Israel at 62: A need for compromise now
On April 20, Israel will celebrate its 62nd birthday. Created in turmoil on contested land and in the wake of the Holocaust, the Jewish State has accumulated a considerable number of achievements in its short history.
It has the highest number of Nobel prizes per capita, its population enjoys the world’s 8th highest life expectancy, Israeli films have been contenders for Hollywood’s Oscar three years running and it is the only country in the world that has entered the 21st century with a net gain in trees despite being 60 percent desert.
Israel’s research institutes are ranked 3rd in the world and Israel is considered number two in space sciences.
Israel publishes more scientific papers per capita than any other country in the world, attracts 30 times more high-tech venture capital than all of Europe combined and leads the world in the number of patents for medical equipment.
One would think that such achievements and many more not mentioned here could only come about in a nation that lives in harmony with its neighbors but we all know that this is not so.
It is unfortunate that the same genius that has made the above achievements possible, has been almost clueless when it comes to making peace.
While in the first 25 years of statehood, the lack of cooperation from neighboring Arab countries and the Palestinian National Movement was blatant and prevented any reasonable solution of the conflict, the situation has changed long ago.
The peace agreement with Egypt in 1979 should have become the first of similar agreements with Israel’s other neighbors and the Palestinians.
Unfortunately, the arrogance of power of Israeli governments and the mostly uncritical support of Israel by successive US administrations delayed any progress until the early 1990s when the Oslo agreements with the Palestinians came to bear and inspired the peace treaty with Jordan in 1994.
The high hopes raised in Oslo were squashed at the disastrously mismanaged Camp David summit of 2000 when Israel, the US and the Palestinians proved that they were not up to the occasion.
From then on, it has been mostly downhill with occasional flurries of diplomatic activity and armed conflict that have left both, Palestinians and Israelis cynical and disillusioned over any real prospects for peace.
At the same time, Israel’s dehumanizing occupation keeps grinding away at any prospects for mutual understanding.
The election of Barack Obama in the US was a game changer that made the renewal of a real Middle East peace process feasible for the first time in a decade.
While the Palestinians are now more divided than ever and Israel’s right wing government has painted the Jewish State into a corner with untenable policies and positions, Obama’s principled stand has reclaimed the US position of an honest broker.
With the parties to the conflict in enormous difficulties, the US administration must use all its soft and some hard power to move the peace process forward and, if necessary, consider imposing a solution.
Palestinians and Israelis know that the Clinton Peace Plan tabled in 2000 is the only feasible basis for an agreement.
As long as both leaderships appear incapable or unwilling to make the necessary decisions, decisions known to be acceptable to a majority of the population on both sides, only a determined, coordinated and forceful effort by the US will prevent continued mayhem and possibly another war in the Middle East.
If a compromise is not achieved soon, the two state solution will fade into oblivion, Israel will not be able to remain a Jewish and democratic state and have peace with its neighbors and the Palestinians will have to shelve aspirations for nationhood for many years to come.
The writer is a retired Israeli diplomat who served in Southeast Asia from 2000-2003.