The recent collapse of Israel’s government may seem like one more reason to despair of our tortured politics and divided polity, but it presents the best chance in years to secure peace and preserve our democracy. The government that was disbanded was not a government of peace, in any possible way.
It damaged Israel’s relations among citizens, throughout the region, and across the globe. For our economy to thrive, for our people to flourish, and for Israel to be truly secure, we must go in another direction.
Let’s be frank. Negotiations haven’t gone anywhere at all in the past two years under the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu. If anything, the mistrust on both sides has even taken us several steps back, creating a sense of hopelessness among all those who wish and work for two states.
But there is a way to move forward. As soon as Israel’s elections are decided, we must move forward. Israel needs to take its destiny in its own hands and take bold, new steps. Here’s how.
First, we, the Israelis, should recognize the Palestinian state, and then we should argue over the borders. Let’s name it and turn the “Palestinian entity” into a state, and then we can enter into the stormy border negotiations. This way, we declare that we are serious about negotiations.
It’s a grave disappointment to me and to my colleagues in the Israeli Labor Party that Prime Minister Netanyahu never welcomed the Arab Peace Initiative, a comprehensive proposal that could offer Israel peace with the majority of the Arab states for the first time in our country’s young history. The latest call by Egyptian President Al-Sisi to advance the peace process within the framework of this initiative was met, yet again, by Israeli silence.
Instead of us taking the lead, and actively taking charge of our own destiny, other nations are making their own decisions. France’s parliament recently joined the growing number of countries who are voting to support an independent Palestinian state.
Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state could be groundbreaking, a catalyst for renewing negotiations. It would facilitate the restoration of trust between the parties, and ensure that there will be two states at the end of the process. Also, an Israeli response to the Arab Peace Initiative, even if it were a partial and reserved response, would be a prudent step in the creation of a political horizon that could bring Israel closer to peace with more Arab neighbors.
It is possible and essential to create a political horizon. It is possible and essential to restore trust between the Palestinians and us, even before we move a single soldier or before we evacuate a single settlement. A political horizon and the two-state solution are both possible and achievable.
Israel’s situation regarding its neighbors in the region, the future of the Palestinians, and our relationship with the rest of the world is more deadlocked than ever. Polarization and incitement between Israel’s Jewish and Arab populations also grow ever stronger. The government has no solution and no vision, and the “political horizon” that Prime Minister Netanyahu mumbles about, without really meaning it, is further away than ever. We can and must bring calm. We can and must produce a political horizon and return to the negotiating table. And the sooner the better. Can it be done? Of course it can.
Israeli recognition of a Palestinian state is in Israel’s interest. That’s the reason that I spend time working in my position as the chairman of the Caucus to Resolve the Israeli-Arab Conflict in the Knesset. It is because I believe that the future security and prosperity of Israel is dependent on a just resolution that includes two states.
Israeli recognition of Palestinian statehood will tangibly advance the two-state vision and will eliminate the dangerous one-state vision that extremists on the right and the left are advancing, among us and among the Palestinians. We have to be honest with ourselves. There is simply no option beyond a two-state solution that will preserve the Zionist dream. One state would be the end of the Zionist dream and it would eliminate the dream of the Palestinians to have a state of their own. With this, we would doom ourselves to perpetual conflict, a lose-lose situation.
Instead of burying our heads in the sand through blindness and indecision, we need to create a political horizon that will advance our national interests and especially our future as a people and a nation.
Hilik Bar is a member of Knesset, the secretary general of the Labor Party and the chairman of the Knesset Caucus to Resolve the Israeli-Arab Conflict.