A Heavy-Hearted Welcome to the New Year: Middle
East-An Historic Stalemate
On Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year, we traditionally express our hopes for a better future, including a peaceful and prosperous future for the inhabitants of Israel/Palestine. This year, our wishes are the same, but we also realize that such a future can only be secured by self-determination and equality of rights for both peoples.
Many observers saw the recent summit as a potential beginning that was shattered by the inability of the two sides to reach an agreement. A closer look, however, shows the flaws in the negotiations that were present from the start.
At Camp David, Israeli Prime Minister Echud Barak did make some new departures in his offers; his expressed willingness to give up 95% of the occupied West Bank would have been inconceivable until recently, for Barak as well as earlier Israeli leaders.
Unfortunately, Barak's stance on Jerusalem did not really depart from the long-standing Israeli view that Jerusalem must be the "eternal, undivided, capital of Israel." His position did not include any willingness to abandon Israeli rule in East Jerusalem as a whole, much less allow it to become the capital of a Palestinian state. He was prepared only to allow limited Palestinian autonomy over Palestinian neighbourhoods, while maintaining Israeli sovereignty of Jerusalem as a whole. (This has been Israel's approach to "territorial compromise" in the West Bank generally.) Barak's proposals also included annexing outlying Jewish settlements to Jerusalem. According to press reports (Reuters and Agence France-Presse), Barak also brought to the table extremely unequal demands, including a demilitarized Palestinian state, with Israel maintaining control of air space.
Further, even if Israel concedes 95% of the West Bank to the Palestinians, its control of most Jewish settlements-especially with its network of "bypass roads" that connect the various settlements-will prevent any real territorial continuity for West Bank Palestinians. Another often overlooked issue is the unequal division of water resources in the West Bank, with the lion's share going to Jewish settlers, and much less going to the Palestinians.
If the prospects for a just peace are weakened by the limitations of Barak's offers, they are seriously undermined by the Israeli authorities' actions on the ground, such as the demolition of Palestinian homes and the continued expansion of settlements.
For the past decade, the slogan of much of the Israeli peace movement has been, "two states for two peoples." Since Oslo, this vision has been eroded by a form of "territorial compromise" which for the Palestinians on the West Bank has resulted in little more than a Bantustan. As a result, in recent years some Israelis and Palestinians on the Left have revived the idea of a binational state for both peoples. This idea would not appear to be imminent, to say the least. The practical alternative at this time must provide for genuine Palestinian self-determination and statehood in the West Bank and Gaza, and the dismantlement of Jewish settlements.
The issue of Jerusalem is symbolic of Israel/Palestine as a whole, in that any just solution must see the city shared equally between the two peoples. Jerusalem could either be a single unified city as the capital of two states, or divided as it was before 1967, this time with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. In either solution, it would be important to uphold the rights of access of peoples of all faiths to their respective religious sites in both parts of the city.
Much of the commentary in the Canadian Jewish press and elsewhere in Canada has blamed the Palestinians-Yasser Arafat in particular-for the failure of the summit, because they didn't "compromise" by accepting Barak's proposals. Such critics are oblivious to the historical fact that the Palestinians have already in some sense "compromised" on pre-1967 Israel, including West Jerusalem. The West Bank and Gaza, and East Jerusalem, taken as a whole make up less than a quarter of the former Palestine. It would be surprising if the Palestinians regarded self-determination in these areas, at least, as anything less than their right.
The sad fact is that Barak's limited offers at Camp David were still too much for the Israeli right. Their hostility to Barak and the Labour camp in general was shown by the unexpected Knesset defeat of Shimon Peres as presidential candidate, and by the resignation of Yitzhak Levy (of the National Religious Party) and Natan Sharansky, and even more significantly, Foreign Minister David Levy. These protests show the deep resistance of the Israeli right to any surrender of Israel's post-1967 conquests.
At the time of writing, internal Israeli politics is in complete disarray as a result of the failure of the summit. Barak's government, deprived of parliamentary support, will likely be forced to call an early election, or agree to form a more hawkish coalition with the Likud. If the Palestinians unilaterally declare a Palestinian state, this could elicit a crackdown on the Palestinians from Barak's government under pressure from the far right.
Nevertheless, while our hopes for a just peace remain frustrated, we must still continue to work for peace and justice for all peoples, especially both peoples in Israel/Palestine. We hope to see the beginnings of this in the coming year.
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