Friday, February 06, 2009

Obama may soon have to deal with Netanyahu


Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

On February 10 the national legislative Israeli elections are expected to return Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party to power. A Likud-led government is bent on dictating the terms of peace to the Arab states. By electing a hard line regime, the Israelis reflect a position of unusual comfort with a tense political status quo. Israel prefers to maintain the occupation than to make a complete withdrawal from Arab land.

In 2002, twenty two Arab states offered a reasonable peace deal to Israel: withdrawal from 1967 occupied territories in return for peace with the Arab world and normalization of relations. The Bush Administration and Tel Aviv ignored this historic Arab concession.

Now the Obama Administration is considering the 2002 Saudi-initiated plan as a framework for reinvigorating the peace process. On peace, Israel is moving in the opposite direction from the American Administration, but not from the Israel-centric American public sentiment. Most Americans regard Israel as a victim and Arabs as the aggressor. Every Palestinian suicidal act and every Hamas rocket reinforces this American public perception.

The Likud and its partners, on the extreme right, face sobering Palestinian realities: population growth, hardening resistance and the growing popularity of the so called “one-state solution” (more on that solution later).

Palestinian demography

Currently 5.4 million Jews and 5.2 million Palestinians live under Israeli authority or control. In the global Diasporas of the two people, there are 7.7 million Jews and 5.2 million Palestinians. Many in the Diaspora believe they have the right to live in the land of their ancestry, “Israel” or “Palestine”, as the case maybe.

Fast forward five years, the 5.2 million Palestinians, currently under Israeli rule or control, through population growth, will outnumber the Israeli Jews. Fast forward ten years, Palestinians will be a strong majority.

Changing demography raises questions about the shift of political power. How will Israelis react to the natural growth of Palestinians? How will Palestinians use their growing demographic power?

Many friends of Israel urge Tel Aviv to cut a bargain peace deal now: 22% of the land (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) would go to Palestine and 78 % would go to Israel, by withdrawing to the 1967 borders.

Resistance

Palestinians are glued to their homeland despite an expanding occupation, disunity in their leadership, isolation of Gaza from the West Bank, unbearable living conditions, collective punishment, assassination of their leaders, a separation wall and a high rate of imprisonment and unemployment.

Palestinian resilience does not seem to impress the likely future prime minister of Israel. Netanyahu and his party rely on the myth that Israel will ultimately break down Palestinian will for self determination. Not many realize that Palestinian grassroots have greatly matured politically over sixty years of struggle and suffering. When Palestinians are given opportunity to hold elections they do it freely and democratically. Their election of Hamas in 2006 was not a preference of fundamentalism over secular authority; it was rather a choice of a solid resistance movement to deal with a harsh and unrelenting occupation. With the same protective instinct, Israelis are about to elect extreme politicians to deal with a perceived Palestinian threat to Jewish survival.

But many friends of both Palestine and Israel believe that neither Hamas nor an extreme Israeli regime will be able to advance peace.

For the first time in history Palestinians face Israel with equal political strength. The growing empowerment of Palestinians, their growing numbers and the growing support they receive from their immediate neighbors in Lebanon and Syria, as well as from Iran and the Arab street, make them today a formidable challenge to Israel.

But the curve of political learning for Palestinians is not steady. Today, two psycho-social factors handicap Palestinian power: lack of confidence in political strength and lack of experience with civic resistance. If Palestinians unite on a civic struggle platform they will gain the political edge over Israel within two to three years. Regrettably, some Palestinians continue to confuse organized civic political mobilization with passive resistance.

One state solution

Balance of power has generated new ideas about new and controversial solutions. The impatience with land-for-peace solutions has excited both Palestinian and Israeli imagination. Each side is pondering novel alternatives to the most pragmatic scenario, the two-state solution.

Over the last three years many Palestinians have overtly advocated a political solution through integration of Palestine and Israel into one country. Palestinians argue powerfully: Israel has managed to fragment the West Bank irreversibly through massive settlements, a wall and limitless checkpoints. There is no way to reverse the occupation and create a contiguous and viable Palestinian state. Forget about borders and give us our human rights as equal citizens with Israelis.

On the other hand, a growing number of Israelis covertly entertain their own one-state solution through integration of Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza into Jordan and Egypt, respectively. Israelis argue with passion: There is plenty of Arab land outside Israel; Palestinians would fit better in the Arab world. When Palestinians separate from Israel, the Jewish state, will achieve security.

The two contrasting “solutions” are attractive but they are unrealistic. Real peace is achieved when both sides are ready to support a plan of common ground. Israelis’ one- state solution is perceived by Palestinians as a “zero-state” solution for their side. Correspondingly, Palestinians’ one-state solution is perceived by Israelis as a “zero-state” solution for their side.

Ironically, the one-state solution is also sending messages of moderation to the other side. The Israeli one-state solution alerts Palestinians that if they unite they would make it impossible for Israel to force them to leave or to unite with Jordan. Similarly, the Palestinian one-state solution alerts Israelis to stop foot-dragging on withdrawal from the territories.

The Obama Administration and the anticipated Netanyahu regime would not be on the same wave length politically. But the extent of political difference between Washington and Tel Aviv remains minimal. If the Palestinians manage to unite on a peace platform, the Obama Administration will be strengthened dramatically in pressuring Israel to accept the Arab peace plan. If Palestinians could find a way to cooperate with Washington, the Netanyahu conservative coalition will either cooperate with a US proposed peace plan or eventually loose power to a more accommodating Israeli government.

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