Israel's diplomatic situation has hit bottom. Negotiations with the Palestinians are paralyzed and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening to quit. The Syrian track is in a rut. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has trouble getting a meeting at the White House. The Goldstone report portrays Israel as a criminal state, and all this comes against the backdrop of increasing strategic threats: the occupation, the erosion of the demographic balance and the growing arsenals of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
Netanyahu is declaring his desire and ability to achieve peace with the Palestinians, but is refraining from presenting a peace blueprint beyond his calls for resuming talks and his demands for the demilitarization of the future Palestinian state and its recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Deterred by political upheaval, Netanyahu rejected U.S. President Barack Obama's demand to freeze settlement construction. Instead of leading, the prime minister makes do with public support as reflected in the polls.
Netanyahu's colleagues in the coalition and the opposition have, like him, refrained from unveiling peace plans, with the hackneyed explanation that Israel has no negotiating partner. Then MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) comes along this week and proposes a plan for establishing a Palestinian state gradually on "most of the territories" captured in 1967. Mofaz, as a former defense minister and army chief of staff, is aware of the military and demographic dangers facing Israel and sees a solution in the evacuation of the settlements and the setting up of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. He is a far cry from other politicians in his willingness to talk with Hamas.
Mofaz's proposal is not perfect. Its feasibility is in doubt and it's hard to find a Palestinian counterpart who would, at the start of the negotiations, recognize Israeli sovereignty over West Bank communities such as Ariel and Ma'aleh Adumim, as the Mofaz plan provides. The plan's details are less important, however, than the very existence of the initiative, which poses a challenge to Netanyahu and his government and stimulates public debate. This is the opposition's classic role in a democratic system. It's what Yossi Beilin did when he proposed the Geneva Initiative as a recipe for breaking the diplomatic stalemate when Ariel Sharon was prime minister.
The Geneva Initiative was one of the factors that led Sharon to announce the Gaza disengagement. The Mofaz plan, along with the pressure from the United States, can play a similar role in the Netanyahu era and prod the prime minister to go beyond the peace process' paralysis and submit an initiative of his own as a solution to the Palestinian conflict.
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