The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not about the occupation. If it were about the occupation, it would have erupted in 1967 and not in 1920. If it were a conflict over the occupation, it would have ended in 2000 and not continued to this day. If it were about the occupation, it would be easy to terminate it by means of a full Israeli withdrawal and full Palestinian recognition of Israel after the withdrawal. However, withdrawal is not being implemented and recognition is not being given because the conflict is not about the occupation.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is three-tiered: It is a conflict about 1967, about 1947 and about 1917. However, what underlies this is the fact that the Jewish national movement did not recognize the Palestinian people or its rights to this land, and that the Palestinian national movement did not recognize the Jewish people and its rights to the same land.
It follows that peace will not be achieved without Israeli recognition of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian nation-state, and without Palestinian recognition of the Jewish people and the Jewish nation-state. The only way to peace is by means of true mutual recognition.
In Oslo 1993, Camp David 2000 and Annapolis 2008, Israel went a long way toward this necessary mutual recognition. At first it recognized the Palestinian people, then agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and finally accepted almost full withdrawal and the partition of Jerusalem. Israel thus shattered taboo after taboo and shed refusal after refusal. However, in no case - neither at Oslo, Camp David or Annapolis - did the Palestinians go a parallel distance. They shattered no taboo and shed no fundamental refusal. To this day they do not recognize the Jewish people, its rights or its nation-state.
The best illustration of the Palestinian refusal was provided last year. In the summer of 2008, Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, made Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) an unprecedented peace proposal: Israel would retain only 6.5 percent of the West Bank (the settlement blocs) and in return the Palestinians would receive full territorial compensation in the Mount Hebron area, in the Beit She'an Valley and in the Judean Hills. Jerusalem would be divided on a demographic basis, with the holy basin to be entrusted to a special international regime. However, Abu Mazen did not accept Olmert's end-of-occupation offer. He rejected out of hand the principle of dividing the country into two nation-states.
The import of this is clear: a double asymmetry exists between Israel and the Palestinians. On the one hand, Israel is the occupier and the Palestinians are the occupied. But on the other hand, Israel recognizes the right of existence of the Palestinian people's state, whereas the Palestinians do not recognize the right of existence of the Jewish people's state.
To try to acheive peace, it is essential to address the two asymmetries concurrently. To demand that Israel act for the establishment of a Palestinian state and to demand that the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state.
Tzipi Livni grasped the whole problem and also suggested a solution: replace the hollow formula of the two-state solution with the formula of two nation-states. No, the Palestinians need not recognize the Jewish state in advance. But as long as they do not recognize the Jewish state, there is no reason for Israel to recognize the Palestinian state.
One possibility is for the negotiations to be conducted with no prior conditions. The second possibility is for the negotiations to be conducted between two parties that are committed to the solution of two nation-states living side by side in peace and security. One way or the other, but the third possibility is completely unacceptable.
It is out of the question for Israel to recognize the Palestinian people's right of self-determination in advance, while the Palestinians refuse to recognize the Jewish people's right of self-determination. That asymmetry will not lead to peace; sooner or later, it will lead to a blood-drenched all-out war.
Benjamin Netanyahu is now trying to implement Livni's meta-principle. Expectedly, the left is ridiculing the attempt. The imagined peace community is trying to sabotage it.
However, in this specific case Netanyahu is right. On this issue of principle he is expressing the firm opinion of the Israeli majority. If there is a chance for an Israeli-Palestinian peace, it must be a peace of two nation-states.
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