Time to re-think peace in the Middle East

Albert Einstein reputedly defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” For over twenty years, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators supported by various well-intentioned mediators have been attempting to find the elusive “two states for two peoples” solution to the Middle East conflict without any success.

The negotiations, and almost all of the proposals, invariably only made by the Israeli side, have all been of similar form and substance. However, we are no nearer a solution than when the Oslo process began on the White House lawn in 1993.

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Since then, thousands of lives have been lost, billions of dollars and much international diplomatic capital spent, with little to show. It is nigh time to admit that a solution to the conflict lies elsewhere.

It should be clear to all that after the overly generous offers by former Israeli prime minister’s Barak in 2001 and Olmert in 2008, giving the Palestinians well over 95 percent of all their purported demands without even receiving a counter-offer, that the most Israel can give still falls way short of the least the Palestinians are willing to accept.

Palestinian leader Mahmous Abbas has said so succinctly and often that he will make no concessions and no compromises during negotiations and will not sign an end of claims and end of conflict agreement even if a solution is devised. He will not even symbolically recognize the national claim of the Jewish People to a state in their indigenous homeland in exchange for a tremendous amount of land and ultimately statehood.

Not only has Abbas and his government shown little interest in a peaceful solution, they have prepared their people for a prolonged conflict until they reach their indubitable goal, the eradication of the State of Israel.

In a survey conducted by pollster Stan Greenberg in 2011, almost seventy per cent of Palestinian respondents stated that the real goal of the negotiations should be to start with a two-state solution but then destroy the two state apparatus to form one Palestinian Arab state in all of the territory.

The recent partnership and Palestinian unity government between Abbas and Hamas, a terrorist organization whose charter aspires to a theologically inspired genocidal war against Jews all over the world, further tells us about the Palestinian leaders’ true intentions.

Additionally, the Palestinian authorities have failed in state-building. There is anarchy in many areas under the Palestinian Authority, with law and justice meted out along clan lines and the central Palestinian government unable to even collect simple amenity bills such as electricity from around 90 percent of the population. Abbas himself is beginning to resemble some of the region’s dictators with his disdain for democracy and lack of interest in elections since his official term ended well over five years ago.

So what now?

There are many who claim that time is not on Israel’s side and the status quo is unsustainable, pointing to demographic challenges on the horizon.

However, this is a meaningless and empty threat, one that presupposes an enforced “one state solution”. This envisions that at some point in the future Israel will be forced to annex the West Bank and give citizenship to all of its residents. This would be an historic anomaly as there is absolutely no known precedent for forcing a nation to give citizenship to masses it does not wish to. There is no international legal instrument or United Nations resolution which would support such an aberrant move.

It is time to not just manage the conflict, but to create realities on the ground that improves the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians. Even today, the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians live under full Palestinian autonomy, law and jurisdiction. The lesser role the State of Israel plays in the lives of the average Palestinian, the better for all concerned.

Israel needs to continue to do all it can to protect the lives of its citizens, both Arab and Jews, but the more it feels secure the smaller the necessity to have defensive security measures in place. The right to life supersedes all other rights, and while Israelis are being attacked and murdered by bombs, rockets and shootings the State of Israel, like any other nation, is duty bound to defend the lives of its citizens.

There is a lot that can be done in terms of creating a secure peace with prosperity and a raised standard of living for all. There are tens of unresolved conflicts currently raging across the globe with tens if not hundreds times the amount of casualties as the Israel-Palestinian conflict and scores of peoples whose rights and claims to full sovereign independence are far greater historically and legally than those of the Palestinians.

The current pause in negotiations is supposedly because the time is not ripe for progress. However, absolutely nothing will change in a few months or a few years. The maximalist demands of the Palestinians will remain and the region will still not be ripe for another failed state that will quickly slip into anarchy, chaos and bloodshed like so many others in our tempestuous neighborhood.

We need to create new realities on the ground. Currently the Palestinians have their own flag, anthem and other national symbols, a presidency, parliament, government and a fully autonomous judicial and educational system. However, there remains a very great economic and democratic gap between Israel and the Palestinian Authority which is not conducive for peace between the parties.

Just like the ascension of Turkey to the European Union or Albania to NATO, there needs to be a very clear roadmap of criteria that the Palestinians must meet before the process moves forward. It may take a new generation of Palestinians who are not indoctrinated to hate Jews and seek Israel’s ultimate destruction, but the alternative is prolonged conflict.

It is time to take a prolonged time-out and put the “two-states solution” back on the bookshelf and think anew about how best to solve the conflict. There is no cogent reason to rush to a solution, and many reasons to think outside of the box and let peace be built rather than enforced.

The writer is Israel’s Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.