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Despite U.S. Efforts, Israel Seems Disinclined to Move Toward a Two State Solution

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
August 2013

Despite strenuous U.S. efforts to restart the Middle East peace process, evidence is growing that the government of Israel is disinclined to move toward a two-state solution.  
The New York Times (June 25, 2013) reported: “Highlighting the obstacles to Washington’s push to revive the Mideast peace process, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu … made a rare appearance in the West Bank to dedicate an elementary school in a Jewish settlement … named for his father, three days before Secretary of State Kerry was scheduled to return to the region for the fifth time in three months, and after two weeks in which right-wing ministers in Israel’s government said the idea of a Palestinian state had reached a ‘dead end’ and promised to block efforts to establish one.”  
Housing Minister Naftali Bennett told a settlers’ conference in mid-June that Israel should “build, build, build” in the Palestinian territory and annex over 60 per cent of the West Bank immediately. And late in June, the Likud Party elected Danny Danon, Israel’s deputy defense minister, as chairman of its central committee. He declared: “The Likud Party is still the party of the national camp of Israel, still the party that believes we have rights to the land in Judea and Samaria, and I think that the majority of the party still isn’t supporting the idea that there will be a Palestinian state in our backyard.”  
Danon publicly rejects the government’s official line on peace negotiations. In an interview with The Forward (July 12, 2013) he declared: “I understand the importance of political power, so I will use my strength and influence to convince as many people as I can within the party and outside the party that a Palestinian state is bad news for Israel.”  
According to The Forward, “Danon is no outlier. In recent Likud elections, all major positions in the party infrastructure went to Likudniks significantly to Netanyahu’s right — some of whom propose the annexation of large parts of the Israel-occupied West Bank … Danon explained his desire for ‘political power’ — and implied that his eagerness to become a lawmaker in the first place stemmed from a need to stop Netanyahu from making concessions … Danon wants Israel to annex significant parts of the West Bank, as does the head of Likud’s ideological committee, Zeev Elkin, the deputy foreign minister.”  
In 2002, the Arab League launched a peace initiative saying that if Israel with¬drew to its pre-1967 borders it could be recognized by the entire Arab world. More recently, in May, Qatar’s Prime Minister tried to revive the Arab Peace Initiative, moderating it closer to the outlines presented by the Obama administration since 2011. The updated version pulls back from the 2002 demand that Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders in exchange for a comprehensive peace. Instead, Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani proposed “comparable and mutual agreed minor swaps of land” — a formulation that opens the door to Israel’s retention of several major settlement blocs. Hamad also did not mention the Palestinian “right of return” and the division of Jerusalem, elements of the original Arab initiative.”  
A State Department official said of the new plan that, “It’s a sign that the Arab League is a constructive member of the process.” Secretary Kerry hailed what he called the Arab League’s “very big step forward.” The Economist (May 11, 2013) said this of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reaction: “He called for the Arab League first to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, a demand made of neither Egypt nor Jordan before they signed their peace treaties with Israel … Liberal Israelis condemned Mr. Netanyahu for sounding as rejectionist as the Arabs had been before the tortuous peace process began. ‘There’s an antagonistic convergence between Bibi (Mr. Netanyahu) and Hamas,’ says Matti Steinberg, a former senior Israeli intelligence man. ‘He says he’s against a bi-national single state, but is not ready to pay the price for two.’ Although the Americans hoped that the Arab League statement and Mr. Abbas’s cautious acceptance of it would shunt the ball into Israel’s court, Mr. Netanyahu faces little domestic pressure to address it.”  
A feeling is growing in Washington that it may not be Israel which has no “partner for peace.” Columnist Michael Gerson, writing from Tel Aviv in the Washington Post (July 12, 2013) notes that Israelis seem to have lost interest in resolving the Palestinian question: “Recent Israeli elections were almost exclusively focused on nation-building at home. Israel is in the midst of a tech-led economic boom … and feels very distant (though it isn’t by miles) from Gaza and the West Bank. Israel is also protecting its ‘villa in the jungle’ (former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s description) more effectively than most thought possible. The vast security wall is ugly but effective. The Iron Dome and other missile defense systems have proved their worth. The result is the best security situation in Israel’s history … It has encouraged an Iron Dome mentality in which every national problem appears to have a technical solution. Many Israelis seem content to manage conflict rather than resolve it through negotiations.” •

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