It’s now or never. Those were the words David Ben Gurion used in addressing his cabinet on the eve of the fateful decision to declare the State of Israel in May 1948. Today’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, could be seen to be in the same position now as he contemplates the possibility of a two-state solution, a Palestinian East Jerusalem, and an end to the 50+-year struggle with the Palestinian people.
I recently returned from a week-long symposium on the “Possibilities of Peace” conducted by Meretz USA. We met with members of the Knesset, representatives of the Palestinian Authority, and leaders of various NGOs to get the pulse of the possibility of peace in the region. Almost unanimously the leaders we met with felt the inevitability of a UN General Assembly vote in September admitting the PA as a member state of the United Nations. Everyone had a different view of the effects this action will have on the possibility for peace, but the September date looks like a turning point in the seemingly endless negotiations.
The Quartet — the UN, the United States, the European Union, and Russia — will be setting forth a comprehensive peace plan in the next few months. At the same time, France, Germany, and Great Britain will be announcing to the parties their vision of an overall solution, which will probably be similar to the Quartet initiative. And President Barack Obama is feverishly working on a plan of his own that will follow the general outline of the other plans and the specific ideas of the 2007 Abbas-Olmert negotiations.
As we sat in Jerusalem, we heard from different officials and learned — as reported in The Jerusalem Post — that Netanyahu was traveling around the world lobbying different countries not to vote for the General Assembly resolution admitting the PA to the UN. None of those present in Jerusalem seemed to believe he would be successful.
If the resolution goes through, it would put Israel in the awkward position of occupying a member of the UN, and if no peace seemed imminent, sanctions might follow. The sanctions that have been announced by such groups as Jewish Voices for Peace have been largely ineffective — but sanctions by the UN could have significant teeth.
Mr. Netanyahu had refused to enter meaningful negotiations with the PA, he stated, because the PA did not include Hamas and therefore could not speak for the problems of Gaza. Now that Fatah and Hamas have negotiated out their differences, Mr. Netanyahu has said that he will not negotiate with the PA because it includes Hamas. Accordingly, it can be seen that there are no conditions under which the Israeli government led by Mr. Netanyahu will engage in negotiations for a comprehensive peace plan for a two-state solution.
Meanwhile the prime minister himself has not come forth with a comprehensive peace plan. He has announced that he would offer a plan at the AIPAC convention in the end of May and also at a talk to the U.S. Congress at the invitation of the Republican members of the House.
If what he offers is another interim plan, it will most likely be rejected by the PA and most of the world. The sad part of this possibility is that most of the issues involving the comprehensive plan have been agreed to by the parties; the status of the Old City, security issues, the right of return, and water and air rights are, seemingly, no longer a problem. The big issue is territory.
It is probably agreed that there would be a one-for-one trade of land around the Green Line. This would keep the Jerusalem settlements in Israel. It is the settlements that are not contiguous with the land of Israel outside the Green Line and within the Palestinian Authority that are in contention. Any proposal by Netanyahu must deal with this problem. Mr. Prime Minister: It’s now or never.