Deadline: Nine Months to Peace Deal

Time is not on our side. It is in our interest for the negotiations with the Palestinians to succeed.

Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus
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Yoel Marcus
Yoel Marcus

After Israel’s dizzying victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, everyone hummed “Yerushalayim shel Zahav” and “Ha’olam Kulam Negdaynu” (“The Whole World Is Against Us”). It was a kind of defiance of the pessimistic Israeli leaders at the time, who had thought we were on the brink of destruction until within six days we ruined Egypt’s, Jordan’s and Syria’s desire to destroy Israel.

But the festive atmosphere didn’t last long. Since then, Israel got itself bogged down in the territories and has had war after war, as well as the first intifada and the second intifada.

All this came alongside official signing ceremonies, including of the peace treaty with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, who at the White House shook hands with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. The three were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize laureates, even though none of them genuinely made peace.

From a situation in which everyone admired the military might of Israel, believed that it sought peace and welcomed its tourists, we have sunk to being seen by the world as the oppressors of the Palestinian people.

It is the Arabs’ refusal to accept Israel’s very existence that turned the region into a hate-filled battlefield.

Both sides have made mistakes. Back in the day, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s government offered Egypt a complete withdrawal from Sinai in exchange for peace, but Cairo refused.

This mutual intransigence was paid by the thousands who died in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. But the war was followed by peace first with Egypt, and then with Jordan. The Palestinian problem remained as a future flashpoint that must be resolved before it erupted.

And of all people it was Ariel Sharon, the great extremist and champion of the settlements, who as prime minister withdrew from the Gaza Strip in order to “waken the extremists from the dream of Greater Israel.”

But because he fell into a coma we can’t know how he would have responded to the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, or for that matter what would have happened had Palestine become a peace-loving state.

It’s hard to believe that Israel, the miracle state, an enlightened and developed country, reached the point of being compared with the vicious, apartheid South Africa that oppressed its non-white inhabitants and deprived them of freedom and independence and was boycotted by the enlightened world.

U.S. President Barack Obama, one of the hundred or so world leaders who attended the memorial service for Nelson Mandela, is showing signs of despair and impatience with Israel. But problems at home have led him to delegate responsibility for the conflict in our region to Secretary of State John Kerry.

And Kerry, who is thought to be planning to run in the Democratic primary for the 2016 presidential election, against Hillary Clinton, is betting his entire hand on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with 11 visits here within six months. He has also assembled 160 experts to come up with political and military solutions for him.

Kerry has a personal interest in the success of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He won’t forgive us if he fails. But we won’t forgive ourselves, either, if the nine months allotted for Kerry’s initiative turn out to have been wasted. We annoy the world, and the European Union has warned Israel not to continue to announce new building in the West Bank after each phase of Israel’s release of Palestinian prisoners, even if the announcements are meant for domestic consumption. If you persist, they say, we’ll blame you for the breakdown of the talks.

In any event, the international boycott cloud hanging over Israel is building up. Two U.S. academic associations (representing about 10,000 university teachers) have imposed an academic boycott of Israel. And boycotts against products from West Bank settlements are growing in EU member states.

The tired mantra, “time is on our side,” is being disproved. Time is not on our side. From the political, economic and military perspectives, it is we who are dependent upon time.

The third phase of the prisoner release is approaching. The government will be making a serious mistake if it postpones the measure, to which we have committed ourselves. It is in our interest for the negotiations to succeed. These nine months must end in the birth of a healthy baby, not a stillborn infant.

(From left) Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994.Credit: Yaakov Saar/GPO

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