Israel’s future must include compromise

September 16, 2011


The expanding confrontation between Israel and its neighbors has been described variously as a “train wreck,” a “lose-lose situation” and a “political tsunami.” It’s all those things and likely to get worse: For there’s no quick fix by Israel’s ally, the United States.  

The Obama administration has been seeking diplomatic solutions to the two most incendiary issues — the demand by Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for an Israeli apology for the Gaza flotilla incident of May 2010, and the Palestinian plan to ask the United Nations to declare statehood. Despite feverish American efforts to defuse these bombs, they’re still ticking away,

Welcome to the Arab Spring, Arab-Israeli chapter. Commentators sometimes talked as if the Facebook revolutionaries had forgotten about the Palestinian issue. Not so: The “dignity revolution” is connecting, as in last week’s frightening riot at the Israeli embassy in Cairo, with the ever-flowing font of Arab shame and rage toward the Jewish state. Bidding for regional leadership is Erdogan, who thundered Monday, “Israel cannot play with our dignity.”

The first instinct for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, feeling beleaguered and friendless, has been to hunker down and say no. Nobody ever wants to give ground under pressure, but Netanyahu’s approach, while understandable, is a mistake. These are problems that Israel is going to have to answer more creatively.

When you strip away the posturing on all sides, what’s happening is that Israel now lives in an Arab neighborhood where public opinion matters. For decades, Israelis have dismissed the “Arab street,” as if presidents and kings were the only decisive voices. That approach worked so long as dictators could suppress popular opinion, but no more.

Let’s start with Erdogan’s demand for an apology. As a populist politician, he is channeling Turkish anger about the death of nine Turks aboard a ship in international waters. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked through the summer to craft a formula in which Netanyahu would apologize for “operational mistakes” without conceding Israel’s right to maintain its blockade of Gaza. As part of the deal, Turkey would promise not to make legal trouble for Israel.

A deal seemed tantalizingly close, after many Clinton calls to Netanyahu. President Obama leaned on Erdogan, with whom he had developed some trust after a heated meeting in June 2010 in Toronto. Preserving the Turkish-Israeli relationship was so important strategically, argued U.S. officials, that Netanyahu should eat a little crow.

But Netanyahu decided no. He is said to have countered that if Israel started apologizing to Turkey, it would be pushed “to apologize everywhere for everything.” Better just to refuse. A furious Erdogan responded with the promised reprisals — including expelling the Israeli ambassador. And he set off this week on a campaign-style tour of the Arab world, denouncing Israel Monday in Cairo as “the West’s spoiled child.”

As bad as the Turkey feud is for Israel, the looming showdown at the United Nations may be worse. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, frustrated by U.S. inability to budge Netanyahu and create a Palestinian state, plans to ask the United Nations to declare statehood outright. This might seem a symbolic move, not worth all the angst, except that as a “state,” Palestine might be able to assert air rights, navigation rights and the like.

Israel has hoped that Washington could make it all go away — by coaxing the Palestinians back to negotiations and muffling the U.N. show. That disappearing act might have been possible a few years ago, but not now, under the glare of Arab public opinion.

Here’s what U.S. officials expect: The Palestinians will lodge their statehood request with the Security Council. America’s best hope (for which it is frantically lobbying votes) is that the council will delay action — allowing the U.S. to avoid a veto. An American veto, while rescuing Israel, would poison U.S. relations with the Arabs at the precise moment Obama wants to show a new American face.  

If the U.S. deflects a showdown in the Security Council, the statehood issue will then move to the General Assembly, where adoption is all but certain. The U.S. and close allies will vote against it, but the real effort is crafting a resolution that limits the most damaging statehood provisions. American diplomats probably would be relieved at that outcome.

Here’s my bottom line on the collision of the new Arab Spring and the old animosities: Israelis may ultimately be more secure in a world of Arab democracies. But it will be a world where compromise is part of survival.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email is davidignatius@washpost.com.


Abdu Omar 6 years, 9 months ago

In the fight to remain in the middle east since 1948, each and every prime minister of Israel has been pretty much a shrewd and competent leader in international affairs. But this "Bibi" is not. He has allowed his lust for land and his desire for keeping the Palestinian people under his thumb from building good coalitions with the Arabs by allowing the Palestinians their own state. The only reason is that he would have to give back the West Bank, remove his settlements and thus relocate the settlers and that would cause embarrassment for him and his government.

It is time Israel becomes a player not the iron fisted "spoiled child" in the middle east. He must compromise and Israel will become the state to emulate. Now, they are the most hated entity on the face of the earth, not because they are jews, that's their foolish argument, but because they are insecure and over react to every supposed threat. No one would want to destroy Israel if it was a fair and just society towards their captors, the Palestinians.

I truly think that in the end, they will foolishly destroy themselves.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

Hindsight is 20/20. Maybe the Israelis should not have held onto the occupied territories as long as they have. Maybe the multiple Arab armies should not have attacked Israel in 1967. Maybe in 1948 this could have been done, and in some other year something else could have been done. But we are where we are. Here and now. It's easy to say remove the settlements. And maybe there was a time when that was possible. That time has come and gone. The reality on the ground today is the reality on the ground today. In 1948, there was some thought to expelling all Arabs from what became the fledgling State of Israel. It was decided then that they would not do that. Now, they are a large and sometimes belligerent minority within Israel. Can they be removed. The answer is clearly no. Israel must deal with them. Can the settlers in post 1967 settlements be removed? No. Their numbers have swelled to over a quarter of a million. Any peace agreement will just have to deal with that reality. They can no more be removed than European settlers can be removed from North America and the lands returned to it's native occupants.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

Draw a line down the middle of the land, and make one side Israel, and the other Palestine. Afford Palestine all of the rights and privileges that nations have, including the right of travel, self-governance, etc.

Allow people living in those territories now to become citizens of whichever they're living in, but not both (maybe in the future dual citizenship would be an option). So Arabs living in Israel can become Israelis, and Israelis (or Jews) living in Palestine can become Palestinians. But they'd have to renounce their other citizenship to do so.

Anybody who doesn't want to do that moves to the nation of their citizenship.

Make Jerusalem a shared holy city, and one in which violence never occurs.

Once that's done, if the sides want to keep fighting, they can still do so.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

Drawing a line isn't the problem. The problem is the belief, whether or not you agree with it, that the line won't be honored. And given the history of the region, that seems to be a reasonable belief. If all that needed to be accomplished was drawing a line that both sides could agree to, the you could go clear back to prior to WW II and accept the terms of the Peel Commission Report. Since then, many more lines have been proposed, all ultimately violated. And because those lines were violated, there isn't enough trust to have either side willing to take the risk now. How would you overcome this lack of trust? How could you guarantee the sovereignty of both sides while also guaranteeing that both sides abide by the agreement? Recent events in Egypt call into question the ability of Egypt to maintain it's end of the peace accords. How would a peace agreement be seen within the region? Would Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, etc. honor those accords or would they continue to fund independent organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah that may or may not honor an agreement? Lots of questions and not too many answers.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

There's no more risk in doing it than there is in doing nothing, and continuing to argue, while Palestinians are unable to travel freely in their own territory, are denied statehood, etc. and Israel is beset with security issues, and is not secure.

And, it's not true that it would be easy to agree on the land division, if Israel continues to make their security a negotiating issue, and refuses to negotiate without some sort of promise from Palestinians that they won't attack Israel.

There's no guarantee that either side won't continue to try to dominate the whole region - but it would be somewhat simpler if there were one continuous boundary - then both sides could build a big wall, have their armies gathered there, etc.

But, we could in fact put some conditions on our aid to Israel, and those who supply the Palestinians with aid could do the same. For example, we could tell Israel that if they didn't honor the land division, we would decrease our aid each time they acted aggressively to increase their territory.

And, those who fund the Palestinians could do the same.

Or, we could stop supplying military aid, and supply humanitarian aid instead, maybe even to both sides.

Lack of trust and ongoing aggression can't be simply solved by an even division of land.

But, I would feel a bit more supportive of Israel if they agreed to it, even if the wars continued. It's an expression of an interest in a fair, clear proposal, which is lacking on both sides.

By the way, whose problem is it that they can't seem to get along?

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

There are so many problems in that region that I just don't think a solution is possible. What I do think is that we can move towards a better situation than what we have now. A solution may be decades away. But let me give you some of my opinions, certainly people can disagree with me. Words, that's the first problem. We say them and think everyone knows what we mean. But what they mean to me might not mean the same thing to you and then they can change over time. Let me give you an example. Palestinians. Sounds pretty straight forward. But is it. Yasser Arafat was born in Egypt yet became the face of the Palestinians. At about the same time, Ariel Sharon was born just outside what is now Tel Aviv but was at the time called Palestine. Who is Palestinian, Arafat or Sharon? And I'm not at all suggesting one thing or the other. What I'm suggesting is that different people in different areas and at different times see things differently than we do. A hundred Americans in forums like this can come to a hundred different opinions about who is Palestinian, Arafat or Sharon. Take that example and move it to the middle east, where these ideas have been complicated by centuries of tribal, regional, ethnic, religious, etc. tensions and what you have are disagreements on steroids. The wars of 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, who fought in those wars? Israel (Jews) vs. who? Palestinians? No. To varying degrees, the answer is the various countries, tribes, ethnicities, cultures, religions, etc. If the Israelis have never fought a war against the Palestinians, why the distrust? Because we know intuitively that the Palestinians were somehow involved, right? But have they ever accepted responsibility for that which leads to the mistrust?
No one, not you, me, or anyone in the area there can agree where to start, when to start, etc. 1967, 1948, today. Reminds me of the negotiations we had with N. Vietnam. It took over a year to agree on the shape of the negotiating table.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

That's why the suggestion is that once a division has been made, the people living in those territories can choose to stay and become citizens of that region if they like.

We don't have to decide whether somebody is Palestinian or Israeli - let them make that decision.

After the long, and interesting, conversation about the subject on a previous thread, I'm pretty clear that we need to start today - it's the only way forward.

Everything else just rehashes past problems, and keeps the whole thing stuck.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 9 months ago

"My god can beat up your god," both sides continue to say. Too bad they can't trace the traditions back again and remember their invisible friends came from the same place.......

Abdu Omar 6 years, 9 months ago

Paul, Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews believe in the same God. What I have learned from years of research on this topic is that the Palestinians are descended from the Children of Israel. The difference is that the Israelis today are NOT descended from Jacob. They were expelled or left the holy lands to reside in the European and African Diaspora and are not the Children of Israel. Because of the events in Germany and all over Eastern Europe, the Jews had a reason to move to the land of the Palestinians because they could claim that land as their own and push the other indigenous people out of the way. Those people are the Palestinians and are the Children of Israel who converted to Islam or Christianity. They are one and the same people.

The Late Deborah Goerner of KU who studied this conflict and wrote extisively on it, found that what I am saying is true. But the Israeli Jews cannot afford to be anything other than what they are or their whole reason for being there will fall like a house of cards.

P Allen Macfarlane 6 years, 9 months ago

An Israel willing to compromise? Good luck with that! As long as we keep supplying them with arms, funds, and diplomatic support, it will not happen.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 9 months ago

Israel, and the Jews in pre WW II Palestine, spent 50 years trying to compromise. What they got in return was 50 years of rejections and 50 years of violence. They finally stopped trying to compromise. Is it the fault of the current Israeli administration that they are unwilling to compromise or is it the fault of previous Arab regimes for setting up this situation? Or is it the fault of both? But dowser's take on it lacks perspective and is too simplistic.

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