditched Bibi over Iran. He’s not going to be treated well, and knows it. The 96 Bibi/Peres election was over the pace of Oslo. I think Two State ended with Bibi’s marginal win, as he, I believe, has claimed to some.

      There is always the hope of a Nixon to China from the right, but the material logic of the settlements and IDF control seems unstoppable. Even with a Palestinian State, Israel will need boarder control at Jordan; at best, then, they are talking about a federated, secondary State. I understand the Israeli logic (quite apart from the settlements) and cannot see any real change from them. The Israeli right will get what it wants, then will realize they have an occupied population which non but them consider to be someone else’s problem.

      Reply to Comment
    2. XYZ

      Quote from above:
      It (Ariel and Ma’alei Adumim)is a bit more than 4 percent of the West Bank, settled by less than 3 percent of Israel’s population, and necessary for the making of a viable Palestinian state.

      Question: What percentage of the mass of the human body is the brain? The heart? Only a few percent. Maybe a person can do without that small percentage?

      Regarding the “viability” of a Palestinian state….even if they had all the territory that Jordan occupied before 1967 on the West Bank and Jerusalem, this Palestinian state would be “unviable”. A Palestinian state will be permamently dependent on international handouts. The territorial issue is irrelevant. In any event, if there should be real peace and quiet, the Palestinians would be able to have free access anywhere in their territories and Israel proper, as was the case during the pre-Oslo “occupation” period.

      The Israeli Left is being to realize that there is NO possibility of a compromise agreement acceptable to Israel. Any such “concessions” Abbas has hinted to, such as restricting the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees are meaningless and are made for propaganda purposes…to make him seem “reasonable” to the Western moneybags who prop up his corrupt regime. HAMAS will have a major say in any negotiations and they aren’t going to let him make these concessions. Arafat told Bill Clinton at Camp David he would be assassinated if he made concession in the RoR or other crucial Palestinian grievances, and if the legendary “father of the Palestinian Revolution” couldn’t make these concession, certainly an unpopular non-entity like Abbas, whose party was wiped out in recent local elections on the West Bank certainly has no mandate to make these concessions.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Palestinian

      Left/right/left-right(S:)/center/center-left/south/north/ a Zionist is a Zionist.Its like the same poisoned cookie with different toppings.The problem isnt the settlements ,our right of return or Jerusalem ,the core problem is the racist racial ideology the Khazarians brought from the late 19th/early 20th centuries.The idea of a “national” homeland in Palestine .

      Reply to Comment
    4. Piotr Berman

      “What percentage of the mass of the human body is the brain?”

      You can recruit entire political parties with scant evidence of any brain activity.

      More seriously, in what sense are the settlements necessary for Israel? Bonding with imaginary friends and ancestors?

      Reply to Comment
    5. BOOZ

      If you are wondering why center left parties are so shy about the 2-state solution, you will most likely find the clue in Palestinian ‘s response on this thread….: – )

      Reply to Comment
    6. Kolumn9

      How can a Palestinian state be not viable with a narrow waist of 15km from Maale Adumim to the Dead Sea when Israel is presented as viable with a narrow waist of 15km from Qalqilya to the Med Sea?

      This garbage about the supposed non-viability of a Palestinian state without Maale Adumim and Ariel is just something that gets repeated so often that people don’t bother to think it through. Then there is the canard about a contiguous Palestinian state while under the best circumstances it has no choice but to consist of two completely disjointed parts in Gaza and the West Bank. How can contiguity be a criteria for judging the ‘viability’ of a Palestinian state when no contiguity is even remotely possible?

      The Israeli left and other supporters of the Palestinians are just trying to rationalize the reasons why the Palestinians reject perfectly decent and workable territorial offers that would leave them with a state. Were they to accept that the stumbling blocks are not territory or statehood they would be forced into accepting that the Palestinians are not capable of accepting an offer under conditions that would leave the state of Israel alive. This would be too depressing for them to contemplate and so in the interest of psychological self-defense they need to construct elaborate justification for why the Palestinians reject reasonable offers and still manage to fail in presenting a convincing case.

      Reply to Comment
      • BOOZ

        Kolumn 9,

        I beg to differ somewhat on your post.

        While a certain category of the Israeli left tried to build bridges with the Palestinian people, another one-well represented by the 972+ mag staff-fully adopted the nationalist Palestinian narrative, precluding any sort of self-determination for the Jewish people and blaming not only the Israeli administration-but the Israeli people as a whole-for the woes suffered for lack of mutual understanding.

        The same ultra leftist go complaining about the distrust their fellow citizens have for them and rely on the self-proclaimed “progressive”opinion .

        I am not forgoing the 2-states solution.However, I have to point out the negative effect to any solution at all of this ultra-left camp (if it can be called ultra left at all).

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Booz, I generally agree with your points. Perhaps I should have said ‘ultra left’ or ‘extreme left’ as opposed to just ‘left’.

          There are plenty of people on the Israeli left who do not hold Israel solely accountable for the lack of a two state solution and vehemently support Israel. It is wrong to put them in the same camp as those who adopt the Palestinian narrative, inherently support the destruction of Israel, presume Israel wrong and guilty a priori and are competing about who can most vehemently denounce Israel and Israelis.

          Reply to Comment