Neither US nor Palestinians will ever create peace. Only Israel can

By Shlomo Avineri, July 17, 2014
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There is no doubt that those who launched the peace process in Oslo 21 years ago truly believed it would lead to a historic compromise between us and the Palestinians.

Oslo's sponsors saw the conflict as one between two national movements and believed - as did I - that direct negotiations between Israel and the PLO could find a solution to the territorial and strategic issues that were the cornerstones of the dispute.

We were wrong.

The Palestinians don't think this is a conflict between two national movements. From their perspective, this is a conflict between a single national movement - the Palestinian one - and a colonialist, imperialist entity that is destined to vanish from the world.

The Israeli position talks about "two states for two peoples". But in the Palestinian version, the phrase "two peoples" does not appear; it only talks about "two states."

If anyone thinks this is hair-splitting, let him ask a Palestinian interlocutor for his opinion on the "two states for two peoples" formula. Sooner or later, he will get the answer that there is no Jewish people.

This is also why the Palestinians rejected the formula proposed by US Secretary of State John Kerry that spoke of an agreement between "two nation-states". The truth is that, in the Palestinian narrative, the Jews are neither a people nor a nation, but merely a religious community; therefore they are not entitled to a state. This is also the reason for the sweeping, uncompromising Palestinian refusal to recognise Israel as the Jewish nation-state.

This is the root of the conflict. And, of course, the Palestinian refusal to give up the principle of the "right of return" is tied into this.

In a conflict between two national movements, compromise is possible. But if you view your movement as fighting against a colonialist movement, there is no chance of compromise and no moral justification for it.

What can be done?

Nothing can be expected from the United States or the Netanyahu government. The Obama administration has failed in every foreign-policy challenge, from Crimea and Ukraine to Syria and Iraq. The Netanyahu government is focused solely on public diplomacy enabling it to continue the status quo, which is disastrous.

This presents an opportunity for the opposition, headed by the Labour Party, to propose an alternative. There is no reason to keep reiterating the mantra that we must resume peace talks, because it is clear they will not bear fruit. Without retreating from the principle of "two states for two peoples," the opposition must propose interim steps right now as a way to move towards a permanent solution.

It must demand a complete halt to construction in the settlements, the evacuation of illegal outposts, a re-examination - once the current tension has ebbed - of the Israel Defence Forces' deployment in the West Bank, and the removal of what remains of the Gaza blockade.

Finally, it must propose an initiative to reduce Israel's civilian presence in the West Bank by developing an evacuation-compensation plan. According to it, West Bank settlers who would like to return to Israel proper, will receive a government subsidy which would make their relocation possible.

The opposition, headed by the Labour Party, should initiate these ideas rather than just repeat the refrain of "returning to peace talks" which is just an exercise in futility.

Those of us who supported Oslo must recognise that salvation will not come from the Palestinians. They are genuinely uninterested in a solution of two states for two peoples.

We can rely only on ourselves, not in the sense of our military power, but of our wisdom, our desire to maintain a Jewish nation-state here, and our ability to realise this desire, even in the face of deep-seated rejection by the other side.

Shlomo Avineri is a professor of political science at Hebrew University. This is an abridged version of an article that originally appeared in 'Haaretz'

Last updated: 1:31pm, July 17 2014