Sunday, December 09, 2012

Compromise is Key

When considering the peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, the dulcet tones of Adam Levine singing “She Will be Loved” come to mind: “It’s not always rainbows and butterflies, it’s compromise that moves us along…” If there is ever going to be a lasting arrangement, both Israel and Palestine must realize that neither of them is going to get exactly everything that they would like. Peace isn’t about perfection; it’s about recognizing what each side is willing to give up in exchange for security and respecting those concessions.

The two-state solution currently being pursued is based upon a few core issues. Palestine would like for its borders to be based upon the pre-1967 ceasefire lines, with a land swap to follow. This land swap would help to reconcile the problems involved with the Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.  Understandably, Israel would like to keep these settlements. Palestine would prefer they not exist, but is willing to negotiate if Israel agrees to the division of Jerusalem. East Jerusalem contains the al-Aqsa mosque, third holiest site of Islam. Palestine would like to reclaim control of this part of the city. Israel is adamant that Jerusalem remains the undivided religious and political center of the Jewish People. (For those curious, the U.S. does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv).

The November 29th vote by the UN General Assembly to recognize Palestine as a “non-member state with observer status” has changed the dynamics of negotiations. Palestine’s new standing, one it shares with the Vatican, allows them to participate in UN General Assembly debates. It also increases its chances for joining International Criminal Court and other UN agencies – something Palestine is very interested in doing as it wishes to pursue various war crimes and crimes against humanity charges within the ICC. Palestine is optimistic about its new status, saying this gives them firmer footing from which to engage in negotiations. Israeli officials claim that this new designation changes nothing.

Despite these claims that Palestine’s new credibility within the UN have no real effect, one day later Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a project for 3000 new homes in West Bank on the eastern and southern edges of Jerusalem. These so-called “E-1” settlement plans are a strategic method of retaliation. By cutting off traditionally Arab communities from Jerusalem and dividing the northern and southern halves of the West Bank, Israel can rather effectively diminish Palestine’s ability to reclaim control of East Jerusalem.
These settlement plans give the impression that Mr. Netanyahu, despite endorsing a two-party solution in 2009, has no real intention to cede any territory to Palestine. This greatly diminishes the prospect for a peace agreement. Though the international community has condemned these proposed settlements (ambassadors were heartily rebuked in London, Paris, Canberra and other capitals of usually friendly nations), the U.S. has not offered very strong criticism. Settlements in E-1 have previously been blocked, but as the author of the article “Barriers to peace” in this week’s issue of The Economist notes, “Mr. Netanyahu would not have announced the settlements unless he thought he could get away with it.”

With the Arab population growing faster than the Jewish one, it is in Israel’s best interest to reach a two-state solution while Palestinians are still amenable to such an arrangement.  A single-state solution will eventually lead to Israel’s Jews becoming a minority within their own country – a situation that they would surely find unfavorable. If the U.S. is truly a friend to Israel, we should be pushing Mr. Netanyahu to abandon his incendiary settlement plans and get serious about reaching a long-term solution involving compromises on both sides.

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