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The Israeli Left's plan to save the settlements

The thinking behind Isaac Herzog’s 10-point peace plan is the inevitable result of the unequal relationship between an occupying power and an occupied people. It is based entirely on Israel’s concerns, not on any notion that Palestinians have inalienable rights and are entitled to the same freedoms as everyone else.

By Mitchell Plitnick

Zionist Union/Labor party chairman Isaac Herzog in the Israeli Knesset, February 1, 2017. (onatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zionist Union/Labor party chairman Isaac Herzog in the Israeli Knesset, February 1, 2017. (onatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the Labor party, issued a “10-point plan” for a restarted peace process this week. His stated goals in doing so are to stave off the Israeli right’s drive toward annexation of the West Bank, to preserve the settlement blocs, to end Israel’s rule over another people, and to conclude a regional peace. Unfortunately, his plan would likely accomplish only one of those goals, the one already a fait accompli: maintaining the settlement blocs.

The cornerstone of Herzog’s idea is a 10-year freeze on settlement growth outside the blocs coupled with a vague promise of stimulating the Palestinian economy. At the end of 10 years, final status negotiations would commence, but only on the condition that the preceding 10-year period had elapsed “without violence.”

These notions are completely unrealistic. Herzog would “guarantee” the 10 years of quiet by setting up, through the UN Security Council, a mechanism to monitor and prevent “all terrorism and incitement.” By saying “all” rather than “Palestinian,” Herzog implies that the prohibition would be applied equally to Israelis and Palestinians.

That’s great in theory. In practice, it requires a lot more than Herzog seems willing to do. According to Herzog’s plan, the Israeli military would continue to operate throughout the West Bank and, in partnership with Palestinian security, act to prevent violence. But that is no different than the status quo. In practice, it has meant that Palestinian and Israeli security have worked together when necessary to combat Palestinian violence. But Israeli security is empowered to police the Palestinians, while the reverse is not true. Settlers have been able to commit daily acts of violence and harassment, usually, though not always, without fear of arrest, much less prosecution.

Meanwhile, Herzog’s plan calls for completing the security barrier and gradually handing more and more authority to the Palestinians to govern their own affairs. Ultimately, unless the Palestinians can unify their leadership, Israel will not permit them to declare a state, and, even if they do permit it, Herzog reserves judgment in his plan as to whether Israel will recognize that state.

This sort of thinking is the inevitable result of the unequal relationship between an occupying power that is a stable, economically healthy, regional superpower and a dispossessed and occupied people. The decision is entirely Israel’s, and it is based entirely on Israel’s concerns, not on any notion that Palestinians have inalienable rights and are entitled to the same freedoms as everyone else.

Moreover, Herzog repeats the old mistake of handing veto power to those who would employ violence. Anyone opposed to cooperation with Israel, including Hamas and groups much more radical, merely need to commit acts of violence to scupper the whole deal. Indeed, Herzog’s plan incentivizes such groups, as well as Israeli settlers and other extremists, to do just that.

Construction in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, January 25, 2017. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

Construction in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, January 25, 2017. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

Herzog pays scant attention to ensuring that Israel would police its settlers or begin to address the daily violence Palestinians face. That shortcoming also means that more Palestinians will be inclined toward violence, which, in turn, requires the Palestinian Authority to act more forcefully, making the legitimacy of Palestinian leadership more and more precarious and further entrenching the status quo. Moreover, a PA that agreed to this plan might have support among the Palestinian people, but it would also face an increasingly incensed opposition that already believes that the PA is nothing more than an agent of the Israeli occupation.

Ultimately, the foundation of Herzog’s plan is inherently and fatally flawed. It is based on the notion that the status quo can be frozen for 10 years and that this will bring peace before there is any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

But you don’t get an agreement from peace, you get peace from an agreement. Palestinians already live in a reality where they know that they will face the response of a strong, unified state if they violently or even peacefully resist the occupation. Obviously, that threat has not led to peace, nor is there any reason to believe that it ever will.

Herzog developed this plan out of his criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal of an offer for a renewed peace process last year. The offer was developed in a summit attended by Netanyahu, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. According to that offer, a regional peace initiative would accompany renewed talks with the Palestinians, all of which would be based on the same six points that Kerry presented publicly just a short time before he left his office:

  • Provide for secure and recognized international borders between Israel and a viable and contiguous Palestine, negotiated based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed equivalent swaps.
  • Fulfill the vision of the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab, with mutual recognition and full equal rights for all their respective citizens.
  • Provide for a just, agreed, fair, and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue, with international assistance, that includes compensation, options, and assistance in finding permanent homes, acknowledgment of suffering, and other measures necessary for a comprehensive resolution consistent with two states for two peoples.
  • Provide an agreed resolution for Jerusalem as the internationally recognized capital of the two states, and protect and assure freedom of access to the holy sites consistent with the established status quo.
  • Satisfy Israel’s security needs and bring a full end to the occupation, while ensuring that Israel can defend itself effectively and that Palestine can provide security for its people in a sovereign and non-militarized state.
  • End the conflict and all outstanding claims, enabling normalized relations and enhanced regional security for all as envisaged by the Arab Peace Initiative.

Netanyahu refused this framework, knowing how violently the Israeli right would react. Herzog, whatever his intentions, has presented a plan that is just another form of rejection. Kerry’s six points reflect a final status that, according to Herzog, would not even be discussed until 10 years have passed without violence.

Does anyone really think that is going to happen?

Mitchell Plitnick is former vice president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He is the former director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and was previously the director of education and policy for Jewish Voice for Peace. He is a widely published and respected policy analyst. This article was first published in Lobelog.com.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      In case no one clicked on the link about Netanyahu’s refusal (“Herzog developed this plan out of his criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal of an offer for a renewed peace process last year.” the title of the Haaretz piece is:

      “Kerry offered Netanyahu Regional Peace Plan in Secret 2016 Summit with al-Sissi, King Abdullah – Kerry’s outline included Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Netanyahu claimed he couldn’t get his coalition to back it.”

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Herzog has shaped up to be a really piteous, tail wagging, panting lapdog of Netanyahu. Really the left has so much to be embarrassed about that it chose this guy. What a mediocrity. What a non-leader. What a fake.

      A lot of arguments recently in these pages ended with this rhetoric:

      “So, how can there be peace without negotiations? Without peace, how can the occupation end?”

      This article by Plitnick is an antidote:

      “…But you don’t get an agreement from peace, you get peace from an agreement…”

      And it uses the same source I have linked to to explain how “Netanyahu’s refusal of an offer for a renewed peace process last year” shows that the last thing he actually wants is an agreement, even when you throw fulfillment of his supposedly pivotal “recognize a Jewish state” and regional cooperation demands into the package. Plitnick ties all the contradictions and fake questions together nicely. The illusion of haggling. Herzog is merely Bibi’s piteous handmaiden in the Illusion of Haggling Project.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Firentis

      Yes, yes, the fact that the Egyptians and the Jordanians were willing to accept the Kerry proposal is a giant leap forward. The only problem with this article and others like it is that it fails to mention that Mahmoud Abbas flatly rejected the same Kerry proposal, proving once again that the Palestinians are not willing to make peace if it means they have to accept a Jewish state within any borders.

      “But you don’t get an agreement from peace, you get peace from an agreement.”

      This is a pretty basic logical error. You *can* get peace from an agreement, but an agreement in itself may or may not lead to peace depending on the terms of that agreement. For example, the Palestinians continue to insist they want an agreement that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state but they rejected the Kerry proposal over two points: (1) The acceptance of the principle of two states for two peoples and (2) that the agreement would end the conflict.

      In other words, Israel would not *get* peace from an agreement as envisioned by the Palestinians. Until that basic reality changes the only thing to do is to continue the status quo while coordinating with the US administration and the Arab states to pressure the Palestinians into actually wanting real peace. This is also the reality that Herzog operates in and which guides his approach to the situation.

      Also, the notion that the status quo can be frozen for 10 years seems like a reasonable assumption given how long the status quo has been frozen. The underlying and false assumption of articles like this one is that the status quo is “unsustainable” despite all the facts to the contrary. This leads to the next mistake according to which changing the status quo is an Israeli interest and so Israel should be forced to pay for it. This line of reasoning concludes with offering Israel a fundamentally worse option than maintaining the status quo because it vastly and mistakenly presumes the high costs and risks of the status quo.

      The only problem with this approach is that no one in Israel is buying the premise that the proposals that have been thus far offered by this camp are in any way preferable to the continuation of the status quo. Rather than realizing their mistake and making better proposals this camp insists that hurting Israelis economically would make them more willing to jeopardize on what they see as their existential necessities. This has never worked anywhere.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Firentis: these objections are reasonable, objections are always reasonable – but Netanyahu isn’t even trying. Someone with a deep interest in peace would have tried to at least pursue Kerry’s proposal.

        The ‘conflict’ isn’t ‘frozen’ – we’ve now reached the point where mainstream journalists (Roger Cohen of the New York Times, for example) are starting to use the word ‘apartheid’, and that wasn’t true 10 years ago.

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          There is no reason to accept the Kerry principles if the Palestinians do not. They would just collect the acceptance of the 1967 lines and continue to reject the basic principle that peace can be built on – two states for two peoples. Effectively Kerry insisting on his principles meant that Israel would be forced to pay just for sitting at the table with two countries it already made peace while creating a new baseline for the next round of Palestinian demands. Kerry sabotaged the conference and the possibility of progress.

          The conflict isn’t being fought on the pages of the New York Times or Twitter.

          Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “(1) The acceptance of the principle of two states for two peoples”

        Ah, yes, but as you say, the devil is in the details. I fully agree. You are prone to drop “two states for two peoples” as “the magic words” but that is the thing—“magic words” are actually code words that need expanding upon in detailed texts, need explicit definition. And Plitnick defines the code words to include “full equal rights for all their respective citizens.” As in,

        “Fulfill the vision of the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab, with mutual recognition and full equal rights for all their respective citizens.”

        Are you on board for those “magic words” too? Yes? You’re willing to spell that out in an agreement to the Palestinians’ and your mutual satisfaction? By all means. (Keeping in mind that Palestinian citizens today in Israel do not enjoy full equal rights.) So, two states for two peoples, defined in this way, is yours for the asking. It is false to say that Plitnick ignores this.

        .

        “(2) that the agreement would end the conflict.”

        Please point me to where Mahmoud Abbas has rejected “that the agreement would end the conflict”? Where in any credible account of his negotiations with Olmert do you find that he refused to accept an end to the conflict as a part of a final status accord? Remember, he has said: “Palestine now for me is ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever … This is Palestine for me. I am (a) refugee, but I am living in Ramallah. I believe that (the) West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts (are) Israel.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Firentis

          I have yet to see the Palestinians accept the principle of two states for two peoples under any formulation and there have been plenty of Jewish lawyers working on different formulations over time.

          The three core components of a future peace deal are a package:
          – The Palestinians must accept the principle of two states for two peoples
          – There will be no “Right of Return”
          – The Palestinians must accept that the agreement signed ends the conflict.

          Abbas can talk until he is blue in the face about accepting the principle that an agreement ends the conflict but without also accepting the other core components such a statement is meaningless. It is akin to Naftali Bennett accepting the principle of a Palestinian State and an agreement that ends the conflict, but without having him to accept where such a Palestinian State would be (perhaps Gaza? Jordan?).

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “I have yet to see the Palestinians accept the principle of two states for two peoples under any formulation.”

            Yes, well, *what* formulations? You mean you and I missed the formulation that went like this?:

            “Fulfill the vision of the UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of two states for two peoples, one Jewish and one Arab, with mutual recognition and full equal rights for all their respective citizens.”

            … and expanded on this in detail, to the Palestinians’ and your mutual satisfaction? Yeah? I missed that. Maybe you did not and you can point me to the lawyers, Israeli and Palestinian, who worked that one out? I’m most interested.

            Reply to Comment
          • Firentis

            I must have missed the part where the Palestinians accepted that formulation. Last time I recalled they rejected that formulation in 1947 and launched a war against Israel, and have continued to reject that formulation ever since. I fail to see how quoting Kerry changes that fact.

            So, I’ll repeat. I have yet to see the Palestinians accept the principle of two states for two peoples under any formulation and there have been plenty of Jewish lawyers working on different formulations over time.

            Reply to Comment
          • Garrett

            You missed the Palestinians recognizing Israel in 1993, or the part where they signed onto the Oslo Accords only to find out the Israeli will to follow that blueprint was non-existent?

            You seem to be willfully ignorant of that which doesn’t suit you.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            The Oslo accord? You mean the same Oslo accord after which terrorism against Israeli civilians sharply rose? You mean the same Oslo accords?

            …and the 1993 recognition of Israel? You mean the promise in the letter to Clinton in which Arafat promised to amend the PLO charter which pledges to destroy Israel? A promise that has been ignored to this day. You mean that recognition of Israel?

            You seem to be willfully ignorant of that which doesn’t suit you.

            Reply to Comment
    4. ana

      am a bit surprised the zionist union’s proposal is being characterised as “left”.

      Reply to Comment

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