The new Israeli consensus on relations with the Palestinians

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Rubin describes what he considers the new Israeli consensus with respect to making peace with the Palestinians:

• In exchange for full peace, Israel would give up all of the Gaza Strip and almost all the West Bank, with border adjustments or land swaps to adjust the borders by about three percent.
• Israelis doubt the Palestinians are ready for a full peace, and are more skeptical than they’d been during the Oslo experiment, which cost thousands of Israeli lives.
• True, there is no consensus about precisely how east Jerusalem should be handled. What is basically accepted as the highest priority is incorporating the Jewish Quarter of the Old City (captured by Jordan in the 1948 war, after which all its Jewish inhabitants were expelled), access to it through the tiny Armenian Quarter(about one city block), and the Western Wall, with the Temple Mount next. The Arab-inhabited areas are likely to be traded away as long as there is no significant security threat to the Israeli portion of the city.
• Palestinian refugees must be resettled in Palestine, not Israel.
• The rise of an Islamist threat, including the seizure of Gaza by Hamas, makes real peace seem even further off.
• The status quo is sustainable for a long time. If Palestinian misery is the motive to break the deadlock, then why don’t we see any eagerness to make peace, negotiate with Israel, and get a state on the part of the Palestinians themselves? Within this framework, the governments of Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Binyamin Netanyahu have all functioned along similar lines. There is no strong alternative vision; there is no real alternative to current policies.

The final point, though crucial, is often overlooked. For its part, Israel clearly has no strong incentive to change the status quo with respect to Palestinians. The country is thriving and Palestinians are inflicting very little damage.
Reasonable Israelis might wish to see the Palestinians improve their lot. But even assuming that Israeli concessions would help bring this about, it would be unreasonable for Israel to put its security at risk just to help Palestinians.
The absence of any strong incentive for Israel to take such risks probably helps explain the Obama administration’s stridency. It is attempting to create an artificial incentive by threatening Israel’s standing in Washington. But Israel probably believes that this threat will blow over, either because Obama will back off or because Obama will blow over.
Israel does face serious threats from Iran and from Iran’s client, Hezbollah in Lebanon. It may be that these threats make the status quo unsustainable for Israel. Thus, the Obama administration has attempted to bootstrap these threats into his efforts to extract concessions from Israel, claiming that they are the product of the absence of a Middle East peace agreement.
But Israel understands that this is not a serious claim. Even if the Palestinians agreed to give up their efforts to eliminate the Jewish state, and meant it, they would still feel aggrieved by the existence of that state, as would Israel’s militant enemies in Lebanon and Iran. Thus, there is no reason to suppose that a Middle East peace agreement would eliminate or reduce the threat posed by Iran and Hezbollah.
If Israel concludes that the status quo in South Lebanon and/or Iran is unsustainable in the strong sense, the answer lies in military action, not in making concessions to the Palestinians.

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