Shlomo Ben-Ami, Former Israeli Foreign Minister in conversation with Kunal Majumdar at THiNK 2011
WE ARE stuck now. The paradigm that has driven the Israel-Palestine peace process for 20 years is no longer usable. The Israeli maximum does not meet the Palestinian minimum. Assuming the Palestinians know what their minimum is.
Without this being any critique of the Palestinians, I feel they’re afraid of the moment of decision. At every point where a final decision was required, be it the Clinton parameters or Olmert’s package, they turned it down as unsatisfactory. Why? The Palestinian dilemma is a cruel one — their cause is built on the perception that they are victims of an injustice of cosmic dimensions. So every solution falls short of justice, and in many ways the international support reinforces this. Yet, peace is not about justice; it is about equilibrium and stability. We need to reconcile the core values of both parties.
I’ve no problem with the international support for Palestinians as I myself support their just and legitimate requirements, but it frequently prevents them from making tough choices, from facing the moment of truth. I once said to [Yasser] Arafat: “You remind me of somebody who goes to a shop and bargains and heckles for the price and reduces it and reduces it and then leaves without buying!”
UN resolutions condemning Israel might offer satisfaction but they don’t advance a negotiated settlement and don’t change the conditions on the ground. The objective can’t be to put Israel in the dock of world opinion; whatever deal is struck will always and inevitably be imperfect.
Historically, statehood has never been the objective of Palestinian nationalism; it was about the vindication of an injustice — about redressing the past, not about creating something new. The first time the idea of State emerged clearly was between 1988 (when Arafat declared independence and ambiguously assumed the two-State solution) and 2001 (when our last attempt to reach a settlement in Taba collapsed).
Their national movement is fragmented between two radically divergent trends. Hamas is an Islamist movement for which the victory of Islam is more important than the idea of a State. They might agree to it at some point but it isn’t their strategic objective. So I think it’s unclear where the Palestinians want to go right now.
Confusion exists on the Israeli side too. They have to make their own tough decisions: are they going to succumb to the fanatic drive of settlers to block a political solution and turn Israel into a bi-national state in permanent civil war? We all need to stick to Rabin’s legacy, the 16th anniversary of whose assassination is being commemorated these days, whereby peace with the Palestinians is a sine qua non condition for an Arab-Israeli reconciliation.
As Told To Kunal Majumder
(Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 8 Issue 46, Dated November 19, 2011)