He has the mandate, he has the partner, he has no will. Bibi’s choice.
Here are two articles from Al Monitor, the first on the inertia of Israel’s political establishment, the second on a new poll showing the Israeli public would back the Arab Peace Initiative as the basis for a settlement with the Palestinians.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (front R) and Qatar’s Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani arrive at a meeting of the Arab Peace Initiative Committee in Doha April 8, 2013. Photo by Mohammed Dabbous/Reuters
By Shlomi Eldar, Al-Monitor Israel Pulse, translated by: Danny Wool
May 31, 2013
The greatest achievement of the Israeli right is not the settlement enterprise. The greatest achievement of the Israeli right is its success in making most of the Israeli public lethargic and apathetic.
[On May 27] there was a conference in Tel Aviv dedicated exclusively to the Arab Peace Initiative. The conference was organized by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue of the Netanya Academic College, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and Yisrael Yozemet (Israeli Peace Initiative), which is a group founded to promote the Arab Peace Initiative. The conference had a large turnout that included academics, economists and people who were once senior figures in the Israeli political system.
The only Knesset members who attended were Erel Margalit and Meirav Michaeli, both from the Labor Party. The organizers invited Knesset members from the right as well, but the invitations were turned down. These days, the Israeli political system looks dimly at the Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular. There is almost no one who wants to begin any sort of dialogue whatsoever or to make any effort to resolve the conflict.
The position that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once held in the Israeli agenda has since been assumed by major strategic threats, such as those posed by Syria and Iran. With the prime minister zigzagging from one threat to the next and the political system lining up behind him, almost no one in Israel has responded to the Arab Peace Initiative; even the Labor Party has failed to release an official response to the proposal. True, a few lone wolves in the Labor Party’s Knesset contingent have expressed their personal opinions about it, but there has been no clear and unambiguous response from the very party whose legendary leader was slain two decades ago as a sacrifice on the altar of peace.
This explains why it is hardly a coincidence that no Knesset member from the right is even willing to participate in a discussion like the one held earlier this week. The Israeli right, as well as the Yesh Atid party, do not see and don’t want to see the Arab world making any gestures toward Israel. Even if the Palestinians would get down on their knees and start waving white flags, even if the emir of Qatar would get into his private jet, surprise everyone by flying to Israel and asking for permission to land, Israel’s leaders would not see this as an opportunity. They wouldn’t want to see it as that. This is not because they have lost faith or because they have put considerable and deep thought into it. It is simply because Israel’s leaders have no interest in seeing it that way.
The Arab Peace Initiative is a one-time opportunity to turn the Middle East into a normal, run-of-the-mill place. What sets the Arab Peace Initiative apart is that unlike the agreements [that have] already been reached with the Palestinians, the guarantors are all of the Arab states, and not the United States. The people responsible for the success of the initiative live right here beside us, next door, if you will. Accepting the Arab Peace Initiative is in Israel’s interest. There can be no doubt about that.
The Arab Peace Initiative is a document, or more properly, a manifest, whose very articulation is evidence that it is a serious invitation to dialogue. This document offers the entire region a chance to achieve tranquility. Not only does it recognize the state of Israel and the right of Jews to a state of their own, it also determines that we are an integral part of the Middle East. In a world in which there are those who are starting to question our basic right to our land — and this is even happening in Europe — and in a world where Israel’s standing is deteriorating rapidly, the Arab Peace Initiative is a ray of light, illuminating the darkness.
No one doubts that the initiative is good for Israel, promising it — and the entire region —stability and quiet. The problem is that those people in Israel who believed in compromise have long since lost the ability to present the peace initiative as being in Israel’s interest. Ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Israeli public has undergone a process consisting entirely of ups and downs. It has gone from euphoria and great hope to desperation, and from there a state of apathy and indifference is not too far off. That is why it seems as if the Israeli public no longer supports a diplomatic process. The Arab Peace Initiative could be gone for good in just a few months. The heads of the Arab League even said so explicitly.
As we already said above, the greatest triumph of the Israeli right is not the settlement enterprise. The greatest triumph of the Israeli right is its ability to ignore every local or international effort to achieve a peace agreement and to turn the Israeli public into skeptics. As I wrote in an earlier article, there are some tens of thousands of settlers in the central mountain ridge dissecting the West Bank. That is not a success. It’s a failure. But in the center of the country and the periphery, there are millions of apathetic Israelis. That is an enormous achievement.
That is why it doesn’t matter how many proposals there are right now. None of them will be acknowledged. None of them will get any attention. The current Israeli political system would even allow itself to ignore a peace proposal placed on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desk by President Barack Obama himself, even if it was signed by all the leaders in the region in glittery gold letters. It would allow itself to ignore the proposal because it has succeeded in putting the Israeli public to sleep and causing it to lose faith. It has succeeded in delegitimizing an agreement, any agreement, and worst of all, it has managed to create a situation in which the status quo is the preferred situation. After all, who has the strength for any more concessions, for any more demonstrations, for any more settlers fortified in their homes and for any more scenes of evictions? Apathy and lethargy have defeated the Arab Peace Initiative, whose relevance will be limited to those conferences where the speakers are already preaching to the choir.
Shlomi Eldar is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10 and has reported on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.
A new poll indicates that if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adopts the principles of the Arab Peace Initiative, 69% of the Israeli public would support him.
By Akiva Eldar, Al-Monitor Israel Pulse, translated by Ruti Sinai
May 27, 2013
On Saturday, May 25, at the annual conference of the World Economic Forum in Jordan, I had the chance to exchange a few words with Amr Moussa, who was secretary-general of the Arab League when it adopted the historic Arab Peace Initiative in 2002. Moussa, who had previously served as Egypt’s foreign minister for many years, knows Israel well, but doesn’t understand it.
Today, too, as he sits on the porch of the convention center on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, Moussa wonders why not a single Israeli leader has picked up the gauntlet that has been lying at Israel’s feet for over a decade. I told him that a new opinion poll being published this week shows, categorically, that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to do so, instead of giving in to his party and his government coalition, then most of the public, including those who just recently voted for right-wing parties, would back him up.
“So what?” Moussa asked, his face frozen. “Do you really believe that Bibi [Netanyahu] will do it?” I replied that in order to answer his question, we would have to listen carefully to what US Secretary of State John Kerry says the next day, in the adjacent hall.
Did President Barack Obama authorize him to lay a regional peace plan on the table? Just now, Kerry elicited a formal statement of support from the Arabs for the annexation of settlement blocks (the practical meaning of “land swaps”). What did Bibi give in return? Sour reactions expressed by “close associates.”
According to a senior Palestinian official accompanying the entourage of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to the big annual event, the secretary of state heard the following formula from the US president: If Netanyahu accepts the principle of the 1967 borders along with mutual, agreed-upon land swaps, the Palestinians, for their part, will drop their demand for a construction freeze within the settlements. The rationale is quite clear, the man explained. If there’s agreement on a border line with “alterations” that include settlement blocks, then some of the settlements will be annexed to Israel, and the rest will be handed over to the Palestinians. Will this earth-shattering news get Bibi to utter the magic words, “1967?”
The findings of the poll, being published here for the first time, indicate that Netanyahu cannot claim he lacks a mandate from Israel’s public. According to the poll, commissioned by the Israeli Peace Initiative organization, once the principles of the Arab Initiative were explained to them, 55% of the people interviewed said they would support it to some degree. Only 27% ”strongly oppose” the initiative, while 17.5% of them answered that they ”don’t know” once the fundamentals of the Initiative were presented to them. But in response to another question — what their position will be if Netanyahu adopts the Arab Initiative and reaches a final status agreement with the Arab states — the number of supporters soared to 69%. The interesting finding regarding this question is that only 18% continued to ”strongly oppose” the initiative (revealing that nine percent of those interviewed changed their minds in favor of the initiative between the two questions).
The poll was conducted on May 20 by New Wave Research, an Israeli polling company, among a random sampling of 500 Jewish, Hebrew-speaking Israelis, aged 18 and over. The statistical sampling error was +/- 4.4%.
The poll shows that Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres are perceived as the only two leaders suited to conducting negotiations with the Arab states. Netanyahu is perceived as “more suitable” (28%) than Peres (24%), while Finance Minister Yair Lapid trails behind with some six percent, after Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and former Mossad chief Meir Dagan.
Additional findings show that support for Netanyahu is higher among men (50%) than among women (31%), support for Netanyahu is higher among older adults and almost nonexistent among younger ones and the percentage of those who strongly oppose Netanyahu is greater among residents of the Sharon region (in central Israel) and Jerusalem.
The most interesting result to emerge from the poll indicates that even though the initiative has been on the shelf for over 11 years, 73.5% of the Hebrew-speaking public had never heard of it, or had heard just a hint of it but remains unfamiliar with the details. Of these, 20.5% were “slightly knowledgeable” about the initiative and only six percent were “very knowledgeable.”
The authors of the poll emphasize that the lack of understanding about the initiative points to a tremendous potential for support of the plan.
Koby Huberman, who established the Israeli Peace Initiative along with Yuval Rabin, the son of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, is committed to taking up the gauntlet. He promises that activists of his forum will spare no effort to convince the Israeli public and decision-makers to adopt the “Israel Initiative” — in other words, the initiative to conduct negotiations with the Palestinian side based on the Arab Initiative. In his view, the regional approach is the right way to bring about an end to the conflict and to establish normal relations between the neighbors.
“Only a resolution of the conflict, despite the painful compromises involved, and not the continuation of its management,” Huberman emphasizes, “is the way to provide future generations with security and prosperity.” Huberman expresses hope that not only will an Israeli leader be found, but also an Arab one, with the necessary courage to translate the regional vision of peace into reality.
A senior Jordanian figure told Al-Monitor that the July 2007 joint visit to Israel by the foreign ministers of Egypt and Jordan (the two Arab countries that have already signed peace agreements with Israel) as the high point of a public-relations campaign for the Arab Initiative, was a significantly watered-down version of the Arab League’s original plan to enlist Israeli public opinion in favor of the initiative. According to that plan, a delegation comprised of at least seven foreign ministers, including representatives of countries that don’t maintain diplomatic ties with Israel, was supposed to visit Jerusalem.
In his speech at the Dead Sea conference, Nabil Elaraby, Moussa’s successor as secretary-general of the Arab League, contended that while the Arab world is undergoing dramatic change, the time might well be ripe for a change in the Israeli-Palestinian arena as well. Perhaps the findings of the new poll will convince Elaraby and his friends that now is the time for a dramatic change in their attitude toward the Israeli public.
If, in fact, they want to reach out to the Israeli public, they would do well to greet those who shape its opinions, meaning the Israeli journalists who accompanied President Shimon Peres to the conference in Jordan, more positively than they did at the time. As reported in the Israeli media, when the Israeli delegation entered the convention’s media room, Jordanian journalists announced they were unwilling to sit with the Israelis, and walked out.
On the other hand, hopefully Netanyahu and his government colleagues will not greet senior Arab peace envoys with an announcement about the construction of a new Jewish neighborhood in east Jerusalem.
Akiva Eldar is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. He was formerly a senior columnist and editorial writer for Haaretz and also served as the Hebrew daily’s US bureau chief and diplomatic correspondent. His most recent book (with Idith Zertal), Lords of the Land, Nation Books, 2009, on the Jewish settlements, was on the best-seller list in Israel.