Experts' Round Table on the Israel-PA Talks, Part II

BESA Center research associates convened recently to discuss the fortunes and pitfalls of the newly reignited Israeli-PA talks. Among the points of debate: Is time on Israel's side?

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Noted Middle East experts taking part in the discussion are Prof. Ephraim Inbar, Prof. Eytan Gilboa, Prof.Shmuel Sandler, Prof. Ephraim Karsh, Prof. Joshua Teitelbaum, Dr. Mordecai Kedar, Dr. Jonathan Rhynhold and Dr.Max Singer. (For their background and list of writings, click on each name.)

For Part I of this discussion, click here.

What alternative diplomatic directions might Israel take?

Teitelbaum: Netanyahu should propose an Israel Peace Initiative that would include and acknowledge the aspects of the Arab Peace Initiative, which Israel views favorably, and there are several of those.

Rynhold: The Palestinians oppose an interim agreement. But if Israel decides to take the initiative and propose a move which involves handing over a significant amount of territory, the international community will adopt it on the basis that something is better than nothing and the Palestinians will not be able to insert a different agenda. If Netanyahu decides to move in this direction it will be because he accepts that Israel has a core long-term strategic interest in partition of the Land of Israel, and that secondarily, demonstrating this commitment will improve Israel’s international standing. However, Netanyahu may feel that the region is simply too volatile right now and that he needs to focus on the Iranian challenge.

Karsh: An interim accord or unilateral Israeli moves would be the worst possible way to proceed. All this teaches the Palestinians is not to compromise, and to simply wait for Israel to tear itself out of the West Bank without real security or any Palestinian concessions.

Prof. Efraim Inbar: In the absence of a partial agreement, which is unlikely due to Palestinian demands, the best option is conflict management.

Kedar: The only real, long-term solution that can be realistically implemented is what I call the “eight-state solution.” This involves the establishment of a council of Palestinian “emirates” or mini-states based on the sociology of the different clans and tribes in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria. This will give Arab leadership a firm local base with a traditional and homogenous sociological foundation.

Singer: Israel shouldn’t negotiate terms with itself. Israel should argue that “occupation” is a choice made by the Palestinians themselves, unless and until they are willing to sue for full peace on reasonable terms. As I say, the first subject to settled has to be “refugees,” because they are the Palestinian weapons for the destruction of Israel.

Gilboa: Israel needs to launch a well-organized global public diplomacy campaign to explain Palestinian inability and unwillingness to sign a peace accord with Israel.

Is time on Israel’s side, or working against Israel?

Teitelbaum: Time is working against Israel, since the lack of a two-state solution undermines Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish and democratic state. Israel’s legitimacy is a strategic asset. It is getting harder and harder to convince even Israel’s supporters of the legitimacy of expanded Jewish settlement in areas that are still under negotiation for the establishment of a possible Palestinian state.

Inbar: Time is on Israel’s side. Israel is not nearly as isolated as the Left claims. The power differential between Israel and its regional adversaries is growing in military and economic terms. In addition, Israeli society has evinced great resilience, as it understands that the Palestinians are responsible for the stalemate. The threat of international isolation and declining legitimacy is grossly overstated, purposefully so by Israel’s Left for political reasons.

Kedar: Time is definitely on Israel’s side for many reasons. The Palestinian refugee issue is dissipating. More than 350,000 Palestinian refugees already have fled Syria to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, and many other states, and will not return to Syria in the foreseeable future. Therefore they do not exist anymore as a group. Many of the 400,000 refugees in Lebanon may yet flee too to other countries. This weakens the Palestinian demand for “right of return,” since the two big refugee groups are disintegrating. Every refugee will solve his own problem wherever he will be. Furthermore, Arab states are too busy with their own problems, and they already abandoned the Palestinian issue. Thirdly, the Arab world is losing its ability to maintain pressure on Israel or threaten her, since the most radical anti-Israeli actors have been weakened by the war in Syria.