How to Build Middle East Peace

Why Bottom-Up Is Better Than Top-Down

No end in sight? A Palestinian protester in the West Bank, October 2015. Mohamad Torokman / REUTERS

Last May, I resigned from the Israeli government and parliament. I did so largely for reasons of domestic policy, including differences with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on issues such as respect for the rule of law and the independence of the Supreme Court. National policy toward the Palestinians was not central to my resignation, but it is no secret that I differed on that front as well with some in the government and the Knesset in which I served.

There are voices in Israel that favor a large-scale annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, perhaps even the dismantling of the current “political separation” between the two communities and the extension of Israeli citizenship to current Palestinian Authority (PA) voters. I believe such an approach would be a grave mistake, one that would needlessly imperil Israel’s Jewish and democratic character. Although I do not think the prime minister personally subscribes to these views, the mixed signals from within his government only encourage third parties to pursue problematic policies that harm Israel’s interests. On this issue—Israel’s unshakable commitment to the preservation of the country’s Jewish and democratic character—the government and its ministers should speak with one voice. 

On a broader level, many in Israel and beyond remain convinced that the traditional model of the Middle East peace process has come very close to success in recent decades and that with some tweaks or twists, still further efforts along these lines might yield an acceptable outcome—if only both sides would make a few additional concessions. I disagree. The model of change embodied in the Oslo Accords failed, and if tried again, it will fail again. Only a fundamentally different approach to change—call it bottom-up rather than top-down—can end the underlying conflict.

When news first broke about the Oslo Accords, I supported the agreement and the “land for peace” formula on which it was based, because, both then and now, I revere the preservation of

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