Netanyahu and the redefinition of conflict

Negotiations based on a two-state paradigm that may never have been feasible won’t bring Israelis and Palestinians any closer to achieving peace. A new model must better address the past, understand the core issues of the conflict, and establish a workable solution for the future.

Many words have been ascribed over the years to Israeli actions in the occupied territories—particularly the establishment of the colonial matrix—and how these have consequently extinguished the possibility of a two-state agreement.

What has received lesser attention, but was given note in Daniel Levy’s thoughtful analysis in Foreign Policy on the legacy of Benyamin Netanyahu, are the contributions Netanyahu’s ideology  has made to this same effort. Indeed, in rare fashion, I found myself agreeing with a part of Netanyahu’s otherwise ridiculous speech at the United Nations in September, when he reset the chronological roots of the conflict from 1967 to 1948.

Although Levy’s piece delves into many aspects of the ‘Bibi-effect,’ of particular note are the parts on the Israeli prime minister’s redefinition of the conflict and where this may take us in the future.

… Netanyahu is castrating the old Oslo peace process of any last vestiges of potency. Intriguingly, he is also perhaps establishing a more honest Israeli-Palestinian playing field. Addressing the Knesset in this May just prior to his departure for Washington, Netanyahu asserted: “It is not a conflict over 1967, but over 1948.”

Oslo was an attempt to subsume the weighty issues of Israel’s creation, Israel’s ethnocratic character, and Palestinian dispossession, and emphasize a resolution of issues arising from the 1967 occupation. Despite U.S., Quartet (EU-Russian-U.N.-U.S.), and other attempts to force the conflict back into that 1967 box, Netanyahu has probably drawn a line under a certain 1967-centric period in Israeli-Palestinian history.

Interestingly enough—in his backhanded way—Netanyahu may be driving the conflict into an historic reformulation, one with which even Palestinian critics of Oslo and the peace process would agree. Not only have Israeli policies forced us away from 1967 on the ground, but politicians like Netanyahu are pushing 1948 back into the public discourse.

But the ironic favor that Netanyahu might be doing to peace and reconciliation efforts is that by relitigating history in that way he might have in fact forced all issues, including those of 1948, to be more fully addressed in any future genuine attempt at peace — far more than was the case in the negotiations of the Barak-Olmert years.

What Netanyahu has in mind, however, is a continuation of the status quo: Israel using its superior force to posit one party over another and exploiting the land, its heritage and its resources to that end. In other words, subjugation is the means by which Netanyahu intends on settling/perpetuating this conflict.

Instead, we must return to the issues of 1948—obviously keeping in mind that the clock cannot be turned back 63 years—in an effort to establish a more just and enduring compromise over sharing the land.

As Levy says, the Israel of today is not the one of the past. Far from being an aberration, Netanyahu is now representative of a strong base in Israeli society and politics. Recognizing this fact, we cannot expect this Israel to easily come to terms with a reality that defies its ideological foundation – not without some serious economic and political pressure. Words are simply not enough, no matter how much the West wishes it to be so.

There is a long road ahead that will require a total reformulation of the way we intend on ending this conflict. A return to the negotiating table at this juncture and with this government will not bring Israelis and Palestinians any closer to achieving a historic peace—especially one predicated on a two-state paradigm that is no longer (if it ever was) feasible. There must be a simultaneous implementation of global pressure as well as a rethinking of where we are going.

It is the fear of being cut off from the other side, by partition, that has kept this conflict going for so many years. Israelis fear being separated from East Jerusalem, from their historical lineage in Judea and Samaria. Palestinians fear losing their patrimony and property in the Galilee, the Naqab, and the coastal plain from Acca to Ashdud. Netanyahu, and those around him, wish to ensure their access either by force or through an (coerced) agreement that enshrines the supremacy of their rights–the sovereignty/autonomy paradigm.

Those interested in coming to an agreement on parity must go back to the drawing board and design a system that is better suited to addressing the past, understanding the core issues of the conflict, and establishing a workable solution for the future. Over the past decade there have been several attempts in this regard.* Obviously, there is still work to be done. But it has become clear that only in this effort will the world be able to bring this long chapter to a close in a manner befitting the rights and aspirations of all those concerned.

*An example alternative solution:

Forget the old two-state solution: Tackling the hard stuff in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations