Israelis from all sides of the political spectrum desperately yearn that their dream of peace and a secure and stable relationship with their neighbors could be realized now. But alas, no quick fix is currently achievable.
Both left- and right-wing radicals continue to vigorously agitate for drastic action and predict disaster if the status quo is maintained. The delusional Left calls for further unilateral withdrawals and the radical Right demands instant annexationist policies.
Since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, the Left has succeeded in convincing many rank-and-file Israelis to believe that the status quo is unsustainable and would lead to our destruction. Like the sound of a siren, their call for quick fixes and solutions has deeply penetrated the psyche of a nation that, understandably, desperately yearns for peace.
Although Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin readily admitted that the Oslo Accords represented a gamble, it was the repeated insistence by Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin that nothing was worse than maintaining the status quo, that enabled the government — with the support of the Arab parties — to muster the hairline majority required to endorse the process. As a consequence, the Second Intifada erupted and thousands of Israelis lost their lives to suicide bombings and terrorism.
As the evidence mounted, it became increasingly clear that despite the sweet words Yasser Arafat expressed for external consumption, the PA’s goal remained the end of Jewish sovereignty, even if that was to be achieved in stages.
The Israeli Left argued then, as it does to this day, that negotiations with the PA represented the best and only opportunity to move forward and the alternative of retaining the status quo would have disastrous consequences and destroy the otherwise “irreversible peace process.” Israelis were urged to ignore the incitement against Israel on the grounds that Arafat, and subsequently Mahmoud Abbas, were merely promoting anti-Semitic rhetoric among their people “for domestic purposes.”
The unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 was also justified on the basis of the need to create a concrete move from the status quo. However, the withdrawal from Gaza actually served to embolden the radicals who transformed the blooming agricultural land created by Israelis into launch pads for rockets targeting Israeli civilians.
Even after the recent conflict with Hamas, with the bombardment by rockets from Gaza and the discovery of attack tunnels, we are again being warned against maintaining the status quo and thereby forsaking the “last” opportunity to achieve peace.
The Saudi Arabian peace plan was adopted at its inception by the Left as the basis for a solution. Setting aside the central clause relating to the right of return of Arab refugees, which would entail the end of Jewish sovereignty, events of the past year have demonstrated how catastrophic it would have been to agree to borders based on the 1949 armistice lines. There were new calls at the Gaza donor conference from Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and others for Israel to accept the Saudi formula as the basis for a settlement.
Yet even today, despite the carnage and total meltdown in the Arab world, the Labor Party still urges Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept the Saudi plan as a basis for renewed negotiations.
The U.S. administration now also invokes the “danger” of maintaining the status quo as the central theme in its efforts to force Israel to make further unilateral concessions. President Barack Obama makes reference to this on almost every occasion in which he relates to the Arab-Israeli conflict and Secretary of State John Kerry constantly referred to the danger of the status quo as a means of pressuring Israel during the recent, unsuccessful, U.S.-inspired peace negotiations. Only this week he once again slammed the “unacceptable and unstable status quo.”
Likewise, the EU, whose hostility toward Israel has escalated over the past year, continuously intones the mantra about the disasters Israel imposes upon itself and the entire region by maintaining the status quo.
One wonders what the consequences would have been had Abbas (and before him Arafat) not spurned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s outrageous offers. Hamas would have taken control of the entire West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and inevitably Israel would have been obliged to militarily regain control of the entire territory, suffering major casualties and probably providing grounds for the U.S. to actively intervene and impose solutions on us.
It is surely time to face reality. Yes, we abhor the status quo. Most of us would desperately like to separate ourselves entirely from the Palestinians right now. Yet the turmoil surrounding us and the absence of a genuine peace partner make this impossible. Short of repeating the mistakes of the past and making further unilateral concessions that will boomerang, there are no quick fixes and so for the time being we must refuse any further territorial concessions. At the same time, we must resist calls from the Right to annex territories which would oblige us to absorb large numbers of Arabs and transform Israel into a binational state.
We must reiterate that once we have a genuine Arab peace partner who is willing to provide us with defensible borders and a security structure which will not endanger our children or grandchildren in the future, aside from the settlement blocs, we would cede control of the bulk of the territories formerly occupied by Jordan. In the meantime, we will make every effort to minimize our presence in the Arab areas and endeavor to enhance the quality of life and wellbeing of the inhabitants.
We should demand that critics of Netanyahu, such as Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Opposition Leader, M.K. Yitzhak Herzog, be specific about what it is they demand from him. Do they really seek to promote an accommodation with Abbas under the current circumstances? Aside from the merger with Hamas, opinion polls conclusively predict that in an election, Hamas would triumph over the corrupt PA. We would effectively create a Hamastan around us — with 80 percent of its population favoring a renewal of rocket attacks against Israel. Unless critics of Netanyahu are willing to endorse the creation of such a terror state, they should cease their demagogic criticism, which provides ammunition to our adversaries and even undermines support among our friends.
In summary, there is irrefutable evidence that our unilateral concessions have caused us great damage, failing to even generate goodwill among the Western nations.
Were it possible, all of us would endorse a quick fix in preference to the status quo. But failing that, there are no grounds for despondency when reviewing the progress achieved since 1967 despite the status quo.
We are the only nation in this region of turbulence and murder that remains an oasis of tranquility and order. During the past 50 years, the IDF has become an extraordinary force capable of defending us against the combined onslaughts of all our enemies. Despite successfully absorbing millions of Jews, our economy is flourishing and our cultural and religious development gives us cause for pride. Despite all the challenges facing us, we undoubtedly represent the most uniquely successful nation of our time.
We should pray that even if we are obliged to maintain the status quo for the present, the opportunity will ultimately come when we will be able to progress toward a lasting peace with our neighbors. In the meantime, may we continue to progress and strengthen ourselves as we did over the past decades of “status quo.”
Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.
He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom