Peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have failed miserably. The reason, write two senior Israeli government officials, is not disagreement over specific issues, such as settlements or Jerusalem, but something much more fundamental: the Palestinians' refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The greatest danger to Israel comes not from without -- in the form of Palestinian intransigence -- but from within. The ongoing occupation of the territories is destroying Israel's values and viability. It breeds an aggressive, intolerant ethnic nationalism and causes political gridlock, empowering an ultrareligious underclass that refuses to contribute and lives off the state.
After reading the compelling case made by Yosef Kuperwasser and Shalom Lipner in “The Problem Is Palestinian Rejectionism” (November/December 2011), it was quite jarring to read the companion piece, “Israel’s Bunker Mentality,” by Ronald Krebs.
Krebs’ argument boils down to this: Israel was doing quite nicely as a liberal, secular state until 1967, when a war mysteriously descended on it, and since then an illiberal, ethnocentric nationalism has taken over and redefined the country. In the process, Krebs contends, Israel became enamored with the occupation of territories acquired during the Six-Day War, helped along by a growing ultra-Orthodox community and large-scale Russian immigration.
It is not until the essay’s very last paragraph that Krebs notes, “Of course, Israel cannot end the occupation alone.” Yet until that point, he gives precisely the opposite impression, namely, that it is in Israel’s hands to bring the conflict to an end.
Poll after poll has revealed that a majority of the Israeli public supports a two-state agreement. Even as they have coped with deadly waves of terrorism, Hezbollah’s growing arsenal in Lebanon, Hamas’ control of Gaza, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to negotiate, most Israelis still believe that a two-state deal remains the best possible outcome.
Moreover, four consecutive Israeli prime ministers -- Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Benjamin Netanyahu -- have endorsed the two-state vision, acknowledging the need for a painful and risky territorial withdrawal in exchange for a peace accord and an end to the conflict. But it has not happened yet. Why?
According to Krebs, one reason is that “Israel’s commitment to peace has . . . too often been halfhearted.” History suggests otherwise. Barak, in collaboration with U.S. President Bill Clinton, tried to strike a breakthrough two-state deal with the Palestinians until the very end of his term in office. Sharon broke with his own Likud Party to push through a total withdrawal from Gaza. Olmert went beyond Barak and Clinton, oªering Abbas the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank. And Netanyahu led his reluctant Likud to accept the two-state principle and agreed to an unprecedented settlement freeze. Yet none of the four Israeli leaders found a willing partner on the other side and therefore had nothing to show for his eªorts.
In the end, alas, neither the late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat nor Abbas was willing to shatter the Palestinian people’s dream of Israel’s destruction, which has been nurtured for more than 60 years. Nor were they prepared to abandon the “right of return” and thus affirm Israel’s legitimacy, whatever its final borders, as the Jewish homeland.
Executive Director, American Jewish Committee