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Friday, October 9, 2015

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POINT/COUNTERPOINT: If Israel wants quiet, it must enable Abbas

Tags: Opinions Benjamin Netanyahu gaza Hamas john kerry Mahmoud Abbas Operation Protective Edge Palestinian Authority
Arie Raif

Upon his re-election in 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his support for a two-state solution. One might argue his announcement was the result of conditions imposed by his new coalition partners, Hatnua founder Tzipi Livni and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, and that Netanyahu had no serious plans to pursue a two-state solution. 

On day four of Operation Protective Edge, Netanyahu said he could “never, ever” countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank. He indicated that he sees the John Kerry-led diplomatic efforts as naive and suggested it would be out of the question for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to assume a major role in mediating between Hamas and Israel. The future of the two-state solution was now clear: Netanyahu’s apparent support for two states was untrue, nothing more than misleading rhetoric directed at Israelis, Palestinians and the entire world.

Today, the coalition government of Israel’s main target is to weaken and undermine Abbas, the most moderate partner for a two-state solution, and possibly the only man who can influence Hamas and Israel to reach a long-term ceasefire agreement. To my mind, that is the wrong path.

Read Donald Carr's response: Dare there be a Palestinian state now?

If Israel wants quiet in the Gaza Strip, it must enable Abbas to terminate Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and reach a two-state solution. Israel must allow Abbas to step into the equation, transfer money to the government officials Hamas appointed and allow the Palestinian president to establish a joint committee to supervise passage at the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. 

From where I sit, it appears Netanyahu has forgotten that one should be smart rather than strong, savvy rather than bold. Peace is possible, but only if the Israeli government – whether of the right or the left – will agree to a two-state solution. Israel must not shatter the hopes of Palestinians – not to mention Israelis – for a peaceful  future.

If Israel does not implement a two-state solution and end its occupation of the West Bank, it will continue to treat the symptoms of unrest without striking at the core disease. Both peoples shall remain in ruins.

This is not just about the Palestinians. The current Israeli government’s policy of settlement expansion has angered those moderate elements of the Palestinian Authority with which political arrangements leading to peace might still be possible. But it has also led to tension with the U.S. government and infuriated Israel’s allies in Europe. It has played into the hands of Israel’s most dangerous enemies – Hamas included  – by allowing them to divert attention from their own radical intentions to settler extremism and Israeli occupation. 

Livni, speaking with admirable candour at the Herzliya Conference in June 2014, said it well: “I’m sick of being politically correct,” she declared. “It’s time to say things exactly as they are: The settlement enterprise is a security, economic and moral burden that is aimed at preventing us from ever coming to an arrangement.” In other words – and coming from one of Israel’s lead negotiators with the Palestinians  – the settlers play a major role in the current Israeli government and pursue their policies with the specific intent of preventing a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

The conflict with Hamas could be long and ugly, and as time passes without a peaceful resolution, the situation only becomes more complicated. The two-state solution and an end to West Bank occupation, will make it easier to rebuild Israel’s reputation worldwide. Otherwise, Israel risks the fallout of remaining an occupier for perhaps another 100 years. 

Arie Raif is vice-chairman and CEO of the Canadian Peres Center For Peace.

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